Southern Exumas Bahamas

By guest author Keeley Collins / Part 2 of 3 articles

In the Bahamas,  some dive sites are closely guarded secrets, known only to a few captains with long standing local relationships.  We definitely benefited from the 30+ years experience of Captain Dan Doyle, of the SeaDragonBahamas. 

Beautiful deep-sea gorgonians and black corals decorate steep walls.

During our 10-day cruise we focused on sites around Conception Island.  Conception and San Salvador are a bit unique as they sit on the far southeastern edge,  along the 5000+ foot trench of deep azure.  The winds & swells are often fierce here, but we got lucky and were able to dive deep walls covered in bright corals day after day…and some cool wrecks.

Between the walls, sandy mooring harbors and inter-island reefs we saw an abundance of macro & pelagic animals,  from ‘Flapping Dingbat’ nudibranchs (this might be my favorite animal name ever!) to Lemon Sharks, Nurse Sharks and Reef Sharks.  Of course I  already  wrote about the hundreds of baby turtles…(that are as fast as Superman).

We dove several wrecks – the MV Comberbach and the HMS Southampton.   (Read more about the Comberbach – and its connection to actor Benedict Cumberbatch on my Facebook page “Kelp & Coral”). 

The HMS Southhampton & Elkhorn Forest

The Southhampton and nearby Vixen wrecks are closely guarded secrets per the Bahamian government, which does not publish their locations.  They date to the era of ‘privateers’ prior to the Revolutionary War.  The USS Vixen was spotted by the HMS Southhampton which ‘gave chase’ and engaged in the usual battle – unfortunately lethally injuring both ships, which sank.  The 300+ survivors stumbled onto the sand of Conception Island where they were shipwrecked.  A survivor wrote an account of the battle and struggle for survival that is worth the read.  (“A Narrative of the capture of the United States’ Brig Vixen of 14 guns, by the British Frigate Southampton; and of the subsequent Loss of Both Vessels, on a reef of rocks, off Conception Island[…]” Google this or find a copy near you on

The wooden hulled boats are of course long disintegrated by the sea and storms. But the detritus of war – many cannons, anchors, ballast – sit silently at the bottom.

But this site is notable for another reason – the extensive, ancient elkhorn forest that sits around it, reaching to the surface in places (the demise of many ships hereabouts).  We swam back to our boat through it, like some kind of weird Victorian hedge maze. A compass was definitely required.  Long dive!

According to the crew, every diver is affected emotionally by this site. Some see the worst – others see the hope.  The ancient forest is struggling with disease and algae, but live elkhorns do exist and they are magnificent, golden beacons in the sunlight.  Years ago this must have seemed like Incan gold.

(Left) A diseased sea rod coral (and cute trumpetfish). (Right) A recovering, golden Elkhorn Coral.

This dive for me was both a catalyst to action, and reaffirmation of commitment to conservation.  I felt more determined than ever to support efforts like:  coral seeding/propagation, establishing MPAs,  scientific study, animal conservation.   The creatures we love depend on us to do our part, however small – to help.  In return, we receive…joy.  Thank you, dear readers, I hope you enjoyed our ramblings.  Hope to see you on a Delightful Departures trip…soon!

Healthy staghorn coral provides a nursery.

Keeley Collins is an avid traveler & award winning marine photographer based in North Carolina.  A DAN Ambassador, she dedicates her time to supporting non-profits that promote reef conservation, diver education and the NC scuba community.  See her work at

Every diver can do something, however small to help with conservation. These are just a few ideas & organizations:

  •  Reduce our carbon footprint/use of plastics (our dive club gave members reusable straws & utensils);
  • Use reef safe products (Stream2Sea, Reef Safe Sun, Reef2Reef, PorePeople);  
  • Contribute to citizen science, ex. reef surveys & photos (, Spot-a-Shark, Manta Watch), 
  • Volunteer time on your next trip to help coral restoration (Coral Restoration Foundation, Reef Renewal Bonaire at Buddy Dive, etc.)
  • Support a sea animal rescue organization (Beasley’s Sea Turtle Rescue, Project AWARE, Oceana)

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