Water Hazards, The Bahamas
If you want to swim in the ocean, you have to make sure you stay beyond the buoy. There are also currents you have to be aware of. All the beaches have flags that show you how safe it is to swim in the ocean: Red Flag = dangerous conditions; Yellow Flag = be careful; Green Flag = go and enjoy swimming in the ocean
Ciguatera is a poison that can occur in all fish with high mercury levels, predatory status, or lives upon a tropical reef in general.
5. Parrot Fish
7. And many more fish
The rule of thumb is, if the fish has a metallic look or is a predatory feeder on other fish that feed off the reef, then this fish would be a good candidate for Ciguatera. With the exception of Barracuda (which I do not recommend you eat unless your away from a real reef and on a steel one) many of these fish are excellent and usually safe to eat (especially grouper). But it may be advisable to stick with smaller fish rather than the large ones. But in accordance with that information, there is an old trick that's used to tell wether your fish contains this poison or not (though this is not FDA approved). Drop a little peice of the meat in an ant bed, and if the ants eat it (which they probablly will) fire up the grill and eat some fish. Chow!
For more detailed information on detection, symptoms, and treatment. Go to the website I have provided below which gives a general Q & A for the poison. But this is not the only web site. Just type in Ciguatera and you should find some useful information. Also the number below is a hotline for Aquatic Poison Control in Miami. If you get the symptoms of this poison (witch occur form 6-24 hours) get on a plane and head over to Miami. If you can get a dose of Mannitol within 2-3 days of your exposure. Then it will most likely flush out the toxins and will relieve you of all long term symptoms.
If you go with an experienced guide then you should have no problem with this, because they can sense when it's time to leave the water, or if you can stay. And, if you are familiar with water and its aquatic creatures, then this doesn't apply to you. But if this is your first time, then take the following precautions. (Of course those of you with kids added to the equation can prescribe these safety tips to your discretion.)
1. Nurse Sharks and Barracuda are common in these waters. If you go to The Bahamas and dive amongst its shores, then you are sure to bump into these creatures (Pictures 1 & 2). But please do not be afraid. These fish are scary and intimidating but it is very rare for people to be attacked by these creatures. Just use your intuition. You can usually find Nurse Sharks lazily sun bathing on the bottom of the sea floor or tucked up under a reef. As for Barracuda, they are very curious fish. They will usually follow anything metallic looking and will flock to you if you've got some tasty lobster on a spear. A Barracuda has a menacing face and is very, very, intimidating to look at on your first encounter. Just remember, stay calm and mind your own business. These fish will most likely move along when they get bored with you. And if you really get worried just remember, you can always get out of the water.
2. As for the other sharks, it's a different story. Once again every thing I say is circumstantial but for the most part, if you don't know much about sharks, then get out of the water or out of that area. When going snorkeling for fish and lobster, it's important for you to locate your fish, but not to get them when you first arrive to your reef (unless you're real good you shouldn't even consider fish, they are HARD to spear). Search for lobster which leave a less pungent blood trail and then go for the fish. I will be honest with you. You can get as many lobster as you like and no shark will usually come. But you just spear one Nassau Grouper and Blaaam! they are there (as you can deduce from this sentence shark encounters [excluding Nurse Sharks] are rare unless you're caught in this situation). Keep the fish on your spear not in your hand so the sharks won't bite your hand, and fend them from your catch with the point of your spear. Just remember the blood rule with sharks. 7 out of 10 times, if there is a lot of blood pouring out, the sharks will be there. But also remember this, take this warning only at face value. Certain circumstances call for certain actions. Just because you speared a fish doesn't mean all hell's broke loose. Just be vigilant.
It is important for you to realize that in The Bahamas' corral reefs are a real danger to your water vessel. If you go out on your own, make sure that you are well informed of the area, have sufficient charts, and are an experienced captain. I have grown up on the water and have been on the seas many times and still there are places in the bahamas that still can raise the hair on the back of my neck. Now I don't want you to be scared by this warning. For the most part you will have no problem boating through the Bahamian water ways. But it is advisable to follow these criteria I have set before you.
1. Have a guide show you around the first couple of days. Bahamian guides are some of the most friendly and laid back people around, and your almost guaranteed a good catch.
2. Have some nautical experience under your belt. You will not want to be a green horn at boating when you arrive to this place. The areas of The Bahamas are poorly marked and so sight navigation and memorization are crucial to a successful ride.
3. Under no circumstances should you drive out at night unless you are 100% familiar with the area. The difference between night driving and day driving are major. Though you may be coaxed into a night drive because of the great nightlife on the islands, it's best to party back on your home island.
Now that I have thoroughly convinced you not to boat in The Bahamas. I would now like to say that like everything, warnings can be blown out of proportion and out of context. In actuality, I sitting in my armchair thinking of how fond my memories are of The Bahamas. Don't let this detour you from going to The Bahamas. All you have to do, is take it slow 'till your familiar with the area, look for the brown spots (indicates a corral reef) and breaking water, and have fun.
I put this here to get your attention, but this is NOT one of the things you need to fear. The Caribean Reef Shark, while often quite large are not a threat to divers or swimmers. As long as you don't do anything completely stupid, like cutting yourself on purpose, or wearing dead fish around your neck, sharks are just another sea creature. Respect them and care for them. Due to serious over-fishing, primarily for their fins and cartilage, these magnificent creatures are disappearing.
If you do have one getting too friendly, since many are used to being hand-fed, punch him in the nose! Yes, I'm serious. Sharks are not fighters and will stay away from anything that threatens them.
There are some rocks on the beach where you can take nice pictures or just enjoy watching the ocean. Be careful when walking on the rocks and climbing them. They are slippery!
The reefs are beautiful to look at, but be careful they are easy to damage so it is recommended not to touch.
Watch out for waterspouts in the Bermuda Triangle. (I think there was a spaceship hiding in the cloud refueling:)