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The rare opportunity to snorkel with wild dolphins highlights a new excursion at Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros Island in The Bahamas. Called A Safari on Fresh Creek, this excursion was created to give visitors an opportunity to view the inland wilderness of Andros, one of the largest unexplored tracts in the Western Hemisphere.
Fresh Creek, in central Andros, is a pristine tidal river. The 20 mile waterway is a maze of channels and mudflats, a true outback and home to herons and hawks, schools of Bonefish, Eagle Rays and even wild dolphins.
‘We developed this excursion as a way to show guests another part of Andros; the part they don’t usually see if they are divers; the inland part,’ says Jeff Birch, manager of Small Hope Bay Lodge. ‘Our rivers and mangrove swamps are as important to our ecology as the reefs.’
Andros boasts the third longest barrier reef in the world, stretching 142 miles along the island’s eastern shore.
The boat takes guests from the Small Hope dock into the mouth of Fresh Creek via the sheltered lagoon. Their journey will take them partway up this 20 mile passage, past the Fresh Creek Lighthouse and Marina and the Government docks, where the mail boats deliver supplies.
The boat heads west under the Fresh Creek Bridge to enter the shallow water home of the world famous Bonefish. Those who have ‘the eye’ can spot schools of these gray ghosts, as well as Needlefish, Southern Stingrays and Eagle Rays.
The boat cruises past the Monadnock, a sunken New York ferry. The half submerged barge now provides nesting grounds for owls and other birdlife above the water and Mangrove Snappers below.
Andros is laced with waterways and tidal rivers; some of which slice the island straight through, east to west. It is a wild outback of mangrove marshes and creeks, which provide a habitat for young marinelife; both fish and mammals.
The dolphins have been seen in Fresh Creek for years; but sightings were intermittent. Notes Jeff, ‘It is only in the past year, since we have taken boat excursions up through Fresh Creek on a regular basis, that we realized the dolphins were responding to us. They were showing up when they heard the boat. So, we set up a schedule; making the excursion every other day. The dolphins just got used to seeing us and, before we knew it, they became a regular fixture on the tour.’
The number of dolphin spotted at any one time in the Creek ranges from one to three. ‘Right now we are seeing just one male Bottlenose,’ says Jim Sollars, divemaster at Small Hope Bay Lodge. ‘Whenever we come around he leaps and plays, glad to have us in the water with him. He really seems to enjoy our company.
‘I don’t know what happened to his friends; maybe they went off to start a family somewhere.’
Says divemaster Jim, ‘If we are lucky; and we almost always are; we will spot at least one dolphin on every trip and have the opportunity of snorkeling with it. It is an incredible experience. These dolphins are wild but they seem to enjoy the company of humans and happily swim with us. They spin and roll and come very close.
‘We respect them and do not pet, touch or feed these wild animals. We simply enjoy swimming with them for as long as they are here,’ he says.
This excursion is a fun and informative outing the whole family can enjoy. Small Hope offers A Safari on Fresh Creek as an afternoon excursion, twice a week; more often if there is a demand. The cost is $45 for adults, $15 for children under 12.
Small Hope Bay Lodge, with just 20 cottages on the beach, is an all-inclusive family vacation resort, specializing in snorkeling, diving, fishing and relaxation. Opened in 1960, Small Hope was the first diving resort established in The Bahamas. It has remained under the continuous management of the Birch Family.
For information and brochures, contact P.O. Box 21667, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33335-1667; (242) 368-2013; (800) 223-6961 (U.S./ Canada). E-mail can be sent to SHBinfo@ SmallHope.com or visit the Web site at www. SmallHope.com.