Traffic Accidents Mount On Blacktip Island Reefs

Increased use of diver propulsion vehicles is causing traffic snarls on Blacktip Island dive sites. (photo courtesy of Matthew Hoelscher)

Increased use of diver propulsion vehicles is causing traffic snarls on Blacktip Island dive sites. (photo courtesy of Matthew Hoelscher)

Blacktip Island marine park officials are urging caution on the Caribbean island’s scuba dive sites after a spike in the number of accidents involving underwater diver propulsion vehicles.

“We’re victims of our own success,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “We’re teaching so many D.P.V. classes, it seems like everyone’s using scooters now.

“We tell students slow and steady’s the way to go with the scooters, but our guests never listen,” Latner said. “We’re seeing single- and multi-vehicle wrecks underwater about every day.”

The scooters also have many of the island’s scuba divers upset.

“Bunch of knuckleheads racing around is what they are,” diver Georgie Passaic said. “It’s just ZOOM and you’re blindsided by bubble trails and flapping fins. There’s even traffic jams on some of the sites.”

Officials say the problem is made worse by divers coming to Blacktip Island from different parts of the world.

“The Americans circle coral heads clockwise, whilst the Brits circle anti-clockwise,” Marine Parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “And the Americans insist on using four-way stop right-of-way rules. The Brits use roundabout rules. The result is a right mess.”

Attempts to enforce underwater safety measures have been ineffective.

“The island constable’s jurisdiction ends at the shore,” Schrader said. “And we don’t have the personnel to patrol every dive site. We have plans for underwater traffic signals, but that’s a long way off.

“Meanwhile, the underwater wreckage is piling up,” Schrader said. “People just mash the accelerator and go. On some of the more popular reefs you can’t see the coral for the debris.”

Local dive professionals bristled at criticism they’re to blame for the situation.

“We crack down on scooter use, that takes beer from our mouths,” Club Scuba Doo dive operations manager Finn Kiick said. “People pay top dollar for D.P.V. courses and rental. We about went out of business last week when we banned scooters completely.”

Other industry insiders insist underwater scooters are here to stay.

“These D.P.V.s are a boon,” Eagle Ray Divers’ Latner said. “All the wrecked scooters out there mean we’re teaching more Wreck Diving courses, more Search and Recovery courses and more First Aid courses. We even have instructors working up Underwater Traffic Routing course outlines for NAUI, PADI and SSI.”

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