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Rediscovering the Bahamas Blind Cave Fish

This page follows on from a previous article which considered the extinction of the Blind Cave Fish from the Mermaid's Pool as a result of sewage dumping. 

The Bahamas Blind Cave Fish is found in only a few isolated inland caves. 
This is an Adaptation of an article in the 'Nassau Guardian'.

I was very depressed leaving the Mermaid's Pool the day I found that sewage had been dumped there (See 'The Honey-wagon and the Blind cave Fish'). I knew I had to dive the hole to see if the fish really had been killed.

I wasnít keen to dive straight away, so I decided to wait a week or so until microbes in the water had broken down the waste. The next day I called a good friend, a Teacher at one of the local secondary schools, and arranged to dive with him. "Howard," I said, "Iíve got to dive in the Mermaidís Pool. Someoneís dumped a load of sewage there, and I need to know if the fish have been harmed."

"Dive into sewage." He laughed. "Iím not diving into sewage. You must be joking!"

" Itís no problem, "I replied. "The sewage will have been broken down by the weekend."

"How can you be sure, what if we get sick?"

"Weíll be all right," I said, trying to sound as if I meant it. "Weíll take antibiotics before we dive." One of our Dive Club members was a Doctor, and I was sure he would supply us with the antibiotics as a precaution.

Eventually I convinced Howard the dive would be safe, and we agreed to meet at the pool with several others on Sunday morning.

When we first looked closely at the R. M. Bailey School cave, we could see it was full of rubbish including two complete cars. After we found the rare cave fish here, members of the Bahamas Underwater Club with the help of the Rotary Club of West Nassau cleaned out the rubbish. I later submitted a proposal for the future conservation of the area. 

When we did arrive, there was quite a crowd waiting around the pool. The word had quickly spread. Several of our diving friends were there to help us with the ladders and equipment, and a few locals had arrived just to see the crazy white people diving in the filthy water. Howard was not so sure about the dive, and was having second thoughts. I was too, now the time had come!

We took the antibiotic tablets, and buckled on our scuba tanks, inflatable safety vests and weight belts. We were careful to make sure our masks were a tight fit before we entered the water. 

A ladder had been tied to an old Sea Grape tree growing at the edge of the water, and lowered into the water. I went down the ladder first, finding it difficult with the heavy scuba tank on my back, while carrying my camera, a collecting jar, an underwater torch and my swim fins. We didnít want to scare away any cave fish by jumping in - if there were any left!

As I lowered myself into the water, I clamped the mouthpiece of my regulator tightly between my teeth. I didnít want any of that foul water in my mouth.

Below the surface, I could see no more than a yard or two. The sun shone weakly through the yellowish water lighting up countless tiny particles. I didnít even want to think what they might have been! All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing and of the bubbles leaving my mouthpiece as I breathed out. A moment or two later, I could just make out Howardís bright blue swim fins and his legs appearing as he came down the ladder. The rest of his body soon followed, and he turned and gave me the diversí OK sign, thumb and fore finger joined to make a circle, the other three fingers straight. I returned the OK sign, and gave him the thumb down sign with my right hand. This meant Ďletís go down.í Hand signals are very important to divers, for the sound of voices does not travel underwater - not that itís actually possible to speak with a bulky regulator in your mouth.

The Mermaid's Pool sinks almost 200 feet into the limestone rock of New Providence. Before its pollution with human waste it was the major local habitat of the rare Bahamas Blind Cave Fish. 

Slowly we sunk into the murky water, swimming back towards the edge of the pool, and under its overhanging lip. As we moved further under the lip and into the darkness, we turned on our torches. The beam of the lights lit up the particles, but was unable to pass through more than a yard or so of water. Suddenly, from out of the gloom we could see the bare rocky wall of the cave, pitted and rough with cracks and crevices.

We went deeper, to the layer where the fresh water met the heavier salt water below. Here, a layer of plant fragments and other material floated on the invisible surface. It was too light to sink in the salt water, and too heavy to float on the fresh, so here it stayed, gently moving with the water currents. Here also, in the side caves and against the rock we should have found the Blind Cave Fish, but there was nothing, no fish, none of the shrimps the fish feed on, not a single living thing, just the bare dark rock. It didnít look as if I would need the plastic collecting jar, so I slipped the loop of nylon cord from my wrist, and looped it around a piece of rock. It would let us know when we had circled the pool and arrived back at our starting point.

We swam on, following the layer of suspended material, and searching every nook and cranny for a sight of the cave fish, but there were none.

The fish had to be all dead.

I looked at Howard and gave him the thumbs up sign - it was time to surface. We swam out through the darkness towards the middle of the pool - we didnít want to bang our heads, and slowly rose towards the surface and to the welcoming brightness of the sun.

We broke the surface, swiveling around and looking for the ladder. It was about forty feet away. When we reached it one of our friends lowered a rope to pull our scuba tanks out of the hole. It made climbing the ladder so much easier. Back on dry land we washed ourselves down with antiseptic from plastic bottles. It may not have helped much, but it made us feel better.

Things looked bad for the Blind cave Fish, but how bad were they? I couldnít believe they were all dead, so I carefully studied a map of the island, looking for any other holes that might have cave fish. There were several others, but to my knowledge, no one had ever dived in them. The easiest to reach was very close to a major road junction, and on the edge of the R. M. Bailey Secondary Schoolís playing field. This was the first hole we would dive.

We made our arrangements for the dive carefully. We spoke with the schoolís Head, and a number of pupils agreed to come along and help. A photographer from the local paper would also be there just in case we discovered a new population of the rare fish. The photographer was not enthusiastic about the idea: "youíre not going to dive in there surely?" he said. I must admit he had a point. There were plastic bottles, ice cream cartons, and plastic bags floating around in a film of scum on the surface. On one side, the roof of a derelict car could just be seen below the water.

I was hopeful though. From the edge of the cave some ten feet above the water, I could see tiny dark Mosquito fish darting about among the rubbish. If the Mosquito fish could survive, then there was hope.

My diving partner would be Joy Chaplin, a biology lecturer at the College of the Bahamas. She asked me what the plan was.

"I think weíll have to go in on this side." I said. " At least the ladder will have something to rest on." I pointed at the rock pile just below the surface where the original roof of the cave had collapsed.

"thereíll be just enough water to swim around those old cars," she said.

"Right. If there are any cave fish here, theyíll be in that cave under the overhanging rock." We could see that the deepest water was on the far side of the hole where the cave disappeared beneath the schoolís running track.

We positioned the ladder, and entered the water very carefully. Wherever we looked there was rubbish, broken bottles, cans, and old domestic appliances people had thrown into the hole. Slowly we finned around the remains of the car. Below it, to our surprise were two more vehicles. The water was very clear though, the sunlight shafting through the water and lighting up the brilliant colours of the little Mosquito fish. It was the strangest sensation, like being in an aquarium full of rubbish.

Past the car wrecks, the rock pile sloped down sharply into the darkness. Now we were under the rock overhang, and there was less rubbish, just the tumbled blocks of broken limestone that had fallen from the roof of the cave centuries or even thousands of years earlier. It was getting darker, so we switched on our underwater torches, scanning them from side to side, looking for any signs of life.

Before us was a solid wall of rock, the end of the cave. I looked at Joy, and she looked me, shaking her head as if to say, thatís it. No Blind cave fish!

We had only been in the water a few minutes, and our scuba tanks were still almost full, so we explored more thoroughly. There were holes in the rock wall, and when we shone our torches through, we could see they went a long way in. I moved the beam of the torch to one side, and to my complete surprise there was a Blind Cave fish. It was a big one, more than four inches long, but rather tatty looking. It was almost still, holding its position with rippling movements of its fins. I shouted through my mouthpiece to attract Joyís attention, and soon she was also peering through the hole at the fish.

It was a fantastic moment. 

We had brought collecting equipment, nets and jars with us, and much to my surprise I was easily able to catch the fish. Normally we wouldn't attempt to catch such a rare and endangered species, but we knew that a photographer from the local paper was waiting above and that publicity would later be invaluable in helping us to clean up the cave and protect the population of cave fish.

The fish was duly photographed and articles appeared in both local papers. Later, with the assistance of the Rotary Club of West Nassau, the cave would be cleaned up and the car wrecks removed.

At least in this one cave, the future looks a little brighter for the rare Bahamas Blind Cave fish.

© Rod Attrill