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Antigua & Barbuda

Do you have many shells from Antigua & Barbuda in your collection? Unless you have been there yourself the probable answer is no. Why? I often asked this question myself and then when I tried to book a trip years ago, I found one the reasons was the hotel prices. The cheapest one I found was US$250 a day, not very good if I find few shells. There is another reason: it is virtually impossible to get to good collecting places there without a boat since the best reefs are far from the beach.

Luckily our good friend Tony McCleery invited us to stay a few days on his sailboat to collect shells. Tony is a Marginella collector and has all the equipment for shells on his boat: diving and snorkeling gear, a compressor to fill tanks, a dredge with 1.5 km of cable (a very thin and strong type), digital camera, microscope, books, besides all the gadgets for sailing safely between coral heads in shallow water.

As usual Alfredo and I had to take a "shortcut" from Brazil to Miami, then to Puerto Rico and from there to Antigua since there is no direct flight between Brazil and Antigua. Antigua was named by Christopher Columbus after Santa Maria la Antigua, the miracle-working saint of Seville. It was a European settlement and a British colony from 1632 to 1981. In 1967 Antigua became an associated state of the Commonwealth and in 1981 it achieved full independent status. Due to its strategic position in the Caribbean and its protected bays it is used by many ships passing in the region. It improved its docking facilities and now you can see huge yachts and ships docked being supplied by local stores.

When we arrived, my initial intention was to rent a car to drive around before going to Tony's boat. I completely forgot that the island was a British colony, thus they drive on the left (the "wrong side" for me!). Since I did not feel like killing anyone on the streets I thought it would better to take a cab directly to his boat anchored in Falmouth Bay. We arrived there in the afternoon, shopped for supplies and slept on the boat in Falmouth that night. The next morning we went east for our first snorkeling - and then I found another reason why there are not many shells from Antigua: the place is just not very rich in shells! Of course we found some interesting species such as Vasum globulus nuttingi, some huge Cittarium pica and lots of small shells.

Tony wanted to sail toward Barbuda, which is a smaller and flatter island (Antigua has many hills and mountains). The trip would take 3 hours but since the sea was not very calm it took 4 hours (thank God I had brought Dramamine with me....). Barbuda has blue waters and a very Caribbean look as opposed to Antigua which has darker water in most places. We anchored and went for our first try - more nice shells, including a very nice small black Conus (we are still trying to figure which species it is). The only problem was the current, which was so strong that it caused us to get lots of cuts and scratches on our hands and legs. Tony anchored the boat close to most places but we used his rubber dinghy to get closer and save some energy for the snorkeling work. We tried to find some land shells, but the only thing we found were some fossils incrusted on hard mud.

Barbuda has a inner lagoon, Codrington Lagoon named after Sir Christopher Codrington who started sugar cane cultivation in Antigua. We couldn't enter into the lagoon with our boat and the city is located in the inner part. People anchor their boats near the thin part of the island and either carry their own dinghies by land for a few meters or wait for a "taxi" dinghy. The lagoon is saltwater, dark, and looks like fresh water; we found some nice Olives there, Murex pomum and brevifrons, Cerithium and several bivalves. Alfredo and I were very tired of snorkeling all day long, thus we didn't feel like doing night snorkeling with Tony. Tony returned with a few shells and many mosquito bites.

We always have some problems to preserve the animal until we can clean all shells. If the shells are too big or shinny we try to clean them during our trip. If not, we either freeze (if possible) or put them in alcohol. Well, we did not have a large freezer nor find any alcohol so we used the closest thing available: Rum!

We did several night dives, some good, others returning with few shells. A few sharks were around, but as usual our greatest fears were about the sea urchins with long spines. We dredged several times, mostly near Antigua. The depth varied from 70 to 400 meters, which was quite close to the island. We got just a few shells, but some very beautiful such as a Conus mazei from 350 meters and an unidentified Conus. All together, this was a very successful trip with many interesting species, which we never had before.

This was not our first trip with Tony, Jose and Alfredo went to Panama with him in 2003. That time Jose cooked all the time, which made things much easier for Tony to manage the boat. Thus, he expected me to do the same, but I was not sure if he would like my specialty, Cup´o´Noodles (Instantaneous Pasta). So, I had to improvise and cooked other things like Omelet and Pasta, on other days I made Pasta and Omelet, then Omelet and Pasta and so on.... Luckily we got several Lobsters during the trip which made our meals taste much better!

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