Lucayan National Park
The Lucayan National Park was established in March 1982. It is located between Freeport and Freetown at Gold Rock Creek and consists of 40 acres of land. The Park contains one of the longest charted underwater cave systems in the world; a unique system of elevated walkways through the last intact mangrove wetland on the southern shore of Grand Bahama, a magnificently wide unspoiled beach showcasing the tallest sand dunes on the island and a wealth of flora and fauna. This Park exhibits all of the Bahamian vegetative zones.
- Established: 1982
- Size: 40 acres
In July 1981, a commercial diving organization became interested in leasing the land around the entrance to Ben’s Cave so that they might have exclusive use of the cave for their private purposes. it was at this point that the Executive Director of the Trust at that time, Mr. Rod Attrill, wrote to the Grand Bahama Port Authority to request that they consider placing this area under auspices of the BNT. Mr. Attrill argued that the cave system represented an important part of the both the natural and historic heritage of the Bahamas. “Not only is this area a beautiful example of natural erosion and cave formation, several Lucayan graves were found in the vicinity”.
Following an Executive Committee meeting, Mr. Basil Kelly, Executive Committee Chairman, wrote to the president of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, expressing the Trust’s concern for the welfare of this area. There was expressed concern for the removal of stalactites and stalagmites and the shooting of bats for no reason. New forms of life were also being continually discovered in the cave. During the latter part of 1981, many scientists who were doing research in The Bahamas also expressed concern for the Lucayan Caverns. They felt that inexperienced divers were entering the caves and that the presence of divers in the caves was resulting in the death of much of the algae, thereby upsetting the delicate ecosystem.
In March 1982, the Bahamas National Trust signed a 99-year lease with the Grand Bahama Development Company, giving it in portion of land situated west of Mole Hope and east of Mangrove Point on the southern coast of Grand Bahama as well as the caves located beneath this property. Shortly following the signing of this lease in March 1983, it was decided that the Lucayan National Park would be closed to all, except scientist and qualified divers who received permission from the BNT. This was done to allow the area to recover from the impact of man. The Lucayan National Park was reopened to the public in 1985.
Importance to Biodiversity
Remipedia: an exploring biologist scuba diving in Ben’s cave in the late 1970’s collected an unusual centipede-like organism and further study revealed that the tiny opaque animal was not only a new species (Speleonectes lucayensis) but also a previously unknown class of crustacean which was given the name Rempedia (“oar foot”). Specially adapted to a dark, underwater environment, the blind Remipedes had existed in Grand Bahama caves for millions of years.
Mangrove trail: The Park encompasses a portion of Gold Rock Creek which connects with the ocean several miles to the east. The tidal creek supports a productive mangrove ecosystem and from the boardwalk one may observe saltwater fishes, wading birds and waterfowl among the stilt like roots. Epiphytic bromeliads and orchids begin blooming along this trail in late spring to early summer while bonsai like ming trees delight visitors year round.
Bird life: The park is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA), because it supports three (3) restricted range birds; the Thick-billed Vireo (Vireo crassirostris), Bahama Swallow (Tachycineta cyaneovifidis) and the Olive-capped Warbler (Dendroica piyophila).
Lucayan remains: In 1986 archaeologists discovered four skeletons of the indigenous Lucayans on the floor of one cave as well as artifacts in other areas of the Park – evidence of pre-Columbian settlement on Grand Bahama. The Lucayan National Park is named after these original inhabitants of The Bahamas. The Lucayans used the caves as a source of fresh water and as ceremonial burial places. Due to the low oxygen level found in caves, archeological remains are well preserved and have been found in some cave sites, including Burial Mound. The freshwater reservoirs found in the caves and blue holes are still highly important for island residents today.
Two sinkholes open into large limestone caverns, Ben’s Cave and Burial Mound Cave, which are part of one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world with over 6 miles of tunnels charted. Stairs lead from the sinkhole lip to viewing platforms just above water level. The cool dark recesses of the cavern provide shelter and nursery sites for migratory bats in the summer.
Ben’s Cave holds 60 ft of water with the top 30 feet representing the fresh water table over 30 feet of salt water, with a mixing zone (halocline) in between. Saltwater grey snappers are regularly seen swimming in the top fresh water zone which shows that over time these fish have adapted. The grey snappers also travel back and forth between Ben’s Cave and Gold Rock Creek through numerous submerged tunnels.
In 1983, The shark scene of the James Bond Movie Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery was filmed in Ben’s Cave using a mechanical shark. Open water certified divers can book cavern diving tours through one of the BNT registered dive operators including Calabash Eco Adventures, Unexso and Sunn Oddessey Divers. These tours are limited to four guests per dive and last for up to 1 hour.
Gold Rock Beach
Gold Rock beach is known as the widest beach on Grand Bahama at low tide. The effect of the tidal pools and sand ripples is often referred to as the welcome mat. There is a healthy reef system offshore, a result of both the undeveloped state of the area and the positive effect of the Gold Rock Creek Mangrove nursery which provides grazers such as parrot fish which clean the algae off of the reefs. In 2004 and 2005, beach scenes from parts 2 and 3 of the Pirates of The Caribbean Movies were filmed on the eastern section of Gold Rock Beach.