Monthly Archives: April 2020

Blacktip Authorities Announce Island-Wide, Self-Distanced Fire Drill

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Sheltering-at-home Blacktip Island residents will have an excuse to get out of their homes Saturday morning when island authorities will conduct an island-wide fire drill. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/BTT staff)

Blacktip Island authorities Thursday announced residents will be required to participate in an island-wide fire drill Saturday while still practicing strict self-isolation protocols.

“People may be in isolation because of this virus situation, but they still need to be prepared for emergencies,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “There’s no fire department on Blacktip, so fire-safety awareness and preparedness is especially important.

“We’ll blow the hurricane warning siren Saturday morning, and everyone will have to stand in their front yards with a functioning garden hose and bucket,” Marquette said. “I’ll be driving around the island to check on compliance, and anyone found not participating or unequipped will be fined on the spot.”

Island officials say the exercise is necessary.

“This is a community-building thing,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “The point isn’t to fine or harass people, it’s to make sure everyone’s thinking two steps ahead. Neighbors are encouraged to check up on each other and make sure everyone’s properly prepared. And to let us know if anyone’s not.”

Not all residents were happy with the planned drill.

“This’s just gonna get folks spying on each other, making anonymous calls to rat each other out,” James Conlee said. “Blacktip’s not that kind of island. Neighbor’s house catches fire and they’re not ready, I’ll just help them out. I’m not standing in my yard with no bucket. I dare Rafe Marquette to drive all the way out here to check if I am.”

Others downplayed the drill.

“Rafe can blow that siren all he wants. I’ll be sitting inside,” divemaster Lee Helm said. “I already planned to binge watch The Lord of the Rings Saturday, and no daft fire drill’s gonna get me off the divan. There’s 100 plus houses on the island. No way Rafe’s gonna check every one of them.”

Some residents, bored with isolation, welcomed the drill.

“With all the resorts empty, it’s not really needed, but it’ll give everyone something to do,” Christa Goby said. “My neighbors and I are already planning a yard party to coincide with the drill. As soon as the siren goes off, we’ll all gather in our front yards and meet up almost like we used to.

“Me and Gauge Hoase already have lawn chairs and ice chests set up on our lawns,” Goby said. “No law against that. And as long as we each have our hose and bucket, Rafe can’t cite us for anything but public drunkenness.”

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Misunderstood Conservation Announcement Inspires Blacktip Island Artist

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An island artist used washed-ashore hard and soft corals to fashion a timepiece-and-wristband after misreading a reef conservation flyer. (photo courtesy of Jerrod Ephesians)

A misreading of an environmental announcement on Blacktip Island this week led to an island artist’s creating a line of wristwatches made of coral.

“The sign said they wanted everyone to participate in ‘the Coral Watch’ over the weekend, so that’s exactly what I did,” said island artist Jerrod Ephesians. “I collected bits of sea fans, hard coral and soft coral from the beach, ground down the stuff I needed and made a watch from it. It was a bit big, but looks-wise it rocked.

“The clockwork mechanisms inside are solid state, and it runs on a battery, but the face, hands and wristband are all repurposed coral,” Ephesians said. “I made a bunch more as unique mementos for people who want to feel connected to the reef. I was surprised as anyone else when I found out the announcement meant literally looking at coral. A wristwatch makes way more sense.”

Island environmentalists were not amused.

“Jerrod’s nonsense undercuts everything we’re trying to accomplish,” environmental activist Harry Pickett said. “We’re encouraging people to be mindful of, and protective of, our fragile reefs, not use their skeletons as fashion accessories. You don’t ‘repurpose’ coral. He’s scavenging it off the beach and destroying wildlife habitat.

“These watches trivialize reef preservation,” Pickett said. “People won’t participate if they’re busy snickering. And now copycats will be out tearing up live coral for their artsy-fartsy creations.”

Others took a more lighthearted view.

“The best part of all this to me isn’t Jerrod doing one of his off-the-wall takes on something, it’s that he made an actual watch,” Wendy Beaufort said. “I mean, who wears a watch anymore? Now, if he made a coral dive computer, or a coral cell phone, that would’ve been useful.

“I guess it works as jewelry, if you’re into that kind of thing,” Beaufort said. “But as a functioning timepiece? I don’t get it. And using dead coral really does send the wrong message.”

Ephesians defended his creations.

“They’re not meant to be functioning timepieces. That’s the beauty of them,” he said. “They’re works of art, a throwback to the Medieval and Renaissance clocks that were beautiful art pieces, but were crap at telling time. The guts are $20 Timexes. You want the exact time, check your phone.

“Long-term, this will actually get people more interested in the reef,” Ephesians said. “And no live coral was harmed in making this watch. I used only coral washed up on the beach. What was I supposed to do, throw the black coral back?”

The original watch will be on display at the island’s Heritage House. Ephesians’ line of watches will be available exclusively through island outdoors retailer Bamboo You.

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Blacktip Island ‘Distance Divers’ Scuba Via Video Conferences

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Faced with self-isolation orders, Blacktip Island scuba divers have taken to video-conference technology to enjoy the Caribbean island’s many reefs. (photo courtesy of Ackbahr)

Blacktip Island scuba divers practicing self-distancing are now using video-conferencing programs to share their dives in real time with other divers.

“Recreational scuba’s about socializing and showing other divers things you find underwater,” dive organizer Rosie Blenny said. “That was impossible with the self-isolation rules in place. Then we had the idea to do video conference calls underwater.

“We pick a time to dive, everyone goes in solo from shore at different spots around the island, then link up online,” Blenny said. “It was going to happen eventually. People are already doing underwater podcasts. This quarantine crap just sped things up. We’re calling ourselves ‘Distance Divers.’”

Some on the small Caribbean island voiced safety concerns.

“They’ve got 15, 20 people all out solo diving without a dive buddy in miles of them,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “That violates a basic scuba safety rule. It hasn’t bit them so far, but it’s only a matter of time.

“They also have a bunch of people underwater focused more on some internet gizmo than on their gauges and their depth-and-time profiles,” Latner said. “I understand folks wanting to get out of the house and enjoy nature, but this isn’t the way to do it.”

Distance Divers members said those concerns were unfounded.

“There’s no buddy physically next to me, but I’ve got a dozen people watching me in real time who can call for help if they see something go gnarly,” Alison Diesel said. “Everybody knows where everybody else is diving. End of the day, it’s safer than two-person buddy teams—you have a buttload of buddies keeping an eye on you instead of just one.”

Others said the video dives presented new, unexpected problems.

“Divers on some of the more remote sites have trouble accessing bandwidth,” Rocky Shore said. “There’s tons of screen freezes at awkward times. It’s also pure chaos when multiple people find things to point out at the same time. And we had to ban full-face masks to keep everyone from talking at once.

Local officials were supportive of the dives.

“Non-divers can dial in and see the reefs without any negative environmental impact,” marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “That helps with everyone’s mental health. Divers, they have to really have to be desperate to participate, but there’s a lot of desperate on the island right now. More than usual. This is a great tension reliever.

“It also lets us keep track of reef health remotely,” Shrader said. “We can check coral resilience and fish populations without leaving the office. Individual diver behavior, too. It’s funny—watch long enough you can identify everyone just by their mask and regulator.”

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Blacktip Island Scuba Divers Sight Extinct Mega-Shark

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The tooth of a prehistoric megalodon is displayed next to teeth of a great white shark at the Blacktip Island Maritime Museum. Two Blacktip Island scuba divers claim to have seen a living megalodon off the Caribbean island’s east coast. (photo courtesy of Kalan)

Scuba divers on Blacktip Island’s rugged east coast Wednesday sighted what they claim was a believed-extinct mega-shark during a deep dive.

“I saw it in the corner of my eye, just for a second,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm said. “The moment I looked straight at it, it was gone. Anything that big and that sharky, it had to be a megalodon.

“I didn’t have time to get video, but Clete Horn was with me, and he saw it, too,” Helm said. “Megalodon teeth have been washing up on the beaches lately, so it makes sense a one would be in these waters.”

Horn collaborated the sighting.

“Couldn’t see exactly what it was, but it was big,” he said. “I saw a fin and a tail, so it could have been a shark. I take Lee’s word on that—he had a better view than me.

“We reckon there’s all kinds of critters we think are extinct living down deep where people can’t see them,” Horn said. “They survived this long by being skittish. That’s why this one high-tailed it when Lee looked right at it.”

Long-time locals say the sighting is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

“Hear stories of big fish down deep all the time,” tarotologist Antonio Fletcher said. “They live way down where the whale skeletons are. What do you think eats the dead whales? Now we got first-hand evidence. Sort of.

“Old whaling ship logs talk about harpooning giant sharks,” Fletcher said. “That’s why they live so deep. The whalers drove them down there, where they can live in peace.”

Others were more skeptical.

“It’s supremely unlikely any fauna that large could survive undetected so long, at any depth,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine biologist Goby Graysby said. “There is zero fossil or skeletal evidence of a megalodon being alive in the last 4 million years. Without any empirical evidence, I’m extremely dubious of this reported sighting.

“It doesn’t help that Lee and Clete were down at 160 feet, by their own admission,” Goby said. “That deep, they both would absorb so much nitrogen their faculties would have been severely impaired. They probably saw a parrotfish. Or a big barracuda.”

Other dive professionals were also skeptical.

“If a 50-foot shark was still out there, there’d be no fish in the sea. Or divers,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “And at 160, they’d have been narked out of their gourds. I did a 170-foot jump once and saw a giant rabbit chanting, “Love, love, love.” I just had sense enough not to tell anybody.

“This is Lee, too,” Kiick said. “He’s an insecure wanker, always crying for attention. To him, bad attention’s better than no attention.”

Island dive operations are taking the sighting seriously.

“We’re erring on the side of caution and warning our staff and guests to be aware of their surroundings underwater,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “That’s a tall order for our guests, but we have to make the appeal. Most of our them aren’t aware of their own butts.

“We are running a daily megalodon dive for folks who want to go down to 100 feet and see what they can see,” Latner said. “We’re charging double for it and the boats are packed.”

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