The Blacktip Island Marine Park Service is installing underwater tollbooths on all the Caribbean island’s scuba dive sites this week. The move is a response to dwindling public funding and increased diver impact on the island’s reefs.
“Think of it as a graduated impact fee,” Park Service spokesperson Val Schrader said.
“Instead of charging every diver a flat marine park fee, we’ll be charging based on how much of the reef they actually see.
“The old system wasn’t fair to new divers who blow through their air and surface in twenty minutes. Or to the Type B divers who stay close to the boat looking at one coral head.”
Collection boxes fashioned as oversized conch shells have been installed at all popular coral heads and swim-throughs.
“They’re big and obvious enough that divers will know what they are,” Schrader said, “but not so outlandish they detract from the diving experience.”
Divers can buy scan cards that clip onto their BCDs, and add credits in $10 increments. Alternately, divers may carry Tiperon currency to drop into collection boxes.
Divers purchasing a Park Service Reef Pass will have their dives charged directly to their hotel room or credit card at a reduced rate.
The plan’s opponents vowed to fight the tolls.
“We’ll go in from shore, on sites where there’s no collection bins,” local resident Barry Sennett said. “These reefs don’t belong to the Park Service or the government. These reefs are your reefs, these reefs are my reefs.”
Other protestors plan to take a more active approach.
“They’ll have a hard time collecting if their precious conch shells get dropped 6,000 feet down the wall,” said a local diver who wished to remain anonymous.
“We’re installing cameras,” Schrader said. “Hidden ones. To keep an eye on things. Divers caught illegally diving will be fined and have their scuba gear confiscated.”
The Park Service has also mandated all BCDs on Blacktip Island be fitted with remote inflator valves. Scuba divers not paying the tolls will have their BCDs auto-inflate them to the surface, where a red dye will be released.
“We’re definitely using shame as a deterrent,” Schrader said. “Sometimes a stiff fine just won’t do the trick.”
Snorkelers will be charged at reduced rates. Free divers will be charged according to the number of dives they do as well as the depth of each dive. Blind divers will be allowed to dive free of charge.