Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bita Bay House, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

NECWA Member Kari Heistad visits Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

Kari Heistad recently returned from a trip to tiny island of Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas. She shared some thoughts with NECWA News.

Can you tell us a little bit about the island?

The island is located just off from the island of Abaco, about 115 miles east of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. You get to the island by flying into Treasure Cay on Abaco and then taking a 15 minute ferry ride to the island. Green Turtle Cay is only 3 miles long and 1/2 mile wide, so you are never out of sight of the ocean when you are on the island. The island was settled by people from New England so the architecture of the homes more closely resembles New England than typical Caribbean homes. In fact, the town on the island is called New Plymouth. There are only 500 people who live on the island so it is a close knit community.

What drives the economy of the island?

The island has long been the playground of boat owners who wanted a place to enjoy beaches and few tourists. The entire island has great beaches and snorkeling and a laid back atmosphere so that even though stars such as Leonardo di Caprio go there (he was there just before we were) none of the locals treat them any different. So, tourism is a large part of the economy. The other part of the economy is fishing.

While tourists can catch the Caribbean spiny lobster (different than the lobsters of New England with no front claws and a larger tail and a different taste to the meat) while snorkeling, only Bahamians can fish for lobster commercially. They do this by using air hoses up to 100 feet long that allows them to fish for lobster for longer than if they had to come up for air frequently. Islanders also fish for grouper and other fish. All of this is exported off the island.

Blue Tangs taken while diving with Treasure Divers

Are there any maritime issues?

The island is a place where green turtles live and so there is always a concern about protecting them and their nesting areas. One large and recent issue for the island as well as the rest of the Caribbean is the massive infestation of Lion fish. These are fish that are native to the Pacific ocean and so they have no natural predators. They are taking over entire reefs, eating small fish and the coral and creating devastation. The Bahamian government is seeking ways to eliminate it as quickly as possible.

Green Turtle Cay has teamed up with REEF to offer a fishing derby where teams compete each summer to see who can catch the most Lion fish in a day. Last year the derby took 1300 fish out of the water. Chefs from Florida came over and showed people how to cook the fish and make them into a taste treat. My brother Per borrowed a spear gun and managed to kill 20 while we were snorkeling during the week.

What did you enjoy most?

The people are just terrific for one thing. We found people to be very open and friendly and happy to talk to us. We spent several evenings in the Sundowners bar where locals gather to play pool and games of Connect Four. Just hanging out gave us a chance to meet people and learn about island life. The other part that we enjoyed was the great snorkeling. The water just off the beaches is fairly shallow and yet we were able to see schools of Houndfish, an 18 inch Filefish and many of the tropical fish local to the Caribbean.

Filefish

When is the best time to go?

High season is May - July on the island, but August and into the fall is a great time to go. The water is still warm from the summer and there are few people there. Some of the resorts run specials in October to boost occupancy. Many people skip the fall due to the fear of hurricanes but as was pointed out to me, there is only a 3% chance that you will have a hurricane, so there is a 97% chance you will get a great vacation.

Would you recommend the island for tourists?

I would strongly recommend the island to people looking an adventure vacation. There is only one small gift shop on the island so you don't go there for shopping. But, if you are looking for the kind of vacation where you are in the middle of daily life and you like a sense of adventure, this is a great place. You can rent houses by the week right on the beach or stay in one of the more upscale resort complexes. Everyone gets around on golf carts and getting over some of the limestone roads is a bit like four wheeling in a jeep. If you want to get away from it all and have great beaches, snorkeling, diving and wonderful people, this is the island for you.

Sunset over New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas