Andros Expedition, June 9-15th 2019
Expedition Leaders: Annie Guttridge and Bryan Keller Guests: Carlos, Marleyna, Rosie, Shelby, Vanessa and Vivian
A jackpot week, filled with more than we could have ever hoped for. We saw, and dived with reef, nurse, blacknose, lemon, silky, and a possible – almost certain – tiger shark. There were also eagle rays, stingrays, turtles, dolphins, and of course, our superstar hammerheads. We dived blue holes, swam around wrecks and mangroves, cleaned a few beaches, listened to some lectures, ate some goooood food, caught and tagged sharks, practiced some freediving, danced in the rain, climbed underground walls (!), and enjoyed every single moment in paradise.
As guests gathered at the airport, Annie handed out the Silent Hunter goodie bags, filled with green, eco-friendly products such as bamboo toothbrushes, reef safe sunscreen, and more. Before we knew it, we were boarding our little plane, in search of adventure. As we all gazed over the habitat rich island of Andros, adventure filled our minds, with multiple sharks and blue holes spotted from the air.
On landing, and after taxing down to our lodge, guests were given a little time to offload before being whisked to our informal meeting area for a planning discussion.
After a briefing from Annie, guests organized their equipment and geared up for an afternoon dive. Our first stop was an incredibly beautiful reef which was truly bursting with life. Highlights included a large nurse shark, southern stingrays, and a super friendly eagle ray who seemed to be hanging around the group, curious of our presence. With all guests comfortable in the water, we decided to roll the dice and take a chance of attracting some great hammerheads.
We knew the probability of attracting these large sharks in June was unlikely, but we couldn’t resist trying. After 45 minutes of baiting, and a few curious reef sharks below, we almost called it a day. But then, a large female great hammerhead made an appearance. She stayed low, but was moving fast and with conviction. She made a handful of passes, but soon left the party, after her curiosity was satisfied. We were all losing our minds with excitement, but then, out of nowhere, a male hammerhead burst into view and headed up the water column towards the surface, and moved around our guests, like a bull in a china shop! This male was bold and had no insecurities, weaving between the members of our group. This shark meant us no harm, but wow did he have our attention! Adrenaline was high, and with many guests elated to see their first wild hammerhead, it was hard to leave the site. With the light diminishing, we drew a line under our crazy afternoon of fun and headed back to the lodge for dinner.
After dinner, and the guests’ first taste of Jonny bread achieved, we called it a night and headed to bed to recover, dream of hammerheads, and be ready for an action packed day tomorrow.
Up early and off to the Tongue of the Ocean for some silky shark action, if our hopes were to come true. Within minutes of setting up, we saw our first silky, followed by another, and another, in total there were twelve! At first, we took turns entering the water in pairs. This way, we improved diver confidence, and avoided spooking the silkies with our arrival and presence. After every guest had the incredible opportunity to dive with these pelagic sharks, all were invited back in for a second round, to enjoy them once more. Silent Hunter founders Dr. Tristan and Annie Guttridge also founded Saving the Blue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping our oceans sharks. Saving the Blue has many research projects underway and one of them includes the Andros silky shark population. Silent Hunter contributes all data to this nonprofit, and if you’d like to learn more about their research please click HERE.
With spirits high, we decided to head to a new and exciting spot, a blue hole that is always popular with guests. We hopped in and took it in turns to dive into the eerie blue hole, which seems more creepy black than blue! Down ten feet, we found a giant puffer hiding under an overhang, and a little further down were some lion fish, in addition to other colorful fish, darting around the walls of the hole.
Some guests enjoyed diving the almost-cave over and over, whilst others explored the perimeter. A giant school of more than 200 bar jacks were seen, in addition to another puffer, an approximately two-meter nurse shark, and more. After an hour or so, we all slowly made our way back to the boat where we had a little fun freediving and standing under the boat – yes you read that correctly!
Next up was a snorkel over a beautiful sandy bottom where we were greeted by two eagle rays. There was absolutely no bait in the water and we had at least six reef sharks and four nurse sharks in view. The depth there was around 45 feet, so the nurse sharks resting on the bottom were not accessible to all, however, the reef sharks coexisting with them and gliding overhead was a beautiful sight to see.
After our mellow swim, we decided to add a little bait to attract the reef sharks a bit higher up in the water column. We had fun watching the sharks make close passes, and it was fascinating to see the social order within the handful of shark nearby.
As the day was drawing to a close, we decided to opt for a little beach clean-up. We walked the sandy banks, collecting mostly plastics, which we loaded up into the truck ready for disposal. Beach cleans are always hard; we are doing a good deed, however it is never enough with endless amounts of plastics, ghost nets and more.
During our walk, and as the sun was setting, multiple southern stingrays were spotted searching the shallows for a late night snack. The rays allowed us within ten feet of them, however, if we approached any closer they lifted their tails as a warning that we were too close, and so we backed off and respected their wishes.
Our action packed day was completed with a lecture on the sharks of Andros, by expedition leader and scientist Bryan Keller, which was followed by dinner, a beautiful and colorful sunset, shark chat (as always), picture editing, family updates, social media updates, and an early bedtime.
On this day, true exploration was on the itinerary, as we decided to a conduct some research activities, followed by dropping in on some new locations, and making an attempt to attract sea turtles for the first time.
First up, we headed to a new blue hole that we’d never investigated before. It was shallow, with a maximum depth of fifteen feet, but at the bottom of the wide hole was an opening which extended twenty feet. Without lights, we did not enter the opening, but everyone enjoyed the thrill of gazing into the unknown! After we practiced some duck dives and freediving techniques together, we moved on for the research segment of our day.
After setting our research lines in a new location, a 228cm male nurse shark was captured. All expedition participants are actively encouraged to assist with the research process. From securing the shark, to taking important samples such as DNA and stable isotope, to listing data and environmental information, everyone has a role, and is part of the practice.
After setting the lines again, the team snorkeled a wreck where an abundance of fish and sharks were spotted, including a resting nurse shark. On checking the lines once more, no further sharks were caught, so we moved on to our next spot.
BAMBOO OVER PLASTIC
All guests are given a sustainably sourced bamboo toothbrush from MABLE. We hope this gift will encourage them to drop the plastic brushes, and go green.
Perhaps you’ll do the same?
RREF SAFE SUNSCREEN
Stream2Sea is the ONLY reef friendly mineral sunscreen that is tested and proven safe to fishes and coral larvae.
Tubes are made from sugarcane resins, and 32 oz bottles are made from recycled milk jugs.
Next, we headed off to our turtle location. We had previously seen turtles in this area, so we were intrigued to see if we could attract them with a little bait. All guests enjoyed a cool-off swim in the tropics before setting up camp on the rocks, which allowed us to see anything coming in from the horizon. After 35 minutes no turtles had approached us, which was not surprising, as people do not typically attract turtles, but we wanted to try something new, so we did.
During our turtle-specific baiting, we did entice a bold reef shark closer, which put on quite the show feeding at the surface with its entire head out of the water! With the reef shark unfazed by our presence, we got geared up and got in. The reef was making close passes and was soon joined by a large barracuda. We watched as the shark got frustrated by the barracudas success in feeding from our bait, and we all patiently waited for the reef to make its move and predate on the large fish, but he didn’t. It was quite the show to watch nonetheless, and as light was beginning to fade, we climbed back on the boat to head home.
The day wasn’t over, though, as we soon spotted a pod of playful dolphins! The dolphins engulfed our boat as we all squealed in excitement. These beautiful, playful beings joined us for some twenty wonderful minutes before we called it a day and headed back to the lodge, as it was approaching seven o’clock!
After another full day, we had our showers and convened in the lounge to exchange images and stories, as we did every night. These moments are so simple but rewarding. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals is so special. After dinner and a few social media posts, it was off to bed we went.
As we’d passed the half way point, we couldn’t help but feel like time was rocketing past us, however, with another busy day ahead, there was no time for worrying over that. This morning’s activity was an inland blue hole. This popular location is a light trek from a side road, and as your view opens up from dense foliage, your eyes focus on this stunning honey pot.
We walked around the blue hole for a few minutes before all venturing in for a swim and a dive. The visibility for the first ten feet is incredibly poor, however, past that, it becomes crystal clear. As the team swam the circumference of the hole, many guests explored mini caves, and others practiced their underwater rock climbing and Spiderman poses on the over hangs.
Next up was lunch at a local restaurant. We truly believe in giving back to the community and so we all enjoyed a full, filling Bahamian lunch before heading out to our afternoon activity, Isla’s Point.
Upon arriving to Isla’s Point, it’s always exciting to try and spot sharks, which usually happens within minutes. This secluded beauty spot of white sand, crystal clear blue waters, and a wealth of lemon sharks, is always a big hit. Guests gathered round as trip leaders enticed the lemons closer, in a very slow, controlled, and calming way.
Seeing these mellow sharks in shallow water is always relaxing and memorable for all. Sharks from 60 to 180cm were swimming very close, within inches, making it an addicting activity and one very hard to leave!
As a rainstorm was closing in, we were forced to slowly pack away our belongings, but not before enjoying the sharks in the rain. We sat motionless as the freshwater streamed over us, all left in silence, each with just our thoughts.
On arrival back to the lodge, guests were treated to a lecture on the social behavior of sharks, from expedition leader and scientist Bryan Keller, followed by an incredible, locally-caught lobster dinner. That evening, Annie and Bryan also placed some bait off the dock to attract our beloved lemons in for a late night snack.
We were up early for a 7am breakfast before heading north for an extra-long day on the boat. The boat journey up was well over an hour, and on arrival, we cruised the shallows in search of a good location to set our research lines. As we drifted, we cruised past a giant shipwreck, an underwater car, and saw endless amounts of stingrays, eagle rays, turtles, and the occasional nurse shark. It was absolutely beautiful, and we had incredible weather conditions. The water like glass, and the sun beaming down made crisp conditions for gazing into the ocean, searching for life.
On deciding on a spot, we set our lines, and on our first check caught a 185cm female nurse shark. The team were excited to participate with the research, and assisted with the entire process. All research is standardized, which means it feeds directly into the research goals and objectives of nonprofit, Saving the Blue.
LOOSE THE BOTTLES All Silent Hunter goodie bags include a soap bar from BASIN. These packaging free products eliminate plastic altogether. Shampoo, conditioner, body, face, and even mosquito bars are available, and are a fantastic alternative to the plastic containers often used.
As noon approached, lunch was calling, and we set up on a local beach to enjoy a well-deserved break on the white Bahamian sand, followed by a dip in the sea with the odd stingray passing by. After our mini break, we cleaned the beach a little and geared up ready for the afternoon.
KOR flasks were a big hit with the team- They kept water ice cool whilst outside in the Bahamian sun! These reusable flasks also meant our team were reusing, and not contributing to single-use plastic trash; the beach was regrettably full of water bottles.
As we set our research lines once more, weather took a turn for the worse, we were forced to haul the lines and head back south. We weren’t to be defeated, though, so with the storms behind us, we stopped off at an incredible new blue hole! This hole was small and not everyone was comfortable diving down, but those who did definitely got a thrill from the darkness! After a few dives we explored the outer reef and saw endless amounts of fish, and sea life.
On arrival back to the lodge we cleaned and washed down our equipment with fresh water, and were rewarded with a delicious steak dinner, followed by a talk on photography from expedition leader Annie Guttridge.
On our final full day, spirits were a little low, however, we woke early and left the dock by 8:30am to try our hammerhead spot once more.
On arrival, conditions were far from ideal with high winds and swirl, but undaunted, we started to bait. Within minutes, we had Caribbean reef sharks ranging from one meter to more than two, and in total there were six sharks. Giant grouper, mackerel and barracuda were also present, but no hammerheads. There were multiple eerier moments where all sharks unexpectedly disappeared, and we could feel a larger shark nearby, but with conditions deteriorating we couldn’t confirm our feelings, and after a few hours of persevering, we chose to move on.
Our next location was a shallow sandy bottom, where a previous expedition had success baiting in a mixture of sharks and rays. A few of us played in the shallows taking pictures of the sea stars, whist others searched the nearby corals for life.
Within fifteen minutes, Bryan notified us that he had three lemon sharks and a reef shark present. All sharks were daring and had no hesitation in coming close to us divers. There was also a large shark patrolling further out, keeping its distance, yet curious enough not to leave. This shark grabbed all our attention and for the next 45 minutes, we were fixated on bringing it closer. The shark was dark, high in the water, fast, and nervous. After almost an hour observing its behavior we believed it to be a tiger shark, which of course excited everybody! Our tiger, however, would just not commit to approaching us, so we went to it. We quietly packed up our belongings and drove the boat incredibly slowly towards it, but this shark was not being fooled and took off, darting out of view within seconds. I guess we’ll never know for sure what species he or she was, but the whole episode was thrilling!
So after our excitement, we dropped in for a quick snorkel to blow some bubble rings, make a few free dives, and simply cool off in the summer heat before heading to the mangroves.
On arrival to the mangroves, the wind had picked up just enough to stir the sediment so unfortunately the visibility was poor, and although wading our way through deep, sinking sediment was fun, we opted for another snorkel location instead.
So, our final snorkel drop was in a known sharky channel. On jumping in we were faced with multiple large barracuda, a giant grouper and five nurse sharks! Everybody got a good look at the nurses all bundled together resting before they split up and went on their way. All of the sharks were adults exceeding two meters in total length, and after our last little hit of adrenaline we called it a day and headed home once more.
After dinner, and as darkness set in, there was still enough time for a little lemon shark action off the dock. We baited them in to count their numbers and identify any familiar faces before heading to bed for the final time.
It was our last morning in paradise, but with a few hours before our flight home, we hit the water one last time, back to Isla’s Point!
We had absolutely dreamy conditions on arrival, and within minutes we spotted some lemon sharks in the shallows. We hopped in and had more than a dozen in less than three feet of water. These sharks’ bold characters kept us on our toes as they showed their comfort and confidence in incredibly shallow water; in some instances, they would almost beach themselves with their entire backs out of the water. But after a few hours of fun, we regretfully said our goodbyes and started to make our journey back to the lodge.
After docking, we quickly grabbed showers, packed our things, settled our bar bills, and climbed into our taxis to head to the airport. The flight out of Andros is a bittersweet one, as it’s always so sad to leave, but the view from the plane is breathtaking, and never gets boring.
As the rather grey view of Fort Lauderdale closed in, we landed, cleared customs and said our goodbyes. Another unbelievable week had come to an end, but we know this isn’t the end as we’ll see this crew again soon! Thank you Andros for delivering so much life and for creating some memories that we’ll never forget.
ANDROS JULY 2019 CREW, WE NAILED IT!
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 June 2019.