Q & A with Keith Cooper, Founder, West End Ecology Tours, West End, Grand Bahama Island, the Bahamas. Boating, fishing, snorkeling, birding, and marine life encounters. Philosophy of “simple, pure, and natural.”
Usually we see couples and families who are here on vacation and staying at one of the local hotels or resorts, or maybe in a private home.
SINCE YOU ARE SITUATED SO CLOSE TO THE UNITED STATES,
I ASSUME MOST OF YOUR VISITORS ARE FROM THERE?
Yes, we get Americans primarily - but also some Canadians too. We’ve even given tours with visitors from as far away as China, India, and Australia.
It comes down to the time of year and also whether you book a hotel room versus a vacation home. Rates do vary from one property to the next, so it’s worth the time to shop around online. You can find special deals at reduced rates pretty regularly for less than $100 per night. Compared with many island destinations in the Caribbean, travelers find prices here to be very reasonable.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE IN WEST END?
As the town is named, we are at the west end tip of the Grand Bahama island – about 18 miles from Freeport. We have lovely beaches, the ocean, and some nearby cays [small uninhabited keys] to explore. During the summer months sea turtles emerge from the water to lay their eggs in the sand. If we see a group of spotted dolphin, we’ll observe them for a while. There’s a lot of interesting history around here – centuries ago Spanish adventurers arrived with their Galleon ships – there were pirates too - and during the American Prohibition years of the 1920s, this became a bootlegging town filled with gangsters and other assorted characters.
Yes, there are many salt water fishing tournaments held here. I offer full day and half day fishing opportunities on my private boat for guests. It is great fun for everyone, especially families with kids. I provide all the fishing supplies, bait, and lessons. We love to show guests how to land their first fish. If they want to keep their catch for eating later, I will clean and prepare the fish for them once we return to the marina.
Very often we will catch Barracuda - this is a popular food source for Bahamians. We also catch plenty of Amber Jacks, Groupers, Mutton Snappers, Mackerel and Yellow Tail Snappers.
THE LOCAL MARINE ECOSYSTEMS SOUND HEALTHY.
HAVE LIONFISH INVADED THE BAHAMAS AS THEY HAVE ELSEWHERE IN THE ATLANTIC AND THE CARIBBEAN?
Indeed they have, and their numbers are growing. They are a threat to our native fish populations. The only way to control them is to hunt them and eat them. Many Bahamians are reluctant to eat lionfish mainly because they believe it is a poisonous fish, which is not the case. It will take time to convert enough people before a real impact can be seen.
Most people know that Steve Irwin [the charismatic Australian who was host of “The Crocodile Hunter” TV series] was killed by accident by a stingray [while filming in the Great Barrier Reef in 2006]. In light of that tragedy, we felt it was essential to demonstrate the true nature of these amazing animals – which is that they are naturally inquisitive but gentle and non-aggressive. Keith spent seven years researching data and getting to know these rays before ever hand feeding them. Now our visitors can enjoy these interactions too and learn that rays are not vicious creatures that will attack you. That’s a myth.
WHY IS WEST END A GOOD PLACE FOR BIRD WATCHING?
Collectively, West End plus its three small offshore cays are located within the narrow migratory flyway that runs up and down the Atlantic coast and then in Florida splits off in different directions. There are no mountains or hill barriers to overcome. Also there’s plenty of food and water sources and leaf cover. The wetlands and mangrove forests are excellent habitats favored by ducks, egrets, and herons for stopovers or full wintering. About 50% of the migratory birds here are from the USA and Canada.
Batter-fried conch fritters or cracked lobsters are the local specialty, and these are typically served with a side of pigeon peas with rice and coleslaw. Fresh-caught fish of course - grilled, fried, baked, however you like it. You should try fresh coconut water to drink – right out of the coconut! Mangoes are a delicious and healthy tropical fruit we enjoy during the summer months when they’re in season. They’re great in salads or in smoothies. Sea Grape and Coco Plum trees provide exotic fruits that will wake up your taste buds!
I can think of many good reasons: 1) the Bahamas are in very close proximity to the USA – it is only a short hop by ferry or plane from southeast Florida to get here; 2) we’re an English speaking country;
3) the US dollar is on par with the Bahamian dollar; 4) there’s a variety of vacation accommodations here that are priced from budget to luxury; 5) this is a tropical paradise that will fill your days with warm temperatures, soft sand beaches, and crystal clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
As for our nature tours, we pride ourselves in our knowledge of the local area and ability to answer your questions about the environment, birds, and animals. We are affordably priced and can customize tours. Many people have also told us they appreciate our family-friendly approach. I certainly wish to offer each and every visitor a fun and memorable experience.
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