An underwater Marco Polo player (right) spins to avoid being tagged by the ‘it’ player Thursday beneath an Eagle Ray Divers dive boat on Blacktip Island. (photo courtesy of davidhv22)
In an effort to attract more non-divers to scuba, the Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce this week started underwater sessions of the popular children’s pool game Marco Polo for adults on the Caribbean island’s reefs.
“The inspiration was seeing kids in the pool playing Marco Polo with masks and snorkels,” chamber president Kay Valve said. “There’s lots of non-diving spouses and significant others who don’t dive because they think it’s boring.
“This is the next logical step, and shows people there’s more to do on the dives than just look at fish,” Valve said. “Whoever’s ‘it’ wears a blacked-out mask and shouts ‘Marco’ through their regulator, then all the others shout ‘Polo’ back. You can hear quite clearly underwater.”
Island dive operations have noted an uptick in certification requests.
“We’re slammed certifying people so they can play reef-tag,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “I don’t get it, but the guests are goofy for it and come back smiling, so it’s all good.”
“If I’d known how fun this would be, I’d’ve gotten certified years ago,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Earnestine Bass said. “It’s like being a kid again, but not cooped up in some backyard pool.”
Organizers have also created a surface-based version for snorkelers.
“Kids under 10 and anyone else who just doesn’t want to scuba can still have a great time,” Valve said. “We also modified the basic rules for underwater and surface players.
“For divers, there’s a ‘fish out of water’ rule for anyone who climbs on a boat’s swim platform to avoid being tagged,” Valve said. “For snorkelers we added a ‘fish underwater’ rule for players who dive down to escape.”
Some diving guests, however, were not pleased with the new activity.
“I come here to chill and look at fish, not watch a bunch of idiots charge across the reef,” Marlin Bleu said. “All their hollering scares the fish away. And you can hear them two, three dive sites off.
“Worse, I got grabbed twice today by a couple of these jokers,” Bleu said. “I have a dive knife, a big one, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Dive operators say it’s impossible to completely separate players from other divers.
“We ask players to be respectful, but it’s not practical to take them to different sites,” Eagle Ray Divers dive operations manager Ger Latner said. “Marco Polo players want to go to the most popular dive sites too, and they’re paying the same rates as everyone else.
“In the meantime, our dive boats are full and we’re selling courses like crazy,” Latner said. “And snorkel and scuba gear is flying off the shelves.”