REMARKABLE FOR ITS SMALL SIZE AND LOCATION, Conception Island is an oasis of nature as it used to be throughout The Bahamas.
It sits on a limestone plateau that rises from surrounding depths of more than 7,000 feet just 18nm east of Cape Santa Maria at the northern tip of Long Island, but it seems a world apart from even that sparsely populated Out Island. Conception comprises approximately 4.5 square miles of land area, with some of the prettiest beaches and snorkeling to be found in these islands.
Extensive reef systems extend to the north, east and south for miles providing excellent diving and snorkeling, although it’s important to remember that this is open ocean and subject to swell even in calm conditions.
Conception, along with the adjacent Booby Cay and South Rocks, is part of the National Land and Sea Park system administered by the Bahamas National Trust. The entire area is protected; visitors are welcome but should take nothing and leave only footprints. The park here was established in 1964 and has not seen human habitation since the very early 1900s.
There is believed to have been a small fishing and farming community established here at that time, and you can see some remains of a stone wall and buildings near the south end of the West Bay anchorage.
Most boats will approach from the west, from Cat Island, Long Island, or the Exumas. The primary anchorage is West Bay, a broad crescent near the northwest corner of the island and fronted by a perfect, white-sand beach.
There are several small reef areas protecting the entrance to the bay and isolated coral heads inside, but there is ample area to anchor in clean sand with good holding. There are three moorings here that were donated to the Trust and installed for very large yachts to use. But if there is any west wind forecast, it is time to leave, and any northerly swell can make it pretty uncomfortable.
As a result of those long, isolated and uninhabited years, this is a pristine habitat for birds and marine life. There is a large concentration of tropic birds, and Booby Cay hosts nesting colonies of other sea birds. Most of the interior is mangrove fl ats and creeks that provide important nesting areas for green turtles, Nassau grouper and lobsters.
An entrance about halfway down the west coast south of West Bay provides access to the interior creeks. There is a shallow bar across the entrance, so plan to go an hour or so before high tide. Inside, there is plenty of depth for your dinghy or kayak, and you will see many kinds of marine life in the shallows. Behind the north end of the anchorage, hiking trails lead to the east side, more small beaches, and numerous tidal pools to explore. This is one of several islands believed to have been visited by Columbus on his first voyage.
You may feel a little like an explorer yourself as you wander its pristine shores.
By Rex Noel, Southern Boating December 2017