Channel Cay

Channel Cay, near George Town, Exumas, Bahamas N23o 34.279′  W75o 49.473′   Depth 0-20ft

Channel Cay is the first island north of Conch Cay Cut.  Anchor near the center of the island where it bumps out a bit.  Look out for very shallow coral.  Keep in mind that this site is in the cut and may be subject to currents and surge. We snorkeled it on a calm day at low tide and it was very pleasant.  A great opportunity to see the endangered Elkhorn Coral.

The coordinates lead you to the anchor site. Find a sandy place to put your anchor. It is a short swim westward to the Elkhorn Reef.
This coral grows right up to the surface and may be exposed at low tide.
When you get into the water you will see low-relief hard bottom with large bushy Gorgonians and patchy coral heads.  It drops down to about 20 ft.  We saw a good-size Nassau Grouper but noted that there were few other fish.
Passing over coral heads of Lobed Star Coral (Orbicella annularis).
The patch reefs are full of Gorgonians, sponges and various corals.  In the foreground is a brain coral and a few French Grunts.
Purple Finger Coral (Porites sp.) and some small Gorgonians.
The Gorgonians are diverse and large here.  This is a large Black Sea Rod (Plexaura homomalla). For more about Gorgoninans click HERE.
This Porous Sea Rod (Pseudoplexaura sp.) was about 5 ft tall.
Something wasn’t quite right about this “Gorgonian”–because it wasn’t one.  It was a very large Row Pore Sponge (Aplysina cauliformis).
On closer inspection you could see the tiny oscula that provide for the outflow of water that has been filtered by the sponge.

As you swim westward you will see the Elkhorn Reef rising up to the surface.  Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata) used to grow in massive reefs.  It thrives in shallow water where there is heavy water flow.  In the 1990s, it was devastated by a disease and in many places, there is only dead coral covered with algae and other encrusting organisms.  It is quite special to see this reef with so much living Elkhorn.

As you swim westward, the Elkhorn Reef rises up toward the surface.
You can see from this picture how Elkhorn Coral got its name.  Heavy seas batter the fragile blades when they are thin, but the broken off pieces can attach to the bottom and continue growing.  On the left is a large Symmetrical Brain Coral(Pseudodiploria stringosa). Brain Corals are common but you see few of this size.
Live Elkhorn coral is orange with white tips and is rough in texture.  This is a massive colony.
Each of the tiny polyps is housed in a hard protruding coralite.
An Atlantic Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) tries to be inconspicuous under the coral.
Blade Fire Coral (Millepora complanata)  also grows in shallow water with the Elkhorn.  It sometimes is confused with Elkhorn because it is a similar orange color with white tips, but Fire Coral is smooth in texture and the blades grow erect.  If you bump into Fire Coral you will know the difference.  It stings!
Algae takes over when the coral dies.  Y-Branched Algae (Dictyota spp.) on the left, Blistered Saucer Leaf Algae (Turbinaria turbinata) in the middle, and Leafy Roll Blade Algae (Padina boergesenii) on the right are all classified as Brown Algae due to the prevalent pigment in their tissues—even though they are not always brown.
In back of the Elkhorn Coral are these dense colonies of Fused Staghorn Coral. Recent genetic work showed that it is a hybrid of Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis).  I did not see Staghorn Coral in this particular area but there is likely to be some nearby.
This is what Staghorn Coral looks like.  As I said, I did not see any at this site.
There is concern that the hybrid may take over the Elkhorn and Staghorn reefs.

While you are enjoying this rare experience, please be aware of where you are kicking when you are swimming around this or any coral.  Wave surge, in particular, can slam you into the fragile coral damaging it and you.  This is well worth the dinghy ride.