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Did you know that before 10,000 years ago, when the sea levels were more than 400 feet lower than today, the “banks,” or shallows between the islands of the Bahamas were actually dry land?   In this picture, the dark green represents large land masses in what is now the Bahamas.

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As shown, many of the current islands were connected.  And shared plant and animal communities.  Then sea levels rose as the climate warmed at the end of the Ice Age.   Here’s a current map. P1217493

The water on the banks, shown in white, is 10-20’ deep.  The bluer, ocean waters are hundreds of feet deep.  Current islands are shown in dark green.  (Motu Iti is in the northern Bahamas, where it says “Abaco” and specifically at the easternmost point – what looks like an elbow pointing eastward.)

Post-Ice Age, in addition to becoming warmer and moister, the islands became smaller and disconnected and animals were isolated.   As a result, many indigenous animals became extinct.   Much is being learned about those now-extinct animals.   One discovery is that the Bahamas was once the home of an aggressive fresh water crocodile.

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Now extinct in the Bahamas, it survives in Cuba and is unrelated to the crocodiles of the U.S.  This croc is fast, highly intelligent, lives on land (its toes are NOT webbed), walks on its four legs, can jump, and hunts in packs.

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Here’s what the skeletal remains of the croc looked like when they were first discovered underwater, during a cave dive.   Scientists in the Bahamas have discovered preserved remains of many animals and vegetation in caves and in blue holes – both those inland  and in the ocean.  The limestone that makes up the islands is porous, creating many drainage areas (including blue holes).  Sediment in the holes also reveals past climate and sea level changes.

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In 2005, the remains of a new species of tortoise were discovered.  These land based animals arrived via South America – not North America.   Its closest relative is found in the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.

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According to paleontologist Nancy Albury, who helped discover this amazing information, learning about our natural history is necessary in order to understand the ways in which decisions about our land have long term consequences.  She urges us to consider how our lifestyles affect our environment; what we are teaching our children about our planet; and whether we are making positive changes in our communities.  Albury is Curator of Paleontology of the newly opened National Museum of the Bahamas in Marsh Harbor.

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