My Eleuthera Experience
By Scott Schubbe
Fisherman cleans the day's catch of  Lobatus gigas    I was first told about the shelling trip to Eleuthera, Bahamas by my friend Martin Tremor, who sent me an e-mail stating: "Hey Scott, do I have a deal for you!" He told me of a trip organized by Jim and Bobbi Cordy of the Astronaut Trail Shell Club (Melbourne) and I could join the trip for minimal expense. After all expenses were split four ways, it was a great deal. I was psyched from the get-go, and I couldn't wait.

    After reading Martin's "Make Mine Eleuthera" article from the year before on the Jacksonville Shell Club Website, I was ready to make it my own for this year.

    So after some planning on the foodstuffs and the rental car over to the Jetport in Ft. Lauderdale, Lynn Gaulin, Martin, and I were ready to go. There we met up with the Cordys, Ellen Bulger, Nancy Leeds, Carol Goodman, Fran Perry, Theresa Stelzig, Alice Pullin and Eleanor Lahn. The flight to Eleuthera was with two Twin Air aircraft – twin-engine six-seaters smaller than school buses. The ride over was very a smooth and pleasant experience. We landed at Rock Sound Airport at around 2:30 p.m. - a very small but tidy and clean terminal. The other terminal was close by but had been destroyed by Hurricane Floyd. Our planes were the only two there.

    We went through customs without a hitch and proceeded to load our gear into our rental cars. These cars were old but ran well. After a 20-minute ride, we arrived at our cottages. These were small but very clean two bedroom and one-bath accommodations, with four people to each one. The view was excellent, overlooking Tarpum Bay.

    As soon as we all arrived, our luggage was tossed into our respective rooms, and the whole group slunk into the gorgeous warm and blue-green waters of Tarpum Bay. Some live American Carrier Snails [Xenophora conchyliophora (Born, 1780)] were found, as well as some orange Lace Murex [Chicoreus florifer dilectus (A. Adams, 1855)] and some small West Indian Top Snails [Citarium pica (Linnaeus, 1758)].

    Others found Lightning Olives [Oliva fulgurator (Röding, 1798)], Silky Tegulas [Tegula fasciata (Born, 1778)], Common Atlantic Marginellas [Prunum apicinum (Menke, 1828)], and the West Indian Dove Snail [Columbella mercatoria (Linnaeus, 1758)]. Live Queen Conchs [Lobatus gigas (Linnaeus, 1758)] were everywhere, some may have escaped from the large conch pens in the bay, where the locals "corralled" live conchs. I found a nice Chestnut Latirus [Leucozonia nassa (Gmelin, 1791)] and a huge Apple Murex [Phyllonotus pomum (Gmelin, 1791)]. Big barracudas were on hand to inspect the new visitors.

Phyllonotus  pomum (Gmelin, 1791)    After a two-hour snorkel in the bay, it was time to shower up, eat dinner, and get ready for the next day. After dinner and when it was dark, it was time to grab my flashlight and walk to the concrete ramps and docks in Tarpum Bay to scout for large West Indian Top Snails. These specimens were found on the sides of docks and piers, and I took my hand dredge to pluck them off. The largest I collected was a three-incher, and smaller ones were everywhere. This turned out to be a nightly ritual for me and a favorite time.

    Time to turn in and dream of the next day's events.

    So, here we got settled and ready for the first full day of our trip. Before we left in the morning, Jim Cordy got us together and told us of what we might find in the area where we are headed. This particular morning we were heading for a spot toward the southern tip of Eleuthera, called Millar's Beach. That spot was a beautiful coral reef and teeming with life of all kinds. Nothing is prettier to me than sea fans swaying with the waves, and they came in many colors. Looking closely, I found some wonderful Flamingo Tongues [Cyphoma gibbosum (Linnaeus, 1758)], the first for me. They seemed to be everywhere. Some of these shells gathered together in groups of up to eight individuals per gorgonian. I found two live orange forms of the True Tulip [Fasciolaria tulipa (Linnaeus, 1758)] crawling around the rocks.

    I used my fins for a while to fan the sand around the rocks and coral and found a beautiful small live bivalve that turned out to be a Decussate Bittersweet [Glycymeris decussata (Linnaeus, 1758]. While doing this, I came across a whole but dead American Thorny Oyster, [Spondylus americanus Hermann, 1781]. This guy was huge with almost no spines, but in fairly good shape. Because it was dead, I kept it anyway.

    Next, it was time for some serious rock turning. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip for me because you never know what’s going to be under the next one. I found many of the small and beautiful Ornate Scallops [Caribachlamys ornata (Lamarck, 1819)], clinging bysally to the sides or under the rocks. Some Coffeebean Trivias [Pusula pediculus (Linnaeus, 1758)] were present and some found Atlantic Yellow Cowries [Erosaria acicularis (Gmelin, 1791)]. I found a dead Atlantic Gray Cowrie [Talparia cinerea (Gmelin, 1791)] and in the sand under the rocks, I found Silky Tegulas [Tegula fasciata (Born, 1778)], Flame Cones [Conus flavescens (G. B. Sowerby II, 1834)], and the West Indian Dove Snail.

    As I made my way out of the water, I found I had snorkeled quite a ways away. So I checked the species on the iron shore all the way back to the rental cars. Besides the usual Spotted Periwinkles [Littoraria tessellata (Philippi, 1847)], Four-toothed Nerites [Nerita versicolor Gmelin, 1791], Beaded Periwinkles [Tectarius muricatus (Linnaeus, 1758)] and Zebra Periwinkles [Echinolittorina ziczac (Gmelin, 1791)], I found Common Prickly-winkles [Echinolittorina tuberculata (Menke, 1828)] in abundance. I also found one White-spot Miter [Vexillum puella (Reeve, 1845)].

    What a day! I was tired after all the time in the water, but I had the best time and I still dream of snorkeling at this place. Then it was time for a shower. This proved to be quite interesting, as our "shower" turned out to be a trickle the diameter of a pencil! But after a few days, this was a luxury, and one got used to it very quickly. Of course, right after the shower one needed a healthy dose of bug spray to keep the no-see-ums at bay. The air conditioners cooled only the bedrooms, and with cooking going on in the kitchen with no air conditioning, we needed to keep the front and back door wide open! So the no-see-ums made themselves right at home in our cottage, and we needed to defend ourselves accordingly. I still came home with very scarred legs as these pests were brutal at this time of year.

    About a half-block away was a pay phone, and I would call my wife collect every night, as cell phone service was not a part of Eleuthera. Gasoline was $3.16 per gallon, everything was about double of what one would pay in the states. Two bucks for a gallon of water, a dollar for a soda, etc. With the unemployment rate at 60%, I'm not sure how the locals got along. But they seemed very happy and were very friendly.

    On two occasions after our daily trips, we walked to the piers where they were cleaning their catch of the day, be it huge lobster, fish, or conchs. The locals ate very well, and the sheer size of some of the lobster was stunning.

    Next to the shelling, my favorite part of the trip was dinner. Bobbi Cordy is one awesome cook, and the meals she pre-made, froze, and heated for us on Eleuthera were excellent. I successfully hounded her for the recipes, and my family eats now them every week. I was so lucky to have been in the same cottage with her and Jim. Others would walk by our door at night and say, "What is that I smell?"

    Now, our second full day on Eleuthera started much the same with Jim briefing us on the expected finds of the day. We watched the children walk to the near by school each morning, and each child was dressed impeccably his/her uniform.

    The target area for this day was a place north of our cottages called Governor's Harbor. This locale was by the airport, and there we could only shell more than a certain distance from the airport areas - per the airport officials the year before. So in we went, a rather rough entry at that, with the surf a little rough and an iron shore entry to boot. American Starsnails [Lithopoma americanum (Gmelin, 1791)] were there, some long dead Milk Conchs [Lobatus costatus (Gmelin, 1791)] and not a whole lot else. The water deepened rather abruptly, and I found my first West Indian Chank [Turbinella angulata (Lightfoot, 1786)] scooting across the bottom at about an eighteen foot depth. It was only about four inches long, but with a very nice and velvety periostracum.

    I decided to exit the water and walk back, and about halfway back I heard my name being called. "Want to try a little further towards the airport?" Seems that Lynn decided to stroll about that way and was approached by an airport official, which inquired about her actions. Lynn stated she was with a group of shell collectors who just wanted to find some shells close to the airport. Now, I suppose she seemed rather credible stating this fact because she was in a black wetsuit, soaking wet, holding fins, a snorkel and mask, and a bag full of shells. So, this official took her to a spot in an airport vehicle and told her that she could shell there as long as she and her group stayed by the water. This was the same spot from which the group was kicked out on a previous trip! So, Lynn came back, retrieved me and two ladies from our group, and we headed for this spot.

A pile of Lobatus gigas    The water here is beautiful, calm, and an easy entry. The beach here is loaded with fresh dead Milk Conchs, and in the water, live ones abound. I must have examined two hundred specimens, and kept five. These were of a very small stature for fully matured adults, maybe approaching the "dwarf" category. Also abundant were sea biscuits, but I only took one thinking I would get more later. This is a major regret of mine, and I wish I had taken a few more, but with a shelling fantasy in front of me, these were easily forgotten. Others joined us at a later time there, but we still needed to head back to our original stop to pick up Bobbi, who, by this time, had collected many choice Lace Murex, and the whole group was covetous of her finds. She had gone a long way out in search of these, and she was very successful.

    Not much else was found here, but what a beautiful spot. I never imagined I would tire of collecting Milk Conchs, but here I did. Time to move on. Just before getting out of the water, I collected a live American Carriersnail [Xenophora conchyliophora (Born, 1780)]! I found it at the end of a small trail half buried in the sand, and I was thrilled.

    The next day it was time for a little travel and tourism. We headed way up north to a place called the Glass Window. Here Eleuthera is only as wide as the road, and what a beautiful place this was, with lots of photo opportunities - cliff-smashing waves on the east side and tranquil turquoise waters exist on the west side. We stopped at a place called James’ Cistern, but it proved to be not too great. I found a cruddy Caribbean Helmet (Cassis tuberosa (Linnaeus, 1758)], some additional Flamingo Tongues, along with some huge Cayenne Keyhole Limpets [Diodora cayenensis (Lamarck, 1822)], Turkey Wings [Arca zebra (Swainson, 1833)], and a lone Smooth-edge Jewel Box [Chama sinuosa Broderip, 1835] attached to a submerged branch. Some small Queen Conchs were found here as well.

    Leaving this place, and on the way back, we found time for the souvenir shops, which were not really more than small huts that sold their wares to the few and far-between tourists. It was still a great place to pick up a couple of T-shirts. When we left here, we stopped at a small place nick-named the "salt pond." This was a strange very warm pool of salt water teeming with algae and other life, and some of it was very irritating to human life, as things tended to sting one as one moved through the shallows. I snorkeled this pond and found quite a few Dunn's Murex [Chicoreus dunni Petuch, 1987], said to be endemic to only this pond. These shells were crawling everywhere and not rare here at all; I saw at least a hundred. I also found some Striate Bubbles [Bulla occidentalis A. Adams, 1850] and three beautiful Saltpond Marginellas [Prunum pellucidum (Pfeiffer, 1840)] crawling on the sand, starkly in radiance by the sun. I only had a short time here for we needed to leave and pick Jim up; he had been involved in a solo search for Abbott’s Cone [Conus abbotti Clench, 1942]. If memory serves me well, he found nine of these and was quite pleased. Time to head back and rest up, for tomorrow will be our final day here in this little paradise.

    We woke up to the last full day at Eleuthera. This was the grand finale, and Cape Eleuthera was the final shelling destination of our little trip. Jim gave us the usual briefing; we loaded up, went to get gas; and off we went. When we arrived, there were two different spots pointed out to us. The tide would be low in the hours to come; we needed to decide on the species we would want to target at first, either the dwellers under the rocks, at the reef, or in the sand.

    I chose the rock area first. After less than a minute, I came across my best Caribbean Helmet [Cassis tuberosa (Linnaeus, 1758)] of the whole trip. It was not very big, but it was clean and had a stunning parietal shield. I found another about an hour later, twice as big with a glorious shield but not as clean. Time to try a different area.

    Martin told me he was amazed at the amount of damage that had been inflicted here by Hurricane Floyd, that the trees had been so thick where we were parked that one could have hardly seen the beach. But now they were absent in some places a hundred yards from the water. Some rocky places in the water had been sanded over with the storm, and some molluscan species collected there the year before were now absent.

     Along the beach, while snorkeling in three to four feet of water, I found a beautiful Hawkwing Conch [Lobatus raninus (Gmelin, 1791)] and a ten-inch crabbed West Indian Chank. Pairs of fresh dead Gaudy Sanguin [Asaphis deflorata (Linnaeus, 1758)] were abundant, and I found my first Atlantic Partridge Tun [Tonna pennata (Mřrch, 1852))] fresh dead among some rocks. Two live Amber Penshells [Pinna carnea Gmelin, 1791] were found in shallow sand along with a dead Barbados Keyhole Limpet [Fissurella barbadensis (Gmelin, 1791)]. Speckled Tellin [Tellinella listeri (Röding, 1798)], and Tiger Lucine [Codakia orbicularis (Linnaeus, 1758)] pairs were also abundant, and I found two mammoth Longspine Starsnails [Lithopoma phoebium (Röding, 1798)] in the sandy areas. Algal growths betrayed their presence where no weed was present.

    Then it was time to head back, but the day was not over without a final dip in Tarpum Bay at Savannah Sound before dark. Ellen Bulger found the most perfect Lace Murex that I have ever seen, with a deep color and huge frilly lace, which made it the shell of the day at this place.

    Then, after the usual shower, it was time to pack up and get ready for the next day. Since our flight was early, shelling for me was not an option. I gathered all of my shells from the freezer and carefully packed them. Then we made our way to the airport, and I knew I was going to miss the sweet little accommodations we all had for the previous days, along with the great people with whom I shared this trip. What a trip it had been, and I will remember and dream about this experience for months to come. I eagerly await an opportunity to return - to once again experience the charm and tranquility and all that is Eleuthera.

Note: Common names used throughout this article were derived from Turgeon, D. D., J. F. Quinn, Jr., A. E. Bogan, E. V. Coan, F. G. Hochberg, W. G. Lyons, P. M. Mikkelsen, R. J. Neves, C. F. E. Roper, G. Rosenberg, B. Roth, A. Scheltema, F. G. Thompson, M. Vecchione, and J. D. Williams, 1998. Common and scientific names of aquatic invertebrates from the United States and Canada: Mollusks, 2nd edition. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 26, Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A. For those species without an officially sanctioned common name, the editorial board has provided one employing a variety of resources but applying the same style criteria as enunciated in Turgeon, Quinn et al.