Monument Wall– George Town, Exumas, Bahamas: Rock 1– N23
o 31.489′ W76 o 45.818′ Rock 2– N23 o 31.465′ W76 o 45.809′ Depth 0-7ft.
For SCUBA divers, a wall dive is at the edge of the deep ocean, a sheer wall of coral plunging down thousands of feet. But for snorkelers, any rocky shore that has enough relief so that a portion of it is always underwater has the potential to be covered with many of the organisms you normally see on a reef. This is one of George Town’s many easy snorkeling sites well protected from the prevailing easterly winds. I visit it often—a quick fix when I need to get my gills wet. You can go at any tide but I prefer low tide when I can get close to everything without banging my head on the overhanging rock.
The site is just south of the Monument where the sand beach ends and the shore becomes the foot of a rocky hill. Pull your dinghy up on the beach or anchor right off the rocks and jump in. A safe place to take children who are reasonably good swimmers.
Looking to the north with the Monument Hill in the background. Anywhere along the rocky edges of the hills is a good snorkeling place. The dark places in the water are submerged rocks at the coordinates for Rock 2. Rock 1 is the small shadow further north along the wall. Some areas, particularly south of Honeymoon Beach and near the entrance to the holes, have a lot of boat traffic that sometimes is oblivious to snorkelers.
There are sea grass and lugworm mounds in the sandy area next to the shore. Take a look while you are swimming to the wall.
I was able to just see eyes and faint outline of this Southern Stingray ( Dasyatus americana) from the surface while swimming to the wall.
The stingray swam off over the Lugworm mounds and Turtle Grass (left corner). The thick black worm-like thing on the bottom right is a Sea Cucumber , related to the starfish.
Southern Lugworms ( Arenicola cristata) are large, fat, greenish worms, sometimes used for fish bait, that live in U-shaped burrows in the sand. At one end of the burrow, the lugworm sucks sand into its mouth and creates a pit; and at the other end it excretes the sand minus the organics that the worm has eaten (forming the mounds). The mounds are indicative of deep soft sand that is good for anchoring.
You will probably see a Cushion Sea Star ( Oreaster reticulatus). This one was walking along on the sand. You can see the footprints of the hundreds of tubefeet the Sea Star uses for locomotion.
Those large wormy looking things on the sand or rocks are Sea Cucumbers. Sea Cucumbers are Echinoderms, related to sea stars, urchins and Crinoids, because they share similar development and body plans (the sea cucumber is elongated instead of flattened), and they have tube feet powered by a hydraulic system.
The two sea cucumbers here are another species that I often see nestled in the rocks. Sea Cucumbers, like the Lugworm, suck in sand to extract the organic matter for their food.
This small coral rock is near the coordinates given for Rock 1. The base rock probably fell from the wall and has been overgrown by coral, sponges and algae. Hurricane Matthew passed through here the previous fall. I saw damage to some of the coral and to the Gorgonian at the top of the rock. The sponges appear to have made it through.
You can spend a whole dive at Rock 1. The more you look the more you see. This is Rock 1 as of February 2017. Lobed Star Coral ( Orbicella annularis) appears as orange masses. Maroon/Red Finger Sponges rise up all over the rock and you can see a colony of Finger Coral ( Porites sp.) in the foreground. The arrow points to a bouquet of Social Featherduster Worms, new for this year.
Here is what it looked like in 2016. The two Star Coral colonies in the left-hand corner are gone in the 2017 picture and the Gorgonian at the top was tall and healthy but is nearly dead in 2017.
Red Finger Sponge in the center and Lobed Star Coral on the right seen on Rock 1.
From Rock 1 it is only a short swim to the vertical undercut wall. A good deal of marine invertebrates like to attach to substrate, as any boat owner knows. They grow all over the substrate and on each other if they can. Violent wave action can damage the organisms here, however, they thrive on the water movement that delivers nutrients to them.
Most bright red objects will be sponges but this is a colony of Massive Starlet Coral that can be seen right across from Rock 1. This is not the normal color for this coral. There is also some Mustard Hill Coral on the left, Finger Coral above the Massive Starlet Coral and several clumps of pink Coraline Algae at the top center.
Close-up of the Massive Starlet Coral ( Siderastrea siderea). The small indentations house the coral polyps which are retracted in this photo. Also seen, under the coral, is a small Stinker Sponge in the center surrounded by bushy green algae.
Typical view along the Wall. Two colonies of Mustard Hill Coral ( Porites astreoides) in the center. The left one is partially covered by a bouquet of Social Featherduster Worms ( Bispira variegata). A group of small grey Stinker Sponges ( Ircinia felix) is just above the right-hand Mustard Coral.
Close up of the Social Featherduster Worms. The worm builds a tube of sediment stabilzed with the worm’s secretions. The wormy-looking body resides here. The “Featherduster” is the worm’s gills and feeding apparatus. The mouth is in the center flanked by 2 palps. Several worms in this photo have retracted into their tubes as I approached with the camera.
You will spot clumps of Tubular Thicket Algae (Galaxaura sp.) all over the wall. This is one of the Coraline Red Algae that incorporate calcium carbonate (the material shell and coral is made of) into their tissues. This one is next to a Stinker Sponge ( Iricinia felix). Sponges are made up of one-celled organisms that filter out food particles from the surrounding water. The large openings (oscula) in the sponge let the filtered water out. A Bushy Green Algae fills up the spaces on the rock.
This Star Coral has a Christmas Tree Worm ( Spirobranchus giganteus) living on it. You can see the outline of the hard shell tube the worm makes that is covered now with coral. Many times the tube is hidden in the coral. The gills and feeding apparatus of the worm are expanded here but can quickly retract into the tube.
Here is a close-up of the “Christmas Trees” of a worm living on a Mustard Hill Coral. They come in many colors. The purple 3-pronged projection right under the gills is the operculum, a door that seals the tube shut when the worm retracts into it. These worms always live in association with coral.
Rock 2 coordinates mark a cluster of rocks that is easily seen from the surface. There are always a lot of fish here, the most numerous of which are the Grunts. Look for Queen Angelfish and Grey Angelfish flitting in and out of the holes in the rocks. If you have a sharp eye you will see juveniles of both angelfish.
Right before you get to Rock 2 you will see this basketball-sized Grooved Brain Coral ( Diplora labyrinthiformis).
This Branching Fire Coral ( Millepora alcicornis) is a Hydrozoan Coral. It makes a hard skeleton but is structured differently than true hard corals. Branching Fire Coral often overgrows Sea Fans and other Gorgonians, like it has done in this picture. Fire Coral is called such because it stings like fire and can make a welt on your skin. It grows in many different shapes but is always orange/brown with white tips and smooth in texture.
Rock 2 is always covered with grunts. These are French Grunts ( Haemulon flavolineatum). The ones with black horizontal stripes are probably juveniles. Shallow rocky habitat is often utilized by juvenile fish. Also seen is a Sea Plume Gorgonian (top, just left of center) a bright orange sponge, a Finger Sponge (just right of the orange sponge) and Finger Coral ( Porites sp.) just below the Sea Plume. The tentacles of a Giant Sea Anemone ( Condylactus gigantea) can just be made out on the right-hand bottom corner just below the Finger Sponge.
More fish around a Brain Coral on Rock 2. Above #1-Yellowtail Snapper ( Ocyurus chrysurus); Below #2-French Grunt; Below #3-Cesar Grunt ( Haemulon carbonarium); Below #4-Mahogany Snapper ( Lutjanus mahogoni); Below #5 Ocean Surgeonfish ( Acanthurus tractus); Above #6-White Grunt ( Haemulon plumerii). Fish with horizontal dark stripes are juvenile grunts.
This Grey Angelfish ( Pomacanthus arcuatus) is transitioning from juvenile color to adult color.
This is a juvenile Grey Angelfish about 2 inches long.
Adult Queen Angelfish ( Holacanthus bermudensis) and a juvenile Rock Beauty Angelfish
Juvenile Queen Angelfish
Juvenile Rock Beauty Angelfish ( Holacanthus tricolor).
Small, but bright and pugnacious, these juvenile damselfish set up a territory and bravely defend it.
Small Nassau Grouper ( Epinephelus striatus) are shy. They hug the rock hoping that you won’t notice them. This one is right next to a Branching Anemone
Just hover over the rocks for a while and your eye will start noticing other forms of life.
The arrow points to a Giant Sea Anemone ( Condylactis gigantea). Anemones are Cnidarians, related to corals and jellyfish. The anemone is a large polyp attached to a rock by its base. The long tentacles surround the mouth and contain cnidoblasts (stinging cells) that capture prey.
Rock 2 and the surrounding wall area contain many of these anemones. The tentacles are usually tipped with a bright color.
If you can look closely at the anemones you may see an inch long commensal shrimp. This is the Spotted Cleaner Shrimp ( Periclimenes yucatanicus). They are called cleaner shrimp because they will swim over to a fish that stops in front of the anemone and pick off the fish’s parasites. There are at least 3 other species of commensal shrimp that live with anemones here.
Also at Rock 2 you can see large Black Ball Sponges ( Ircinia strobilina). The oscula are in groups. To the left is some Lobed Star Coral.
On down from Rock 2 the vertical face of the wall allows for relatively less sediment accumulation. The wall face is also pocketed with indentations and holes of all sizes providing some protection.
Finger Corals ( Porites spp.) are normally beige or tan (center top) but sometimes are found in purple (left). Colonies of purple Porites Coral are common on the wall, especially past Rock 2. Also, in this picture is some Mustard Hill Coral ( Porites astreoides) and, just to the left of the Mustard Hill Coral is a black sponge with the oscula extended as tubes.
The round, golf-ball sized object in the center is a Sea Pearl ( Valonia ventricosa), a green algae that is actually a single cell. This Sea Pearl is encrusted with coraline algae and small pieces of brown algae. To the left is some Elliptical Star Coral ( Dichocoenia stokesi). You can also see fronds of some other brown algae and 3 red sponges.
A large Knobby Brain Coral ( Pseudodiplora clivosa) next to a Sea Plume. The arrow points to an anemone in the next picture.
The Branching Anemone ( Lebrunia danae) looks more like a bunch of brown algae but it stings like crazy. Above the anemone is some Lettuce Coral ( Agaricia agaricites).
Great Star Coral ( Montastraea cavernosa) can be identified by its large fleshy polyps.
The Long-Spined Sea Urchin ( Diadema antillarum) can have black and white spines or all black spines. In the 1980’s most of them were wiped out by disease. They have made a good come-back. Sea Urchins are Echinoderms, related to the sea stars and sea cucumbers. A Giant Anemone is above the urchin and a Stinker Sponge is near the right upper corner.
The West Indian Sea Egg ( Tripneustes ventricosus) is another sea urchin that is often seen hanging onto the wall. It may be covered with debris that it holds to its body with small tube feet.
Be on the lookout for a Flamingo Tongue snail feeding on a gorgonian. Arrow points to the snail.
The Flamingo Tongue ( Cyphoma gibbosum) can vary in color. The ones here are particularly orange/red. The colorful mantle of the snail covers the white to tan shell.
I could go on and on. Hopefully this will give you something to look for if you get to Monument Wall.