Andros Expedition, July 28-3rd Aug 2019
Expedition Leaders: Dr. Tristan Guttridge and Mathew Potenski Guests: Amoryn, Amra, Boris, Gabby, Jason, Jean and Pippa
What a week! From swimming with wild dolphins, to gill netting in the dark, exploring blue holes, and diving with a school over over 50 silky sharks, this expedition was jam-packed with adventure. This thrilling week saw guests face some emotional and challenging moments that they’ll remember forever, and we’re proud to have been part of their special journey. The weeks breakdown is detailed below, enjoy!
THIS BLOG WAS KINDLY WRITTEN BY EXPEDITION GUEST GABBY.
Everyone arrived to the airport at 8:15am. Tristan handed out our eco bags while the guests got acquainted, and the luggage was checked in. Before we knew it, it was time to board our plane and start our adventure to Andros, the largest island in The Bahamas!
Whilst flying the group had amazing views of the blue waters of the Bahamas, and as we reached Andros they were entranced by the wild terrain of the island. Once landed, we passed through customs and loaded our bags into the taxis to head to the Bonefish Club, our home for the next week.
On arrival some guests were immediately drawn to the ocean, and were rewarded by viewing a few local lemon sharks swimming by, one a well known individual, named Eclipse. After receiving our room keys we placed our belongings into our rooms, and headed back to the main area for lunch, and an afternoon briefing.
Before we knew it we were on the water and heading to a shallow reef where we encountered a large, free-swimming remora that spent a lot of time investigating each of us! Where there’s a remora, there’s often a shark, ray, turtle, or other large animal, and one of this size got us all guessing which large critter was close by! After our dip we hopped back into the boat and drove over to the deeper side of the reef where we saw a reef shark patrolling 30 ft below us.
After our snorkel we visited Isla’s Point, a known lemon shark spot to see if we could attract some juvenile lemon sharks. The current was ripping which means a strong bait slick and sharks, however extreme tides meant the sharks were overly cautious and reluctant to venture close. We all enjoyed the view of the sharks from the surface, but with the sun beginning to set, we called it a day and headed back to the lodge for dinner.
After our main meal we gathered around the TV in the common room to watch the first night of Shark Week! This trip coincided with Shark Week so we were excited to really live Shark Week, whilst being with sharks; what’s more our expedition leader Tristan was on both feature shows, opening night, so we all enjoyed teasing him about his on screen appearance!
We woke for a 7am breakfast and headed out early to a spot known for silky sharks. Our hot spot location is a navy buoy that sits in the tongue of the ocean, a deep oceanic trench that reaches eerie depths of over 2000 meters!
Upon arrival we immediately spotted a few silky sharks in the water, without any bait, so decided to take advantage of swimming with them in their natural state. Curious, calm and a little inquisitive these sleek sharks have the perfect temperament to introduce pelagic sharks to almost anyone! After about 30 minutes everyone got back in the boat and we began to bait to see what we could bring up from the depths.
All guests then returned to the water to observe the difference in behavior bait would make; the sharks were motivated and excited. With more silkies zooming around we were greeted by a new surprise, from deep below a much larger shark was swimming up to investigate us, and at first it was thought to be a very large silky. As the shark approached the surface it gave everyone a good look and made several close passes, it was then we realized that it was a different species. It was a large male dusky shark!
Using our own co-leader Matt as a reference we were able to gauge that the dusky was roughly 3 meters (10 ft) long. We spent some quality time in the water with him, what a beauty! After our shark-filled morning we decided it was time to head home for lunch before our afternoon activity.
On arrival to the lodge we ate lunch and took a short break before heading back to sea. Next up was a leisure snorkel around a popular spot we often visit. A couple of guests saw green turtles swimming around the area, along with an abundance of colorful reef fish and other life.
After everyone excitedly explored the location we moved on to a nearby blue hole. The water was crystal clear, and warm, another site nobody wanted to leave! At the bottom of the relatively shallow divot there was a cave entrance which a few people dove down into when they weren’t swimming around the perimeter admiring the healthy reef. The creepy hole was dark and spider crabs had been spotted there previously.
So, we finished up at the blue hole and decided to bait in a known sharky channel to see what we could attract. Unfortunately the tide wasn’t in our favor and nothing big appeared to be present, so, we cut our losses and decided to head back for the day. Nature had other ideas though; on our way back we were joined by a small pod of dolphins in incredibly shallow water. A few people did not hesitate to hop in to see if they could get a close interaction with the dolphins. The dolphins could be heard communicating under the water and they seemed to enjoy swimming past our divers. We spent time playing and circling them which was extremely hard to leave, but, we did as the light was fading and dinner was calling.
On arrival back to the lodge we got cleaned up and ready for dinner, followed by some more Shark Week episodes and an early bed ready for tomorrow’s adventures.
Today the crew were up bright and early for a 6.30am breakfast for an early start on the water, a break in the afternoon, followed by a night-time activity. With great weather conditions and tides we headed out to a popular snorkeling spot; a shallow, beautiful location.
The reef was absolutely gorgeous and busy with the early morning life. There was a huge spider crab hiding in the coral that everyone excitedly observed, in addition a large loggerhead sea turtle and nurse shark were also spotted by a couple of guests.
After our calm, relaxed snorkel we piled back into the boat and headed to our hammerhead location. Hammerhead season is typically December through April so we knew the chances of attracting one in July was extremely unlikely, however we, as a group wanted to try, so we did. Tristan hopped in and began baiting with co-leader Matt, and after a few minutes guests leaped in too. We were all interested to see a nurse shark and Nassau grouper resting next to each other near a coral head; neither one of them moved while the bait started to attract other animals. No luck on the hammerheads, but the dive was still a huge success with Caribbean reef and blacknose sharks, giant grouper and cubera snapper, barracuda, mackeral and southern stingrays making frequent passes.
After a few hours in the hammerhead location we moved to a local lagoon for a relaxed afternoon walking the shallow water, and enjoying the islands isolation, while Tristan baited the water, and Matt snapped some photos. Within twenty minutes juvenile lemon sharks surrounded us. We enjoyed watching them swim in close, while we used each other as anchors against the strong current!
Soon everyone started to get hungry so we headed back to the lodge for lunch and our afternoon break. The staff at the Bonefish Club had prepared Bahamian BBQ chicken wings and pasta salad for us, and we were thankful and grateful for the delicious, filling lunch. With our next activity in a few hours some guests grabbed a nap, some caught up with friends and family, and others simply enjoyed the view from the patio at the lodge.
At 4pm Tristan gave a lecture on the sharks and other fauna of Andros and answered any questions the group had regarding the different species he’d covered. Soon after we ate dinner everyone prepared for our next outing, nighttime gill netting.
At 7pm we loaded into Captain Cole’s truck for a 30-minute drive to a local beach sawfish were regularly spotted in, some years ago. The scenery on the way was beautiful and those in the bed of the truck had a fun time dodging branches while driving the narrow dirt road to the beach.
Upon arrival we gathered our equipment and carried it a few minutes down the beach to a stunning lagoon where we set our net. Tristan gave a detailed briefing on what we planned to do, and what he hoped we’d achieve as well what would happen if we caught a shark/sawfish! Part of the group helped set the 100 meter net in the water, whilst others prepared a tub and datasheet on shore as the sun was setting.
When we began the tide was high, falling towards low. Two different groups rotated for checks every fifteen minutes and with the tide dropping the checks got easier. Those that were not checking sat on the beach and stargazed prior to a storm rolling in. A quick down pour and the clouds moved on to reveal a gorgeous night sky and some incredible shooting stars. We also had the pleasure of seeing striking bioluminescent organisms in the waves.
Over the set we snagged a couple snappers, a bonefish and a ton of seaweed, all of which were released unharmed, but unfortunately no sharks, or the elusive smalltooth sawfish. At 11.30pm we hauled the net and packed up the gear to head home, back to the lodge and the comfort of our clean beds.
Even without any sharks it was an incredibly fun and enlightening experience, everyone went to bed exhausted and happy. “We didn't realize we were creating memories we just knew we were having fun” - Winnie the Pooh
Due to our late night breakfast was at 8am this morning, this gave everyone a chance to catch up on sleep and be energized for the day. With full stomachs we loaded into the boat and headed off to “The Coffin”, a local blue hole named for its long, rectangular shape.
We spent over an hour exploring this popular crevice and the surrounding reef, and for many this was the perfect opportunity to practice some freediving into the creepy depths of the hole. Once we’d had our fun we moved on to a research based activity and deployed some drum lines in hopes of processing sharks for research. Drum lining consists of a floating buoy tied to a line that is secured to a 45 lbs. weight which has a monofilament line attached, and a baited hook. All research is standardized, which means it feeds directly into the research goals and objectives of collaborating 501 (c) 3 non-profit, Saving the Blue.
After we deployed the five lines we moved closer to shore to wait for an hour before checking to see if anything had taken the bait. Whilst waiting we saw a reef shark patrolling the break wall in extremely shallow water, but with no sharks on the first check we re-deployed the lines. Our diverse group shared stories from their lives and laughed while we snacked and waited for the next check. The second check brought us a chocolate colored nurse shark, this allowed guests to actively participate in shark research; to gain a first-hand look, and involvement in the process. We ‘worked up’ the shark which consisted of taking measurements, a stable isotope sample (a small clipping from the dorsal fin) and insertion of a PIT (Passive Integrative Transponder) tag into the muscle near the dorsal fin, before releasing the shark.
With a successful work-up completed, and the whole group happy we headed back to the lodge for lunch and a break to cool off from the relentless summer heat.
All guests are given a free eco bag full of eco friendly goodies! The bags typically include: Reusables such as water bottles, stainless steel or bamboo straws, and bamboo cutlery. In addition guests find plastic free alternatives such shampoo soap bars and bamboo toothbrushes. Lastly we always provide an exclusive Silent Hunter Expedition tee.
At 3.30pm we then rode a short truck drive, and trekked a mini hike to an inland blue “green” hole. The rocky perimeter of the hole creates a unique base for the thriving mini ecosystem in the murky water. Guests enjoyed snorkeling along the edge to see the small fish making their homes in the crevices of the rock. If not snorkeling the edges, we were freediving to the bottom to get a glimpse of the cave that leads to the ocean!
After our hours of fun we headed back to the lodge for dinner, and a wonderful talk by Matt on his travels and photography from around the globe. We chatted and watched a little more Shark Week before heading to bed. During the night we had a powerful storm pass through the lodge, everyone fell asleep to the sound of rain and thunder which really added to our adventurous, off the beaten track day vibes.
We woke up to a stormy morning and headed to the common room for breakfast. The weather wasn’t looking like it would break anytime soon so we decided to use this time to prepare our rigs for some more shark captures once the storm had passed.
Once the storm calmed we loaded our gear onto the boat and set out to see if we could process more sharks. We deployed 5 drum lines in shallow water and waited to see what the morning would bring. Over the course of three checks we captured five sharks, and a barracuda. All guests excitedly took turns assisting with the ‘work-ups’ of four Caribbean reef and one nurse shark.
We were delighted with our success and decided to try deeper waters! We hauled our gear and headed to the drop off to test our luck in waters ranging from 60-80 feet. Luck however was not on our side and we unfortunately did not catch another shark, so we decided to call it a day on the research front, and instead we headed to another blue hole and beautiful patch reef for a snorkel.
The small blue hole had a milky haze smothering the top which enticed many of us to try and dive into it to see what was beyond the murk! Sure, it wasn’t for everyone but almost all were tempted to try. Upon attempts we discovered the water was much cooler just a few feet into the blue hole, we laughed as no one would venture deeper! The surrounding reef however was vibrant and we explored the vicinity discovering a smaller blue hole which was more like a narrow crevice in the sea bed.
After everyone had their fill at this new area we loaded back onto the boat and decided to see if we could attract any sharks in the late afternoon. Time was running out, but we wanted to try one last spot, we always push our days until the very last minute! Once bait was in the water Tristan spotted a Caribbean reef shark swimming up our bait trail behind the boat but unfortunately it never came in close. With the hesitancy observed, and the sun low, we finally gave in and headed home.
To avoid our bait going to waste we decided to use it off the dock at the lodge in the hopes of attracting some local sharks in for a late night meal. A sawfish was spotted less than a mile down the same canal, so we’re always hopeful we’ll attract a wild card! Tristan hid bait in the rocks resting at the bottom of the sea wall and by the time we got back from our showers there were already a couple large lemon sharks sniffing around for their snacks!
We quickly ate our dinner and headed back outside to see if anymore were attracted to the area. There were five sharks in total, all swimming around the shallows and only a few feet away. Some of the more determined ones were swimming on top of the rocks with most of their backs out of the water! We all enjoyed watching them until slowly, but surely we all sifted off to bed.
Today the group were greeted to another rainy morning, but it passed quickly and we decided to head out to the navy buoy again to hopefully see more silkies.
Upon arrival there were a handful of silky sharks swimming around the boat. Tristan hopped into the water to secure the boat and within seconds we heard a shriek of excitement from him. He popped his head up to describe the scene below him. There was a large school of silkies, he estimated 40+ (!), along with rainbow runners, jacks and mahi-mahi!
Guests quickly put on their dive gear and hopped into the calm, clear waters of the Tongue of the Ocean. On entering the deep blue we felt like we’d entered a whole new world. With no bait we were able to see roughly 50 silky sharks gracefully swimming below us. They were incredibly calm and at ease with our presence, so much so guests were able to dive down into the middle of them with no fear, and the sharks seemed to welcome us as one of their own.
The group spent the best part of two hours observing and freediving with these amazing animals, words cannot explain the magical, and breathtaking moments we all experienced.
After our unbelievable snorkel we headed back onto the boat to see if we could catch a few of the silkies, for Saving the Blue research. Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List with declining populations documented throughout the world. Research efforts investigating aspects of their behavior, ecology and biology are crucial to improved conservation.
As soon as bait was in the water many of the sharks came immediately up to the surface. We successfully caught and tagged three juveniles (128cm – 162cm, total length), and so, after a thrilling and exhausting morning we decided it was a good time to head back to the lodge for lunch and a break.
Everyone ate, rehydrated and then headed back out to see if we would get lucky again! With hopes of attracting a great hammerhead we headed out to our spot. Within minutes we enticed a few reef sharks, but again no hammerheads would make their presence known so we moved on.
So, we were satisfied with our attempt in the area, and with the tide dying off we headed to the lagoon we visited earlier in the week to see what sharks were nearby, and well, we were greeted with exceptional conditions! The water was glass flat, and crystal clear from the surface. Everyone waded in the shallow water and chatted about the day while Tristan baited. Before long we saw the dorsal fin of a reef shark break the surface. Everyone gathered around as both reef and lemon sharks made numerous approaches. The entire group, whether they were in the water or on the boat, had a blast watching these two species swim in and out, around us.
No one wanted to call it a day but it was getting late and so we started our ride home, back to the lodge for the final time. On arrival to the lodge we took quick showers and headed for our last dinner of the trip. After our meal some guests assisted Tristan as he processed the blood samples from the silkies that morning; he used a small centrifuge to separate the plasma from the blood. These tissue samples are then used to learn more about the diet of these open ocean travelers! Once complete we ventured out for our last night in paradise. Everyone piled into Cole’s truck one final time, and headed to a local bar. We enjoyed fun conversation, reflected on the week, played pool and some celebrated with a few drinks before heading back to the lodge for our final night.
Everyone woke up bright and early to enjoy breakfast, and to indulge in one last outing before we had to say goodbye to Andros.
For our final activity we decided to test our luck back at Isla’s Point. On arrival the water was shallow and the current was ideal. Everyone waded in, and Tristan began to bait. Within a few minutes we had our first shark, a newborn lemon shark – born this year – not much bigger than a banana! We were elated to see this miniature predator enjoy the bait and make close passes before the larger lemon sharks started rolling in.
Once they built their numbers they became bolder; following each other up the bait trail to mere inches from guests. We spent almost two hours with over a dozen lemons sharks in thigh deep water, what a way to end the trip! Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the lodge to pack up our belongings, so we slowly trudged back to the boat and said goodbye to our lemony friends.
Upon arrival everyone did a final rinse of their gear, grabbed a quick lunch and piled their luggage into the local taxis. Saying warm goodbyes and see-you-laters to the staff and Cole, everyone hopped into the taxis and headed back to the airport. A short flight saw us land back in Fort Lauderdale, and with reluctant goodbyes completed, our week in Andros had finally come to an end, until next time………
ANDROS JULY 2019 CREW, CAN WE GO BACK YET?
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful guests for joining us, the incredible Andros Island Bonefish Club for their hospitality, the hardworking and ever professional Cole from PFO Charters for his top class boating and captaining skills, and everyone that made this trip as awesome as it was: an entirely unforgettable July 2019.
If you’d like to join us on an expedition, we still have spaces for 2020, so please contact us and be part of something truly special.