May 18, 2011
Throughout the past three weeks, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, Bahamian researchers, and other collaborators experienced a unique opportunity to study the shallow marine habitats of Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas. Cay Sal Bank is a submerged platform that lies relatively close to the Florida Keys and Cuba, yet is remote, difficult to access and relatively un-impacted by man. Over 99% of the bank is submerged, ranging in depths from 5-12 m, with a narrow fringe of emergent land, comprised of small sandy vegetated islands and lithified sand dunes, surrounding parts of the central lagoon. Strong tidal currents, high winds and waves, frequent hurricanes and other forces of nature have created harsh conditions that have weeded out weak species. However, those organisms that survive under these harsh environmental conditions are flourishing.
While previous descriptions of the bank noted extensive seagrass bed communities and relatively depauperate and poorly developed reef systems, our extensive small-boat surveys using high-resolution satellite imagery to navigate, sophisticated acoustic measurements of the seafloor, and tethered underwater video and still images, revealed diverse geologic features and unique habitats shaped by these historic structures. We identified numerous sink holes, blue holes that extended to over 100 m in depth, perfectly circular seagrass beds that formed on top of sediment-filled blue holes and around man-made objects such as ship wrecks, aircraft and abandoned oil exploration equipment, scoured hardground areas, oolitic sand shoals and moving sand waves.