Britain's oldest colony, and the spiritual home of the ubiquitous knee-length Bermuda shorts, first introduced by the military in the 1900's. Bermuda consists of a small group of Eolian limestone islands located 1,000km off the east coast of the United States in that part of the Western Atlantic known as the Sargasso Sea.
Bermuda is a cluster of about 150 small islands and reefs. The eight largest islands are connected by causeways and bridges to form a 35 km long, continuos land mass which is barely 1.5 km wide. As the area is highly populated and space is at a premium, local families are only permitted one small car per household. Taxis are very expensive, public transport unheard of and car hire is not allowed, so it is either shank's pony or rented mopeds. Naturally, being a British Colony, everybody drives on the left.
Bermuda was created by volcanic eruptions along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge about 100 million years ago. At that time, the Atlantic Ocean was much narrower and Bermuda was in closer proximity to Europe and Africa. With the sea floor spreading and the widening of the Atlantic, shifted Bermuda away from the Eastern Hemisphere, while maintaining its position relative to the North American coast. During the early Pleistocene (about 1-2 million years ago), the top of the volcanic sea mount was eroded down below sea level and corals began to grow around the margins, thus producing the only atoll in the North Atlantic. Today, the volcanic basement rocks of Bermuda are completely covered by limestone. This limestone originated as carbonate sand from the reefs that formed dunes, which subsequently were cemented through the action of rain into rock. All known caves of Bermuda are formed in this limestone caprock.
More than 150 limestone caves have been recorded in Bermuda. These caves are of an impressive size, containing abundant stalactites and stalagmites. Although most cave entrances are situated inland, many of the caves extend down to sea level and contain clear, deep, anchialine pools in their interior. Diving explorations of the underwater sections of Bermuda's caves have resulted in the discovery of extensive networks of cave passage at depths averaging 18m. Bermuda's longest cave, the Green Bay Cave System is totally submerged and contains more than 2km of explored passageways. The presence of stalactites and stalagmites in the underwater caves is proof that the caves must have been dry for prolonged periods of time during the Ice Ages when sea level was at least 100m lower than today.
An amazing variety of previously unknown, cave-adapted species have been discovered in Bermuda's anchialine caves. While some of these species are related to similar forms from caves on opposite sides of the Atlantic, others have close affinities to cave species from the Pacific Ocean or even from the deep sea. It has been suggested that some of Bermuda's marine cave invertebrates reached the island via the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean, while others may have survived on submerged and emergent sea mounts along the Mid Atlantic Ridge for 100 million years. Other species may represent relict deep sea fauna or even descendants of animals which once inhabited the Tethys Sea - the name for the world ocean that existed at the time all the Earth's land masses were combined into one super continent. Seventy-five stygobitic (aquatic cave-adapted) species have been identified from the Bermuda caves including 64 crustaceans, 5 mites, 2 ciliates, 2 gastropod molluscs and 2 segmented worms. In order of abundance, the crustaceans include 18 species of copepods, 18 ostracods, 7 amphipods, 6 shrimps, 6 cumaceans and 3 isopods. Notable in their absence are remipedes and thermosbaenaceans.
A number of Bermuda caves, including Admiral's, Castle Grotto, Cathedral, Crystal, Fantasy, Island, Leamington, Tuckers' Island Caves, Walsingham, and Wonderland, have been operated as commercial tourist attractions. The Devil's Hole, a collapse cave that was first opened for public exhibition in 1843, is utilised as a natural fishpond containing sharks, groupers, and sea turtles. Blue Grotto, another water-filled collapse cave, was recently the site of trained dolphin shows. Prospero's (previously known as Island) Cave contains an underground bar and discotheque.
On the 1 May 2002, the Bermuda Postal Authorities issues a series of four cave stamps: 35 cents Fantasy Cave; 70 cents Crystal Cave; 80 cents Prospero's Cave; $1.00 Cathedral Cave.
Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.