Saturday, January 15, 2011

SNORKEL GUIDE: THE ANCHOR POINT SULFUR VENTS





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One of the underwater vents found just off shore at Anchor Point, Grand Cayman


While Hell may be a tourist trap and post office located over in West Bay, I came across this surprising hydrothermal marvel  - that sure seemed more like a portal to the real thing - while sampling the snorkeling conditions at Anchor Point on Grand Cayman's East End.  More commonly found on volcanic islands like Dominica or in areas of volcanic activity, Solfatara are type of fumarole which emit sulfurous gases along with steam. While these vents are likely not a Solfatrara (the ejecta is cool), they do make for a nice tie-in with Hell.


I had an inkling that there were vents like these somewhere in the vicinity after having caught wind of the unmistakable smell of sulfur (those who have visited Yellowstone National Park will know what I am referring to) while at nearby Barefoot Beach.  Since this location is under water, the yellowish plumes of gas and fresh water mix with the seawater, creating a blurring effect known as Halocline.  I have no idea if the resulting chemical mixture is sulfuric acid, sulfur dioxide or something else.


If you are the least bit intrigued by hydrothermal features it would be worth a stop. The location is literally just around the point from Barefoot Beach, so combining the two stops would make for a nice outing.


LOCATION INFORMATION:  Like many of the less known spots on the island, the entrance to Anchor Point is an easy-to-miss little dirt and rock car-width path, just off Old Robin Rd/Queen's Highway on the East End (19°21'10.96"N  81° 8'2.94"W) in Little Bluff Bay.


The tuck-in is approximately 2.9 miles east from the intersection in Old Man Bay on the left side of the road and also 2.9 miles from the Reef and Morritt's resort complexes on the right.  Coming from the west, you are likely to pass the turn-in.  So if you see the Barefoot Beach Gardens Villas entrance wall on your left, turn around and slowly head back west for approximately 1/4 mile.  Coming from the east, just slow down when you reach the Barefoot Beach Gardens complex and follow the directions above.


If you have a tiny rental car, I would advise you park along side the road and walk down the path, as the rocks can easily puncture a small tire.  A footpath leads you the the top of a coral and stone embankment with a rudimentary staircase.  The vents are located almost immediately straight out from the stairs.  At the base of the stairs there is a large driftwood tree trunk just to the right.  The trunk makes for an ideal spot to drop your gear and prepare for your water entry.



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CONDITIONS: The immediate area is mostly comprised of ironshore.  But with careful foot placement you should be able to find a mostly sand covered path to a water entry.  Just past the driftwood trunk is a small niche with a sandy floor that makes an nice entry point.  The area has some significant concentrations of grass and algae on the sea floor, so there may be some floating around as you make your entry.  The water depth of the general area is 4-6 feet and there is not usually any strong wave action or currents.


WHERE TO LOOK: Upon entering the water, make your way towards the stone and coral stairs you took down from the parking area.  Once lined-up with the stairs, simply head about 10-15 feet out.  The water generally will have a yellowish/greenish caste as you come upon the vents. Just past the venting area is a small Elkhorn coral mass that will confirm you are in the correct spot.  As there is little plant life in the area immediately surrounding the vents, I would surmise that the ejecta is mixing with the seawater and creating sulfuric acid or some other inhospitable compounds.  Many of the vents are encrusted with the easily identifiable layers of sulfur.  The water will blur as the chemicals mix, strikingly similar to a Photoshop effect (no, these pictures are not altered).  I have placed my hands in the plumes and suffered no ill effects; felt no noticeable change in temperature.  I can honestly say this is one of the most interesting things I have come upon in all of my snorkel adventures.


WHAT ELSE IS AROUND: The snorkeling in the general area is also quite interesting. There is an unusual amount of blade algae throughout the coral masses making for a verdant visual experience.  Plenty of smaller fish out in the coral shallows and a large school of Tarpon frequents the area, but I have not encountered any other larger marine life.  Heading around the point with take you to a large ridge with ancient Elkhorns and Brain corals, but few fish.  As you begin to approach Barefoot Beach the fish become more abundant and the corals more vibrant.  The Wreck of the Geneva Kathleen is in the area, and worth a visit to view her remnants.


                     
Barefoot Beach Gardens Villas from the East                   Barefoot Beach Gardens Vills from the West
                      

Rock and Gravel entrance to Anchor Point                     Parking area and path down to water


View from the shore area, out into the vents field location


View from on top of the vents looking towards the footpath and stairs



Coral landmark near the vent field



Sulfur "haze" near the vent field that permeates the area



A good example of Halocline caused by the mixing of waters with different salinity



Looking down into the vent



A fissure spewing ejecta



A head on view of a smaller vent



One of the larger ejecta plumes



A close-up of a heavy smoker



Views of the full ejecta plumes



Views of the full ejecta plumes



Looking into the mouth of a Vent



So yet again, Grand Cayman offers up something a little special and unexpected for those willing to explore off the beaten path.


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2 comments:

  1. Fantastic directions, we easily found it. The water flow from the vent seemed cold to us. Perhaps it is a freshwater spring bringing minerals with it?

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    1. P.S. We didn't see the driftwood trunk, and the stairs are very crude... but we still found the vents.

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