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April 2010: Nurse Sharks, The Bahamas

From the Photographer

Mark Godfrey

Coming face-to-face with a shark is not unusual for experienced divers but it was a first for me!

While photographing the spectacular marine environment of the Bahamas Exuma Cays and nearby Bahamas Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park for The Nature Conservancy, I had a personal, up-close meeting with a large group of Nurse Sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum). These sharks spend their time under the dockside fish-cleaning station at Compass Cay, a private resort and marina in the vicinity of the Park.

Nurse Sharks are gentle nocturnal bottom-dwellers found in fairly shallow tropical and subtropical waters and while they are seldom a threat to people, they can grow to a length of 10 feet which made me very wary of them on first encounter.

I quickly realized that these sharks had become fairly habituated to people, as it is common for tourists visiting the marina to snorkel among them as well as feed them while cleaning fish on the dock. I was delighted when I realized I could lie on the dock, near the surface of the water, and slide my hand along their tough sandpaper-like skin as they swam by.

To photograph them I placed my digital SLR camera in an underwater housing with a special lens-port to take advantage of the fisheye lens I was using. By lying on the dock and holding the camera underwater, while the sharks lingered nearby, I managed to get a few images that really do have that fish-eye, up-close and personal perspective I sought.

The slow and friendly Nurse Sharks have been an easy target for fishermen who value their fresh meat and tough leathery skin, causing their numbers to decline through much of the Caribbean in recent years.

Today, The Nature Conservancy is working closely with partners such as the Bahamas National Trust and the government of the Bahamas to protect the marine habitat of the Exuma Cays and achieve the goal for the long-term protection of national parks through the Caribbean Challenge.

Mark Godfrey is the Conservancy's director of photography.


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