Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera, Bahamas N25° 21.917′ W76° 31.233′ Depth 0-7ft.
Some friends of ours told us to check this out if we ended up at Hatchet Bay, which we already had planned to do. It is about a 2 mile hike from the government dinghy dock. Head northwest along Queen’s Highway and the access road will be on the left across from an area where land has been cleared. Some maps may show a road from the cave further north but we found this road to be impassable by car or foot. At the end of the road is the ruins of a landing and easy access to the water.
We made this one of our last stops of an all day road trip. I was told that the best time to snorkel is near high tide. The water is shallow and the bottom silty so higher water will make it easier to keep your feet off the bottom. The pond is protected on all sides so it is doable in all kinds of wind conditions, however it is a large pond and winds from the north or northwest can stir up waves making visibility poor.
Sweetings Pond is one of many anchialine ponds, land-locked saltwater ponds that can be found all over the Bahamas and Caribbean (another anchialine pond is featured in the Flamingo Cay post. These ponds have a connection to the ocean and rise and fall with the tides. Hatchet Bay was one of these ponds until the entrance was cut to make it a harbor. Each pond is an isolated microcosm with its own ecology and set of organisms. Animals and plants here are selected for and evolve apart from the open ocean; and there is the potential for new species to develop.
It is believed that Sweetings Pond has been closed off from the ocean for about 6000 years. Seawater is thought to come in through the porous limestone rock, not through a large opening therefore there is little or no recruitment of animals from the outside. Dr. Heather Masonjones, a researcher who has studied this pond for several years, has found few large predatory fish. The behavior of several of the pond’s inhabitants is very different than the same species that live in the ocean and may be due to the lack of predators. High densities of some animals, an octopus, a brittlestar, and the seahorses, and lower diversity have been observed compared to the ocean outside the pond.
I have caught seahorses and kept them in an aquarium but had never been able to observe them in their own habitat. When I was told that I could find seahorses here I had to try it.
So get in at the sea wall and take a look at this unique environment. After you get in float on the surface and try not to stir up the sediment.
The rock seawall is covered with brightly colored animals and algae.
I was so distracted by other forms of life that I was not sure I would find a seahorse but finally I spotted one. The large male had spotted me first and flattened himself against the algae trying to look inconspicuous.
Until genetic work was done, there was some confusion about what species the Sweetings Pond seahorses belonged to. There are two species of large seahorse found in the Bahamas and some individuals in Sweetings pond had longer snouts and tails than normal for the species. Genetic analysis found them all to be H. erectus and not a hybrid or new species. Isolated populations will often develop unique traits over time.
At Sweetings Pond conditions are perfect for seahorses, for which the pond is quickly becoming famous. Unfortunately, with fame, comes the potential for harm to this delicate and unique system that supports seahorses and other forms of life. Seahorses are fished for decorations and are believed to have medicinal value in some cultures. Like many other ocean organisms, habitat degradation and coastal development leads to decreased numbers. There has been talk of opening Sweetings Pond and making a harbor and marina like was done to Hatchet Bay.
I considered not posting about this site. Part of me wishes it could remain hidden. However, it is known and the conversation about progress vs protection is already happening. My hope is that I might foster some appreciation and awareness of this special place. If you visit it, please be respectful and careful.