Monthly Archives: February 2015

Blufftop Observatory to Boost Blacktip Island Economy

The Blacktip Island Observatory will feature a 3.7-meter optical/IR telescope, as well as a baseline array for submillimeter astronomy.

The Blacktip Island Observatory will feature a 3.7-meter optical/IR telescope, as well as a baseline array for submillimeter astronomy.

Tiperon University-Blacktip officials confirmed Thursday the university has resurrected plans for an observatory on Blacktip Island’s southern bluff. The facility will be funded by space agencies from several Caribbean nations.

The project, long stymied by opposition from developers and environmentalists, gained new life when that opposition unexpectedly faded.

“I don’t know what good some giant telescope’s going to do anyone,” said Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt, formerly the project’s most vocal opponent. “Another resort or two’s what Blacktip needs, but if the community’s dead set on this white elephant, I’ll go along with it for the common good.

“Plus, it’s nice to get under the skin of those pointy-head treehuggers.”

The observatory will be built on land formerly owned by the Skerritt family. Work on the facility, by Skerritt Construction, will begin next week.

The scientific community has coveted the Blacktip Island site for years.

“Blacktip’s sky quality is unique in the Caribbean,” TU-B astrophysicist chairperson Ursula Majors said. “With minimal development and the nearest island being 100 miles away, light pollution is non-existent. The only building at the south end is the Last Ballyhoo bar, and electricity’s out in that place more often than not.

“More significantly, the fumes from the island’s booby pond counteract the moist maritime air to produce some of the clearest skies in the Caribbean,” Majors said. “Usually you have to get above 12,000 feet in the desert to get air clarity like this.”

Current plans have the observatory conducting optical, infrared, and submillimeter astronomy, Majors said.

Many locals welcomed the news.

“It’ll be a shining star for our economy,” said island mayor Jack Cobia. “This shows the world Blacktip’s not just about drinking rum and gossiping about your friends. We’re contributing to the advancement of human knowledge now. And folks at the Ballyhoo’re eager for the uptick in business, too.”

Island environmentalists, however, still oppose the project.

“There’s rare and endangered species down there we’ve only just begun to study,” TU-B biodiversity professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “The Blacktip greasy palm is found only on the high bluff. And the redneck warblers have vital breeding grounds all around the Ballyhoo.”

Most residents, though are excited about the new facility.

“It’s brilliant there’ll be professional astronomers here,” divemaster Lee Helm said. “My girlfriend, she’s a Pisces with Virgo rising. Now I’ll be able to suss out exactly what makes her tick.

“I’ve an appointment to get my own star chart done, too, as soon as that radio telescope gets up and running.”

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Blacktip Island Hosts Pro-Am Bird Watching Championship

Professional birders from around the world are flocking to Blacktip Island for this week’s pro-am bird watching tournament.

Professional birders from around the world are flocking to Blacktip Island for this week’s pro-am bird watching tournament.

The Blacktip Island Pro-Am bird watching competition kicks off Saturday morning, with professional and amateur birders from around the world competing for the coveted Booby Prize. The week long event is one of the Birding Grand Slam’s five tournaments.

“We expect quite a robust competition this year,” Blacktip Island Audubon Society president Sula Beakins said. “Blacktip’s place as a waypoint on the flyways between North and South America make it a hot spot for resident and transient feathered friends alike.”

The tournament will pair international birding superstars such as Martin Grebe, Zenaida Dove and Elaenia Kestrel with local avian aficionados including Bob White, Noddy Bolin and Reg Gurnard.

The Audubon Society implemented several rule changes this year to avoid the altercations that detracted from past Pro-Ams.

“All sightings must be confirmed first hand by Society judges,” Beakins said. “There was so much sniping, and fisticuffs, last tournament when two competitors were caught photographing handmade bird likenesses. This year’s judges won’t be so gullible.

“We’ve also banned water drips for attracting birds,” Beakins added. “Competitors can grouse all they want, but those drips were sushi bars for the feral cats. We’ll not have a repeat of last year’s carnage.”

Scores are derived from algorithms factoring in total birds sighted, total species sighted and the rarity of species sighted by each team.

“That old coot Clete Horn was a distant third last year before he spotted that band-rumped storm petrel,” competitor Bob White said. “One bird gave him and Zenaida Dove the win.”

“The Blacktip ham hawk is the Holy Grail, of course,” local bird guru Reg Gurnard said. “They were hunted nearly to extinction decades ago. Island old timers just loved them with butter beans and greens.”

Local restaurants and bars are hungry for the economic uptick the tournament brings.

“These birdwatchers are crazy as loons,” Sand Spit bartender Cory Anders said, “But they’re big drinkers, they tip well and they don’t tear the place up too bad until post-tourney.”

International birding stars are eager for the tournament to begin.

“It’s lovely to see so many titmice this year,” said professional birder Jay Grackle. “And Caribbean tits. Boobies are a given on Blacktip, but these tits are an unexpected surprise.

“The absence of egrets is also nice, for me, anyway,” Grackle said. “I try to live my life with no egrets.”

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Blacktip Island Resort Beams Up Weighty Divers

Scuba divers are lifted from the water and onto Eagle Ray Divers’ Barjack dive boat following Thursday’s afternoon dive. (photo courtesy Steve Dingledein)

Scuba divers are lifted from the water and onto an Eagle Ray Divers dive boat following Thursday’s afternoon dive. (photo courtesy Steve Dingledein)

In a move that has angered many Blacktip Island scuba diving guests, Eagle Ray Divers is using an experimental tractor beam to lift scuba divers wearing too much lead weight back onto the resort’s dive boats.

Divers claim the device’s use is aimed at weighty divers, not the divers’ weights.

“It was mortifying,” Eagle Ray Cove guest Bud Turbot said. “Thinner divers were allowed to climb back onboard on their own, but us fuller-sized folks, they made us be beamed aboard while everyone gawked. My wife’s still in tears. It’s size-ism, pure and simple.”

Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner denied the claims.

“It’s not an indictment of our divers,” Latner said. “It’s about our insurance premiums and divemaster durability. These people cram their BCs with 18, 20 pounds of integrated weight. No way our staff can handle those things day in, day out on a rocking boat without doing themselves major damage.”

“We tried asking guests to take their weight pockets out,” said Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase. “A few do, but most refuse. One over-weighted BC at the wrong time can end a divemaster’s career.

“This gizmo’s a game changer,” Hoase said. “Not swapping over weight-integrated BCs means no mangled backs or blown elbows.”

Eagle Ray Cove resort management enlisted the aid of local scientists after a rash of dive staff injuries.

“Our attraction beam prototype was at the trial stage,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip magneto-gravitic engineering professor Stina Ray. “Hauling in divers provides the perfect beta test. And if it keeps people from getting hurt, that’s an added bonus.

“We installed the beam generators on Ger’s boats, and his staff records the raw mass, distance and erg data for us,” Ray said. “The dive leaders say it works on divers who exceed their profile times, too.”

Eagle Ray Cove’s dive guests remain outraged.

“That beam thingy snatches you up any which way,” diver Leah Shore said. “If you’re not perfectly upright in the water when it locks on, it’ll haul you aboard ass over appetite, with the whole boat laughing at you. And what happens if that thing gives out mid-lift? They don’t mention that in the briefings.”

Eagle Ray Divers’ Latner was unapologetic.

“Something had to be done,” Latner said. “These human anchors were breaking my divemasters faster than I could hire them. You don’t want to be beamed up? Learn proper buoyancy. And skipping the dessert buffet wouldn’t hurt, either.”

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Blacktip Island Resort Launches Lionfish Spa

A free-range Indo-Pacific lionfish readies for a day’s work at Blacktip Haven’s new Lionfish Beauty Spa. (photo courtesy of Paula Whitfield)

A free-range Indo-Pacific lionfish readies for a day’s work at Blacktip Haven’s new Lionfish Beauty Spa. (photo courtesy of Paula Whitfield)

Blacktip Haven resort will open the Lionfish Beauty Spa this weekend as part of the resort’s continuing effort to combat the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish overwhelming the Caribbean island’s reefs.

“Other resorts encourage scuba divers to hunt lionfish and kill them,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “They serve lionfish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But karma’s a harsh mistress, even on the piscine level. Our goal’s to keep lionfish from destroying the reefs without us becoming killers.

“This spa lets us welcome lionfish as part of the solution instead of demonizing them. We can’t beat them and we won’t kill them, so we’re joining with them.”

Spa patrons will be able to submerge their hands, feet, or entire bodies in specially designed lionfish pools, where the voracious predators will eat any dry or damaged skin.

“Whether it’s calloused feet, chapped lips, or a bad outbreak of psoriasis, these lionfish will work wonders for you,” Blacktip Haven masseuse Jessie Catahoula said. “It’s a mani-pedi and so much more!”

“I wish I’d thought of it,” said Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce president and Club Scuba Doo owner Ham Pilchard. “You see spas like this in Europe, but with minnows. It took someone with Elena’s special vision to adapt that to Blacktip.”

Local environmentalists are supportive as well.

“No lionfish are harmed in the spa, and the pools are open to the sea so the fish can come and go as they please,” Blacktip Island PETA head Harry Pickett said. “Elena also makes sure the fish get regular rest periods, and at least one day off per week to rejuvenate.”

As an added benefit to customers, the spa will also use lionfish venom as a skin-tightening agent.

“The toxin in their dorsal spines is chemically similar to Botox, and renders similar results,” local marine biologist Joey Pompano said. “It’s uncanny.”

“One spine poke in the cheek and you look years younger for the next three, four weeks,” Catahoula said. “Plus, it’s all natural, 100% organic and gluten free.

“The idea may sound fishy,” Catahoula said, “but the results speak for themselves.”

The spa plans to explore additional uses for the lionfish.

“On the molecular level, lionfish toxin’s structurally quite similar to Viagra,” Havens said. “That could open up a whole new line of spa treatment, but no one’s had the courage to put that to the test. Yet.”

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