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.”