This one-of-a-kind national park consists of 176 square miles of pristine waters, white sand beaches and stunning coral reefs. It is home to hundreds of species of fish, and divers here often find themselves swimming alongside sharks, sea turtles and rays through the park’s crystal waters.
Exuma Cays was the first land and sea park in the world and is the oldest national park in The Bahamas. Established by Conservancy partner Bahamas National Trust in 1958, the park entered a new level of protection in 1986 when the entire area was declared a “no-take” zone. This means no fishing or marine harvesting of any sort is permitted, allowing important species like queen conch, Nassau grouper and spiny lobster to thrive and helping to strengthen fisheries in surrounding areas outside the park.
The Conservancy has been working with local partners on the ground since 2000 to promote effective management and sustainable, long-term financial support for the park, in addition to conducting wildlife surveys, mapping marine and terrestrial areas and fostering community education.
The headquarters of the park is on Warderick Wells Cay. Founded in 1958, Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park was the first of its kind in the Caribbean. With more than 100,000 acres of islands, beaches, estuaries, blue holes, reefs and open ocean, the park is an ambitious and ongoing undertaking.
Conch (pronounced “conk”) thrive in the clear waters of The Bahamas. A staple of Caribbean diets, conch within the park are protected and the healthy population here helps replenish nearby fisheries outside the protected area.
Conservancy marine scientist Leno Davis gets up close and personal with a grouper. In 1986, the Bahamas took the extraordinary step of making Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park the first no-fishing replenishment zone in the Caribbean.
Caribbean spiny lobsters also benefit from the shelter of the park and the rangers here like to say that the only ones allowed to fish in the park are the birds. Fish, lobster and conch populations have improved in waters outside the no-fishing replenishment zone and the park also provides important habitat for endangered animals like sea turtles and Kirtland’s warblers.
Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park draws thousands of visitors each year and its healthy reefs and pristine beaches support thriving tourism-based businesses. A network of moorings protect the park’s coral reefs and seagrass beds so that visitors can enjoy the park without damaging its ecosystems.
On the east side of Warderick Wells Cay, relentless ocean waves have carved chimneys, columns and blow holes in the dark limestone. Trails on the island lead up to Boo Boo Hill, named for the way the wind through the rocks sounds like the voices of ghosts.
In the tidal flats, the roots of mangrove trees rise above the water. Because these trees have special abilities to excrete salt, they thrive in the margin between land and sea. Mangrove forests provide important nursery habitat for the young of many fish and crab species.
Hermit crabs are common on the islands and are found on land and in the water. Land hermit crabs (also known as Soldier Crabs) make a very distinctive rustling sound as they move through the brush.
Warderick Wells Cay in the park also harbors remnants of its history as a refuge for British Royalists fleeing America during the American Revolution. The foundations of buildings and walls made of limestone are accessible by trail. Here, Conservancy staff explore the ruins with one of the park wardens.
The Conservancy works with the Bahamian government and the Bahamas National Trust to support the local work of the park wardens and volunteers and to provide science and technical support for management planning. On a regional level, the Bahamas is part of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, a history-making effort launched through the support of the Conservancy in which Caribbean governments commit to protect and effectively manage at least 20% of their marine environments.