San Salvador Island, also known as Watlings Island, is an island and district of the Bahamas. Until 1986, when the National Geographic Society suggested Samana Cay, it was widely believed that during his first expedition to the New World, San Salvador Island was the first land sighted and visited by Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1492, a land he named in honor of Jesus the Savior (with ‘San Salvador’ being Spanish for Holy Savior).Columbus’ records indicate that the native Lucayan inhabitants of the territory, who called their island Guanahani, were “sweet and gentle.
The United Kingdom gained control of what are now the Bahamas in the early 18th century. For some time,San Salvador was the home of John Watling (alternately referred to as George Watling), who gave the island its alternative name by which it was officially known until 1925. At that time, the name “San Salvador” was transferred from another place, now called Cat Island, and given to “Watling Island” under the belief that it seemed a much more likely match for Columbus’ description of Guanahani.
Today, thanks to its many sandy beaches, the island’s prosperous main industry is tourism. About 1,000 people reside onSan Salvador Island and its principal community is Cockburn Town, the seat of local government.
A Club Med resort, called “Columbus Isle”, is located just north of Cockburn Town.
An interesting geologic feature in Cockburn Town is the Pleistocene Cockburn Town Fossil Reef. Fossilized Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), and Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) are present near the crest of the fossil reef, and other corals such as Montastraea, Diploria, and Porites are preserved.
The Gerace Research Centre (formerly the Bahamian Field Station) is located on the north end of the island on the shores of Grahams Harbour. Over a thousand students and researchers use the station every year as a base of operations from which to study tropical marine geology, biology, and archaeology.
The island is home to many shallow-water reefs which allow snorkelers to observe hundreds of fish species without the use of SCUBA equipment. It is also known for its quick drop in the submerged platform of the island, allowing for numerous dive sites.The western coast has many wall reefs, with steep drop offs, while the northern coast has many shallow barrier reefs particularly surrounding Grahams Harbour, a large shallow lagoon.
The island is served bySan Salvador International Airport.
The Dixon Hill lighthouse is located on the island south of Dixon Hill Settlement on the east side of the island. It is approximately 160 feet tall, and was constructed by the Imperial Lighthouse Service in 1887.
Hurricane Lili struck San Salvador in 1996 Hurricane Floyd struck in 1999 and caused damage to homes, tourist facilities, businesses, and infrastructure, and caused considerable beach erosion.
The current administrator is Jordan Ritchie.
Fr. Chrysostom Schreiner OSB, the first priest permanently assigned to theBahamas, served primarily at St. Francis Xavier in Nassau. An avid history buff, he researched Columbus’landing extensively and promoted San Salvadoras the correct landing site. In retirement, Fr. Chrysostom relocated to San Salvador and on 3 Jan 1928 he died there and was buried there the next day Memorial Masses were celebrated in Nassau, Collegville MN (the home of St. John’s Abbey from which he came), and New York. Cardinal Hayes referred to him as the Catholic Apostle to the Bahamas, it was clear he was a unique religious presence on the islands. His tomb can still be seen on San Salvador.