Sunday, July 31, 2022
Precipitation: Not happening
Sunday, July 31, 2022
Precipitation: Not happening
After a recent reef survey revealed declining fish numbers, Blacktip Island civic leaders this week launched a controversial plan to repopulate the small Caribbean island’s reefs with robotic fish island, officials said.
“We’re seeing drops in the number of species as well as overall population of fish on our reefs,” de facto mayor Jack Cobia said. “That really dings our tourism product, so we had to do something before folks take their scuba vacations someplace else. Since the fish aren’t breeding fast enough, it makes sense to boost their numbers with robots.
“The pointy-heads down at the university’ve been working on micro technology, and this project’s the perfect opportunity to see if that stuff actually works,” Cobia said. “They’re making everything from little pike blennies up to sharks and manta rays. Our world-class scuba diving is about to get supercharged.”
Tiperon University-Blacktip scientists have embraced the task.
“This is a chance to really put our biorobotic technology to the test,” TU-B engineering department chair Sally Port said. “We’ve combined biological tissue with mechanical systems to create news forms of fauna. Releasing them on the reef is an exciting next step. These aren’t fake fish. They’re better fish.
“Natural tail movement was simple enough,” Port said. “Now we’re fine tuning the motion of the pectoral fins, eyes and gills to make the creatures as realistic as possible. So far we’ve only had one mishap, with our mechanical reef shark. But the two interns are healing nicely.”
Some ecologists objected to the plan.
“Long term, this will actually do more harm to the reefs than good,” ecologist Harry Pickett said. “These gizmos may look like fish, but they’ll wreak havoc on the underwater ecosystem. They’re hundreds of Frankenstein’s monsters with fins.
“The big concern is all these cyborgs will scare off the real fish,” Pickett said. “That could start a spiral that ends with there being more fake fish than real ones. And what happens when they turn on the divers, like that shark did to the two researchers? Sally and her team have no control over these things. This a nightmare in the making.”
Dive operators were generally supportive.
“Frankly, most of our diving guests won’t know the difference between the Franken-fish and real ones,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “And if they have to fight off one or two, well, that makes their dive more exciting. When they have fun, they’re happy. And if they come up smiling, we’re happy.”
Port echoed that sentiment.
“We’re creating new life forms,” she said. “That inherently enhances the dive experience. I’m hoping our babies can breed with each other. And with other fish, to create even more new species.”
Sunday, July 24, 2022
Precipitation: Zero chance
Blacktip Island residents this week stocked up on running shoes and cortisone cream in preparation for Saturday’s 23rd annual Running of the Skeeters, celebrating the height of summer, when dozens of residents will sprint nude down a jungle trail at dusk when the island’s mosquitos swarm the thickest.
“Started years ago as a drunken dare, and it’s grown every year since,” RotS organizer Wade Soote said. “The aim is to run from the west coast road, down an overgrown path through the mangroves 100 yards to the beach, then race back out, wearing only shoes or boots.
“It’s become a rite of passage for locals, a way to surrender yourself to the island, and for the island to accept you,” Soote said. “Everybody does it at least once. Some folks do it every year. It’s like a blood sacrifice to the island gods.”
Runners echoes that sentiment.
“It tests your fortitude. Your resolve to live here,” Corie Anders said. “Anybody can come to Blacktip and sit in the air conditioning. Or just go out midday, when the mozzies aren’t feeding. But to be a real Blacktipper, you need to get well-bitten, like our pre-air con ancestors did.
“The secret’s to keep moving—they don’t bite you too much until you stop, usually on the beach or at the road,” Anders said. “Hydrate beforehand and wear good running shoes – you fall, they’ll suck you dry, and no one will stop to help you.”
Some residents voiced concerns about the event.
“They make ‘No Malaria, No Worries’ t-shirts for the runners, to make light of it,” Vera Cuda said. “But that’s ingenuous, at best. Blacktip may not have malaria, but the region has dengue, yellow fever, zika, chikungunya and elephantiasis circulating all around us. It’s utterly irresponsible to purposely get bitten by mosquitos and potentially spread those deadly diseases.”
Island health authorities are prepared for the uptick in bites.
“I’ll be ready at the clinic with cortisone, Benadryl and epi-pens,” island nurse Marissa Graysby said. “And most of the bars will be offering discounted rum for all runners, to help ease the pain. I won’t be on site, of course. If people want to get bug bit, that’s their affair. I’ll be comfortable inside away from the mosquitos.”
Most runners brushed aside concerns.
“Getting bit 80, 100 times, it helps build your immunity to mosquito saliva and to whatever viruses they carry,” Jack Cobia said. “Sure, you feel like a human pincushion, but after the first few minutes, you start to kind of like it.”
“We encourage first-time runners, and’ll give them any pointers we can,” Cobia said. “And nobody’s ogling each other—folks’re running too fast, and swatting too wildly. And it’s not cheating to rub DEET over your sensitive parts.”
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Precipitation: Not today
Eagle Ray Cove divemasters deploy one of the surveillance drones used to monitor scuba diving guests, allowing dive staff to work remotely to combat a surge in iguana pox cases on Blacktip Island. (photo courtesy of Eagle Ray Cove)
Due to an uptick in iguana pox cases on Blacktip Island, the small Caribbean island’s dive operations have implemented a plan for divemasters to lead and supervise dives remotely to avoid acquiring, or transmitting, the virus.
“We had so many folks getting the pox, we almost had to shut down,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “We were in a bind ‘til Alison Diesel came up with the idea of using underwater drones to keep an eye on divers from the comfort of her apartment. We also have captains driving our boats remotely from home, so there’s no direct interaction with guests at all.
“We tried using reef cameras, but after a couple of out-of-air incidents, realized we needed the mobility drones provide,” Latner said. “We can follow problem divers, block their path if they’re about to do something stupid and, as a last resort, yell at them through an underwater speaker.”
Other resorts have followed Eagle Ray Divers’ lead.
“The drone thing rocks,” Club Scuba Doo’s dive manager Finn Kiick said. “All our video game skills are totally paying off. We rigged drones with big-ass hooks so we can snag yahoos going too deep or trashing coral and drag them back to safety.
“It also means our DMs can work with zero chance of getting bent or blowing an eardrum,” Kiick said. “The only in-person work we do is filling the tanks, and we do that at night when no guests are around.”
Some dive staff, though, were not happy with the new procedures.
“Can’t really show guests cool sea critters with a drone,” Blacktip Haven divemaster Booger Bottoms said. “Tried to point out a sea slug yesterday and like to took out a whole coral head. Even talking to guests while you guide them scares the fish.
“Makes it hard to teach students, too,” Bottoms said. “‘Til this virus wave passes, we just have ‘em watch videos and hope for the best. If they’re strong, they’ll survive.”
Others worried about diver safety.
“The big worry’s there’ll be an accident we can’t really respond to,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “You can’t supervise 20-plus divers with one drone, even a fast one. And if anybody gets hurt, all we can do is call the clinic. And, more importantly, not being on the boat in person really cuts into your tips.”
Latner said guest response to the initiative has been generally positive.
“Folks seem to like being on their own,” he said. “They also get an ego boost when they realize they have darker tans than any of our staff.”
Sunday, July 10, 2022
Precipitation: No chance