Meet Me in San Sal: Tide Pools at Dump Reef and More

Map of San Salvador, Bahamas. Image from

Dump Reef is located on the north side of the Island. From the Gerace Research Centre (alternatively named Bahamian field station on this map), look about 1/2 a mile west as a bit of the island protrudes out. That is where Dump Reef is. By the name of the reef, you can guess what you’ll find at Dump Reef: Lots and lots of algae. The reef, located on the north shore of San Sal is walking distance from Gerace Research Center. While it’s a little bit off the road, you know where to find the path as located by the almond tree on the side of the road. Once you find the almond tree, follow the narrow footpath for a few minutes until you reach the shoreline. By all means, though, be smart and wear shoes with a rubber sole. The calcium carbonate can get extremely sharp at Dump Reef, plus there are also sea urchins here!

An almond tree. However, the one along Queen’s Highway is surrounded by native shrubbery. Image from

According to my professors, there’s a sewage outlet east of the reef which explains why the rocks are covered with copious amounts of algae such as Padina pavonica or white scroll algae. Be careful when you walk on the rocks close to the shoreline because the Padina can make the surface quite slippery! Aside from Padina, you may find Halodule, a type of sea grass, floating around among a variety of algae.

Padina pavonica or more commonly known as white scroll algae. Image from

Dump reef’s numerous tide pools can be found if you walk west of where you entered from the road. Again, “The more you look, the more you see,” so keep your eyes peeled for chitons found attached to rocky surfaces in the shade or periwinkles, nerites, and even small hermit crabs! If you’re lucky, you may find West Indian sea eggs (Tripneustes ventricosus) which are fine to pick up. (Just don’t grab them!) A more common urchin you may find is diadema. It’s fine to pick up the smaller ones but definitely use caution when you interact with the larger ones. During my trip, I’ve seen diadema that can be a foot in diameter (including spines)! However, at Dump Reef, the Diadema are much smaller, probably maxing out at about 4 inches in diameter.

West Indian sea egg or Tripneustes ventricosus. Image from
Diadema (genus). Don’t step on these guys! Image from
Chitons on a rock. Image from

As for things swimming in the tide pools, the small bottom-resting fish are gobis. These guys are extremely hard to catch! Other juvenile fish can be found in tide pools, but they sure know how to hide in crevices! It took me about 10 minutes to catch a juvenile Sargent Major. Aside from fish, there are mantis shrimp, aka “thumb-splitters.” As the name suggests, they can split a thumb so don’t go sticking your fingers into little crevices!

As their physiology suggests by their body and fin structure, gobis rest on the bottom and swim in sprints rather than extended periods of time. Image from
A mantis shrimp. Doesn’t it remind you of a praying mantis? Image from

If you do choose to collect specimens in a bucket, be mindful that the volume of water in a small bucket is significantly less than the volume of water in the ocean. Especially during midday, the temperature of tide pools increases where it can get bath-water warm. As the temperature of water increases, the dissolved oxygen content decreases, making it difficult for critters to survive. Definitely exchange water from your bucket with fresh, cool ocean water every 10-15 minutes!

Comb jellyfish (ctenophores) are capable of bioluminescence. Image from

As previously stated, Dump Reef is close to a sewage outlet so the turbidity (amount of particulate matter) in the water may be more than Grahams Harbor. Not to worry, Dump Reef is perfectly fine to snorkel in! The maximum water depth may be about 6′ by the reef structures. This makes Dump Reef an ideal location for doing a night snorkel to observe bioluminescence! Make sure to go when there is a new moon otherwise the moonlight can make it hard to see the bioluminescence. From the point at which you arrived at the site from the road, turn eastward so the Research Center is within your sights. Swimming out about 30 feet will take you to rocky structures covered with algae and the occasional sea fan and other small coral structures.

Night Snorkeling Tips

1. Bring a buddy at let someone else know where you will be! Safety first!

2. Bring waterproof flashlights to keep on hand and a light to leave at the shoreline. Swimming in the dark can get very disorienting so leaving a light on shore will let you know which direction to swim in!

3. You may feel little nips and pricks of plankton nibbling at you. Not to worry! Aside from the sensations being mildly annoying, you’re fine.

4. To see bioluminescence, put your lights out and let your eyes adjust. Enjoy the light show!

5. If you see sleeping animals, don’t be mean and wake them up. 😡 Let them enjoy their sleep as much as you enjoy yours!

Try moving your hand through the water to see bioluminescence! Image from

During the daytime, check underneath ledges to see nocturnal fish such as squirrelfish. Nocturnal fish tend to have larger eyes in order to allow more light in at night. When we went, we saw a HUGE lobster! Juvenile stoplight parrotfish often swim around Dump Reef, perhaps due to the high algae content. Other smaller fish species inhabit Dump Reef like [insert fish name here].

A juvenile stoplight parrotfish. Image from


A terminal (adult) stoplight parrotfish. Image from

During our night snorkel, we had the pleasure of seeing multiple sleeping sea turtles! They could be found in cave-like structures in the reef with the mouth of the “cave” directed at the surface. Even though it was pitch dark, we got to see sea snakes and one group even saw a moray eel. (Tip: Don’t panic when you see sea snakes and eels. Just let them go on their merry way!)

Awww, don’t worry, it’s not that scary. This guy is just trying to say hi! Image from

Remember the fish underneath ledges during the day? At night, they’re out and the daytime fish are sleeping under ledges.  Fun fact: Parrot fish make a mucus “bubble” around them at night. (I like to think of it as a sleeping bag of sorts hehe.) We hypothesized that the mucus bubble may allow parrot fish to go undetected by predators at night since the mucus may hide their chemical scent. While we didn’t see any sleeping parrot fish, there’s always Google Images.

This princess parrotfish is catching some zzzzzzzz’s! Image from

That’s all for now at Dump Reef! Stay tuned for the next installment of Meet Me in San Sal!


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