Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park

Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park


The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park was the world’s first protected area of its kind, when created in 1959 by the same legislation that established the Bahamas National Trust. This 176-square-mile park is known for its pristine beauty, outstanding anchorages and breathtaking marine environment.

Within the park’s boundaries are: Little Wax Cay, Shroud Cay, Little Pigeon Cay (private), Hawksbill Cay, Little Hawksbill Cay, Cistern Cay (private), Long Cay, Warderick Wells, Halls Pond Cay, Little White Bay Cay, South Halls Pond Cay (private), Soldier Cay (private) O’Brien’s/ Pasture Cays, Bell Island (private), Little Bell Island (private) and Rocky Dundas.

The headquarters building and visitor centre is located on Warderick Wells, and mooring sites are situated throughout the park.

  • Established: 1958
  • Size: 112,640 Acres



In the early 1950s several individuals and events combined, leading to the creation of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park on July 13, 1959 by a special act of parliament. Four men in particular played key roles in paving the way for this historic legislation.

They were Daniel Beard, superintendent of the Florida Everglades National Park; Colonel Ilia Tolstoy, a frequent visitor to the Bahamas who was associated with the New York Museum of Natural History; Richard Pough of the American Museum of Natural History; and marine biologist Carleton Ray, a curator at the New York Aquarium who had spent time in the Bahamas photographing marine life.

Beard had made general representations in Nassau about protecting a section of the Exuma Cays, and both Pough and Ray promoted the idea of a land-and-sea park, which was then a novel concept. in 1955 Tolstoy made a formal proposal to the governor, who agreed to temporarily set aside a 22-mile stretch of the Exumas, from Shroud Cay to Little Bell Island, pending further investigation and receipt of concrete recommendations.

All these individuals joined forces, and by January 1958 they had organised a scientific expedition under the auspices of the New York Zoological Society. The expedition spent a week travelling by boat from Norman’s Cay to Conch Cut.

The survey team included well-known conservationists like Donald Squires of the American Museum of Natural History; Robert Porter Allen of the National Audubon Society; and John Randall of the University of Miami’s Marine Laboratory; along with Beard, Tolstoy and Ray. Bahamian team members included Oris Russell, of the Department of Agriculture and Marine Products, and Herbert McKinney.

Their report concluded that the area had “essentially unspoiled natural conditions with unmodified associations of plants, animals, earth processes, and those intangible elements that combine to give an area its outstanding character.

“The Exuma Cays park under consideration should be regarded as only the beginning of a conservation movement that is vital to the Bahamas as a whole. It will also be a beginning of a new concept, integrated land-and-sea conservation, in which the Bahamas will take the lead and show the way to other nations throughout the world,” the expedition report said.

The survey team called for an organisation modelled on the British National Trust to acquire lands and manage protected areas throughout the Bahamas. This organisation – which was created by the historic 1959 legislation – was to act as the government’s advisor on conservation matters and seek to educate Bahamians on the value of their natural heritage.

The government adopted the team’s recommendations, and the 176-square-mile Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park – first of its kind in the world – was officially established. The Bahamas National Trust was formed as an independent statutory organization charged with conservation and preservation. The BNTs governing council included government, civil society and scientific representatives.

Importance as a Marine Fisheries Reserve

In 1986 the BNT concluded that commercial pressures on marine resources were becoming unsustainable and declared the Exuma park a no-take zone, making it the first marine fisheries reserve in the wider Caribbean. Subsequent research has shown that the park is acting as a fisheries replenishment area – as was originally projected by the 1958 survey team.

Scientists have found that the concentration of conch inside the park is many times higher than outside the park, helping to bolster conch populations available for fishermen to harvest. Crawfish tagged in the park have been found near Cat Island, over 70 miles away. And a large proportion of the grouper in the northern Exuma region originate in the park.

Importance to Biodiversity

The hutia is a moderately large rodent inhabiting many Caribbean islands. The Bahamas hutia (Geocapromys ingrahami) was hunted by Lucayan Indians, but was thought to be extinct in modern times. In 1966 they were rediscovered on the remote Plana Cays in the southern Bahamas and were reintroduced to the Exuma park in 1973.

At least 22 native lizard species occur in the Bahamas, and rock iguanas of the genus Cyclura are the most notable.In the past, these large lizards lived on most islands in the archipelago, but are now considered endangered. Iguanas from the Allen’s Cay population just outside the park have been introduced to Warderick Wells, inside the park, to help preserve the species.

Four of the five species of marine turtles known to occur in the Atlantic also occur in the waters of the Bahamian banks. Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) commonly occur in the region, and small numbers of each species nest seasonally on some of the less inhabited islands. They forage in the shallow waters of the banks, in bays and in tidal creeks. Juvenile loggerheads were released into the creeks of Shroud Cay in 1983.

The Exuma Park is an important sanctuary for migratory birds and nesting seabirds. The eastern cliffs of Shroud Cay hosts a large colony of White-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaethon lectures) and Clapper rails and Yellow Warblers nest in the mangrove wetlands. The largest known colony of nesting Audubon’s Shearwaters in the Exumas is found on Long Rock (also called Long Cay).

Other resident birds include Bahama Mockingbird, Common Ground Dove, Zenaida Dove, Thick-billed Vireo, Black-faced Grassquit, Bananaquit, Barn Owl,White-cheek Pintail, Black-necked Stilts, Killdeer and Osprey. Gray Kingbirds and Antillean Nighthawks.


The rarest living creatures in the park are the blue-green, reef-forming algae known as stromatolites. They form colonies and trap sediment, which reacts to calcium carbonate in the water to form limestone, forming an unusual type of reef structure in shallow water. Fossilized stromatolite reefs provide ancient records of life on Earth, some dating to more than 3 billion years ago. In the Exumas, stromatolites occur in three distinct settings: subtidal tidal passes, subtidal sandy embayments and intertidal beaches.


National parks are managed by the Bahamas Natural Trust to preserve and maintain a delicate balance of functionality, visitor services, staff infrastructure and the preservation and minimization of impacts to the natural landscape.

Thank you for helping us to preserve the national park system of The Bahamas.





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