Snorkeling in Abaco
by "Pellucid
The Dodge Guide lists a number of dive/snorkel sites, but many of them are good only when the wind and waves cooperate.  What do you do when you have a bunch of kids who want to go snorkeling, and it’s blowing like stink?  Capt. Bob Knaus has boatloads of Boy Scouts aboard S/V PELLUCID who expect to get in the water every single day for the week they are aboard.  So, he has figured out some spots that will let the kids get wet no matter what the weather.

These spots are between Manjack Cay and Little Harbour, listed from north to south.  Each one has brief directions, what you can expect to see, and notes regarding wind direction and anchorage.  Enjoy!

Figure 1: snorkel spots in the Upper Sea of Abaco
Manjack Cay – North End (Figure 1, #1)
Directions: You are heading for the beach between the cay and Manjack Rocks.  Do not cross between the rocks and the cay unless you are in a dinghy.  Either follow the Dodge directions around into the bay on the north side, or anchor as shown off Manjack Beach and dinghy or hike the beach.

What to see: Swim with the stingrays!  All you really need to do is wade in the water.  The local dive operators have been feeding the rays here for many years.  They are quite friendly, and will come right up to your legs.  Just don’t step on them.

Notes: North bay is rolly under most conditions but fine for seeing the rays almost anytime. Bay off Manjack Beach is well protected from NW through E to S.

Manjack/Crab Cay – Wrecks (Figure 1, #2)
Directions: Go to the Dodge guide wreck symbols along the north shore of Crab Cay.

What to see: Lots of small fish in the sunken barges and equipment, and along the rocky edge of the cay.

Notes: Protected in winds from N through E through S.

Green Turtle – Sea Gardens (Figure 1, #3)
Directions: This is a beach snorkel.  From the Green Turtle Club in White Sound, follow the signs to the Ocean Beach.  Or from New Plymouth, take the sand road that branches off the main one north of Bita Bay.  Best entry is at the north end of the beach.

What to see: A shallow inshore reef ranging from 50 to 100 yards offshore for almost a mile, with an assortment of colorful fish, sea fans, and some coral formations.

Notes: Protected by the outer reef which breaks the worst of the sea surge.  Especially good when a cold front brings the wind around to the south or west.  Will be murky with strong N to E winds.

Figure 2: snorkel spots in the Middle Sea of Abaco
Great Guana – Fishers Bay (Figure 2, #4)
Directions:  Just around the corner from the Settlement Harbour in the middle of the island.  Or take the road to the Dive Guana shop.  A rocky groin juts across from the Dive Guana dock, there are various pieces of debris on the bottom throughout the mooring field, and a small reef is located about 150 yards north of the mooring field.

What to see:  A Pacific species, the lionfish, lives in the rocky groin.  Pretty, but don’t touch!  Sharks, rays, and jackfish cruise the bay while the small reef has the usual assortment of small fish.

Notes:  Protected from N through E to almost S.  A popular spot for a swim, but do watch the boat traffic as it can be pretty heavy.  Best to keep the kids near the boat.

Great Guana – Nippers (Figure 2, #5)
Directions: Follow the signs from the settlement to Nippers.  Try not to get stuck at the bar.  Enter the water just to the left of the rocks immediately below the bar.  The reef is about 75 yards offshore, and parallels the beach for about 200 yards.

What to see:  The outside edge of the reef drops from the surface to 20 feet or more.  The shallow edge has many small colorful fish while the larger ones hang out in the deeper water.  It is not unusual to see several barracuda here.

Notes:  A good spot in a southerly blow, the high beach dune protects from SSE through NW.  Occasionally a heavy swell will make entry difficult.  Do not swim over the reef, it is shallow and often breaks.  Swim around either end.

Water Cay – Wrecks (Figure 2, #6)
Directions:  Go to the west side of Water Cay, staying well off the point to avoid the shallow rocky bar.  The wrecks are prominent, in about 9 feet of water.  There is also some debris from the old conch farm.

What to see:  Assortment of small fish hang out at the wrecks.  The surrounding area is said to be a good lobster spot.

Notes: Protected from E through S to W.

Man-O-War Cay – North End (Figure 2, #7)
Directions:  Proceed to the anchorage shown near Old Scopley’s Rock off the north entrance to the harbor, or anywhere to the north off the chain of small rocks and the cove to the north as your depth permits.

What to see:  Various pieces of debris dot the bottom, and the chain of rocks provides bottom cover.  All of these attract small fish.  The northernmost rock is used as a conch cleaning station by the locals.  You can have your pick of souvenir shells from the bottom, already cleaned out by the critters.  Sniff the shells to make sure you don’t have a stinker.

Notes:  Good from N through SE, although some swell will work around when it is strong from the NE.  The beach at the “narrows” on the cay is shallow and protected, a great spot for kids who are just learning how to snorkel.

Marsh Harbour – Mermaid Reef (Figure 2, #8)
Directions:  A popular, well-marked spot about a mile SE of the main harbor entrance.  You can’t miss the floating sign and anchor buoys.  The reef is about 50 feet inshore of the buoys.  Or, from the Jib Room turn right on the paved road and walk 200 yards to the rocky beach on your left.

What to see:  LOTS of fish, all swimming right up to you.  The fish are used to being fed Cheez-Whiz, crackers, Cheerios, etc.  If you take cereal, put it in a zip-lock and not your pockets, unless you like fish swimming in your shorts.

Notes:  When it’s windy, this reef is quite calm from SE through SW.  The buoys are for small boats only.  If you anchor, be aware that the bottom here is thin, rocky, and very poor holding.
Figure 3: snorkel spots in the Lower Sea of Abaco
Elbow Cay – Tahiti Beach (Figure 3, #9)
Directions:  Follow waypoints between Lubber’s Quarters and Elbow Cay.  Most small powerboats anchor off the sandspit, while larger boats anchor north of Baker’s Rock and dinghy in.

What to see:  There are two deep holes scoured out by the tide just behind the gaps in the rocks that protect the beach from the waves coming in Tilloo Cut.  Depending on the tide, these may contain sharks, bonefish, and many small fish.  As the tide rises, the sharks and bonefish leave the holes to feed on the sand flats.  There is some current in the tide pools but it is a short swim to knee-deep water.

Notes:  The sand flats protect the tidal pools from almost any wind direction.  Plus the beach is great.  This is the spot to go when it’s too darn windy to go anywhere else.

Tilloo Cay – North End (Figure 3, #10)
Directions:  Follow waypoints to area between Lubber’s Quarters and Tilloo Cay.  The Dodge Guide shows 4 snorkeling spots within a quarter mile of the prominent castle.  In addition, there are scattered coral heads within 50 feet of the shoreline all the way south to Tilloo Bank.

What to see:  Small fish use the coral heads for shelter.  Finding the small heads south of the castle is fun and can fritter away most of a day.

Notes:  Generally protected from NE through SE.  There is a bit of current near the “Fish Hotel” but not much elsewhere.  Easy anchorage anywhere.

Little Harbour – Entrance (Figure 3, #11)
Directions:  Follow waypoints to enter Little Harbour.  Go ashore at the dock, and follow the sand road behind the foundry to the beach.  Enter near the far end of the beach, the reef stretches out about 100 yards from the rock point at the harbor entrance.

What to see:  Elkhorn and other corals that thrive in the surge, along with small reef fish.  Spotted eagle rays can often be seen.

Notes:  Good from E through S through W.  On days when a strong swell is coming through the cut, entry may be difficult.  Do not swim over the top of the reef as it often breaks.  Little Harbour has a 3.5’ depth at low water which may limit the times you can enter and leave.  It is possible to anchor off the beach and swim to the reef, provided the swell is not too bad.  It’s best to enter the harbor and pick up a mooring.  These are free during the day, $15 if you stay the night.
Editor's Notes re: snorkeling gear and sites for experienced divers
Visitors to Abaco who are casual or infrequent divers and do not own equipment often inquire as to whether to buy or rent dive gear. Many of the local dive shops rent "snorkel packages" consisting of a mask, snorkel, and fins, for about $15/day/person. If you are only going to dive for a day or two, and you don't mind equipment that is functional but not fancy, this may be a good option. Conversely, if you feel you may want to dive every day for a week, or you would prefer premium-quality equipment, consider buying your gear and bringing it with you. A third option would be to buy and pack entry-level gear; it's entirely up to you. If you are buying, we urge that you try on a mask and confirm its fit before you buy it.

Visitors also inquire about the need for a wet suit. If you will be in Abaco during the cooler months, consider bringing a "shorty" wet suit, although hardy folks from New England or Canada will probably be delighted with the 70-72 degree water they will encounter. With water temps near 80 from June through October, wet suits aren't really necessary.

Local dive shops often carry books and large, colorful, waterproof charts that divers can carry with them. Children really enjoy being able to identify fish and invertebrates using these resources.

As mentioned above, Dodge's Cruising Guide to Abaco provides details about many of the most popular dive sites, some of which can be explored by snorkeling. If you are at all serious about snorkeling, order or purchase a copy of Dodge, and do a little research on the dive sites near the area where you will be staying. Here are some sites we have snorkeled and enjoyed:
  • Extensive reefs just off the NW tip of Guana Cay; actually, you can snorkel almost anywhere along the length of Guana and MOW Cays.
  • The Fowl Cay area.
  • The reefs between the north tip of Elbow Cay and Johnny's Cay.
  • Almost anywhere in the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park; watch the current!

If you are in a rental boat and trying to explore these areas on your own, by very careful as you approach the reefs. Proceed at idle speed, make sure you have good visibility, assess the strength of the current, don't anchor on coral, and keep an eye on your crew when they are in the water.

Lionfish have become endemic in the waters of Abaco, you will encounter them anywhere you dive. While the are not aggressive, they don't "attack," their spines secrete a potent toxin, contact can be fatal. Do not handle a lionfish.

Do not swim or dive where there is blood in the water, e.g. near someone spearfishing or cleaning fish and discarding entrails in the water. The few shark attacks we are aware of have occurred in these circumstances.