Monthly Archives: November 2015

Blacktip Island Fishermen, Environmentalists Create Fish-Kill Zones

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If the planned fish-kill zones are approved, large stretches of Blacktip Island’s coast such as Spider Bight will be off-limits to scuba divers.


Blacktip Island’s fishermen and environmentalists this week formed an unlikely coalition aimed at safeguarding the Caribbean island’s critically-threatened Tiperon skunk bass population.

The skunk bass, the Tiperon Islands’ national fish, has become rare on island reefs due to overfishing and habitat destruction. The plan calls for the creation of no-dive zones where only fishing would be allowed.

“First we thought the bass’d stopped biting,” said fishing advocate Clete Horn. “Then we realized the bass left about the time the scuba diving industry took off. Divers come here from all over the world. They scare the fish and damage the coral.

“If there’s diving-only marine parks on the island, there should be fishing-only parks, too,” Horn said. “Get rid of the divers, the fish’ll come back. Then we can kill bass like we used to. And teach our kids how, so they can teach their kids.”

Many Blacktip residents were surprised when local environmentalists backed the concept.

“We can’t stop overfishing, so the hope is we can limit it to certain areas,” environmental activist Harry Pickett said. “It’s a compromise, but without the fishermen’s support, no conservation plan’s going to work.

“The theory’s if all the skunk bass are removed from one area, it’ll create a vacuum,” Pickett said. “Fish from other areas will move in to fill that void and encourage increased spawning in the protected areas. Sure, a lot of bass will be killed, but this way at least some of them have a chance.”

The Department of Fisheries officials, though skeptical, also back the plan.

“Skunk bass have zero protection now,” Fisheries spokesperson Reg Gurnard said. “Some protection’s better than no protection, right?

“Will it piss off some divers? Yeah. But it won’t keep them away. And it’s not like Clete and his buddies could ever fish the reefs clean.”

The plan has met stiff opposition among island entrepreneurs.

“Banning divers’ll kill our business,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “And divers won’t come here is there’s no fish to look at. If the dive industry goes under, what passes for an economy on Blacktip will go under, too.”

Fishermen are not swayed.

“These are Blacktip Island fish. They’re family,” said local angler Antonio Fletcher. “We know what’s best for them. Foreigners are welcome to come look at them, but not if it spoils our fishing.

“We’re fighting for our heritage,” Fletcher said. “We got to save these skunk bass from foreign influences so we can kill them. The fish, not the foreign influences.”

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Labor Dispute Threatens Blacktip Times

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Blacktip Island’s latest union-related strife is poised to silence Blacktip Island’s sole media outlet.

“The French pressroom workers are pushing for $15 an hour and a 25-hour work week,” Blacktip Times publisher Samson Post said. “They’re threatening to shut down the paper if we don’t cave. This is a blatant attack on press freedom.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time, hiring an all-French production staff,” Post said. “But now all I hear is Edith Piaf blaring in the break room and knuckleheads hollering this ‘I am Blacktip’ crap. We’re set to lock them out if they don’t co

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Blacktip Island’s Sea Slug Roundup Sparks Controversy

Two head-shield sea slugs cavort in a kraal during last year’s catch and release Blacktip Island Sea Slug Rodeo.

Two head-shield sea slugs cavort in a kraal during last year’s catch and release Blacktip Island Sea Slug Rodeo.

A Blacktip Island fall tradition came under fire Wednesday when protestors occupied the beach where the two-day Blacktip Island Sea Slug Roundup is slated to launch this weekend.

“Our forefathers were farmers and fishermen,” said event organizer Led Waite. “Slugs were a threat to their fall seaweed crops and had to be culled from the shallow reefs.

“The roundup celebrates that heritage,” Waite said. “Those hippies with signs are just attention mongers. Last week they were all up in arms about development or some such nonsense.”

The protestors decried the roundup as inhumane.

“Forcing nudibranchs into those little pens isn’t natural,” said Harry Pickett, president of the local People for the Ethical Treatment of Slugs. “You get that much slime in that small an area, slugs suffer. Coral dies.

“The sea slug population’s just now bouncing back from near extinction,” Pickett added. “This so-called celebration jeopardizes that recovery process.”

Organizers refute those charges.

“The roundup’s been catch and release for years, and no slugs have ever been harmed,” Waite said. “Two goals of the event are to document sea slug numbers and preserve a viable breeding population. Harry knows that. He just likes saying ‘nudibranch’ in public.”

Local businesses are concerned about the protest’s economic impact.

“Guests plan their scuba vacations around the roundup,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “Dozens jump in on scuba to watch the action. It’s a gold mine in terms of gear rental and t-shirt sales.”

“It can be a bit tedious for the uninitiated,” said longtime dive guest Max Straap. “You can’t hurry slugs. But for the aficionado, it’s as riveting as a grand master chess match. “We got the kids certified when they were 10 just so they could see the herding first hand.”

Organizers, meanwhile, stressed the roundup’s eco-friendly nature.

“Slugs must be herded in the kraals under their own power,” Waite said. “We’re not having a repeat of last year’s fiasco where Lee Helm nudged head-shield slugs into the pen.”

“Lee’s an idiot,” slug wrangler Alison Diesel said. “Everybody down there has cameras. You scratch your butt, 20 people’ll put it on YouTube. And there’s Lee, flicking slugs across the sand like paper footballs.”

“That’s precisely the sort of cruelty we’re protesting,” Pickett said. “And the children’s greased sea cucumber roundup Saturday afternoon shows how that ignorance is being passed on to the next generation.”

The roundup winner will receive the coveted Golden Slimy Doris trophy. All proceeds go to the Blacktip Island Retired Seaman’s Guild.

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Blacktip Island Divemasters Launch Underwater Clogging Course

The first Underwater Clogging specialty course students practice their dance steps on shore Thursday before attempting them underwater later that afternoon. (Photo by Al Stephenson)

The first Underwater Clogging specialty course students practice their dance steps on shore Thursday before attempting them underwater later that afternoon. (Photo by Al Stephenson)

Inspired by underwater acrobatics at a recent heritage festival, Blacktip Island divemasters Gage Hoase and Alison Diesel have developed an underwater clog-dancing course they began teaching this week on the Caribbean island.

“It’s a traditional southeastern American dance style that tons of our scuba diving guests identify with,” Hoase said. “We pump bluegrass music through a hydrophone and we’ve got 30, 40 divers jigging under the boat in no time.

“The cool thing’s you don’t need prior dance experience,” Hoase said. “We start by teaching the steps on shore in slow motion, sort of like tai chi. Then we drop students in the shallows off Diddley’s Landing public pier for the real deal.”

Diesel noted the classes stress conservation and safety.

“We’re careful to practice in big sand patches so we don’t damage coral,” Diesel said. “All the stomping can kill the viz pretty quick, but students don’t seem to mind.

“The trick’s making sure you don’t step on stingrays in the murk,” Diesel said. “We had to send a woman to the clinic yesterday after she got spined in both feet. Barracuda are a worry, too, with all the thrashing the students do.”

Most resort diving guests are enthusiastic about the course.

“It reminds me of the county fair back home,” scuba diver Suzy Souccup said. “You don’t get that heartwarming clack of clogs hitting the wooden floor, of course, but they let you use tank bangers and underwater rattlers, so that gives the same effect. Sort of.”

Hoase and Diesel say their classes are already packed.

“The guest’ve really glommed onto the idea,” Diesel said. “We’re working up an underwater square dance course, too, and long term we’ll branch out into underwater Latin, hip hop, tap, ballroom and pole dancing courses.”

Not all diver guests are happy with the classes.

“I come to Blacktip Island to relax and look at fish,” said longtime Eagle Ray Divers guest Lou Luxfer. “Now I can’t get in the water without hearing that cat-gutting noise they call music, and you can’t see the fish through all the sand those yahoos kick up.”

Hoase isn’t daunted by the complaints.

“Sure, the clogging stirs up some sand, but the currents off Diddley’s takes most of the sediment over the wall,” Hoase said. “And we’re careful to run classes during non-peak times when there’s not a lot of other divers on the reef, like agency standards stipulate.”

The course is offered as a specialty through NAUI, PADI and SSI. Diesel also teaches a Solo Clogging course through IANTD, which bans use of bluegrass music.

“It’s an agency-specific thing, not a big deal,” Diesel said. “We separate the students from each other as far as we can and play Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’ on the underwater speaker.”

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