Category Archives: Scuba Diving

Christian-Pagan Brawl Forces Blacktip Island Easter Parade Underwater

UW Easter parade

Kay Valve of the Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council marks the route of Sunday’s underwater Easter parade on Jawfish Reef Thursday. Parade organizers hope staging the event underwater will reduce sectarian violence that has marred recent Easter parades. (photo courtesy of Rosie Blenny/BIEC)

The Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council announced Wednesday the Caribbean island’s annual Easter parade will take place underwater after sectarian violence marred last year’s parade along the island’s resort strip.

“Staging the parade underwater’s a Hail Mary, but it was that or cancel it completely,” BIEC chair, the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians said. “There’ll be fewer people underwater, and it makes crowd control a whole lot easier.

“Last year’s fights between the Christians in the parade and the yahoos hijacking it for Ostara’s spring fertility festival blind sided us,” Ephesians said. “It started with insults, then thrown beer bottles, then an all-out melee the length of the parade route. We had to do something to preserve the event.”

Island authorities confirmed last year’s parade brawl set new records for damage.

“Vehicles were burned. Businesses were vandalized. The clinic was chock-a-block with injured participants from both sides,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “If Jerrod and his council hadn’t come up with this alternative, the parade was history.”

Organizers noted security measures will be in place for this year’s parade.

“We’ve tailored the event to maintain a high degree of safety while being as inclusive as possible,” BIEC sergeant-at-arms Kay Valve said. “Safety divers will keep the various factions separated and peaceful. And prevent drownings.

“Participants can be Christian, pagan or anything else,” Valve said. “They don’t even have to be religious. We do ask that everyone be sober, though. And anyone starting trouble will be immediately power-inflatored to the surface, regardless of religious affiliation.

Parade participants praised the changes.

“It will be lovely seeing everyone kitted out in their best wetsuits, BCs and masks,” Blacktip Island Junior League president Marcia Seagroves said. “And we’ve all gussied our neoprene hoods into the most wonderful bonnets. It’s different, certainly, but promises to have its own sort of dignity. Nevertheless, all League members will wear dive knives, just in case.”

Not all locals were pleased with the parade’s new format.

“It’s a mockery, celebrating Holy Week with an underwater game of follow-the-leader,” Father Poppy Bottoms of Our Lady Of Blacktip Cathedral said. “So’s Jerrod organizing it – he’s the one who set the spark to the tinder last year by running through the parade wearing nothing but a white bathrobe and yelling he was the archangel Gabriel.”

BIEC officials remained upbeat.

“We’ve encouraged underwater spectators to bring video cameras so we can stream the parade live to the BIEC website for non-divers,” Valve said. “There will also be prizes for best bonnet and most inappropriate wetsuit. And afterwards we’ll have a sea turtle egg hunt for the kiddos.”

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Blacktip Island Community Players To Stage Underwater ‘Reef of Dreams’

reef of dreams

Finn Kiick, as scuba-diving pioneer Émile Gagnan, swims above Sand Spit Reef Thursday during the dress rehearsal of The Blacktip Island Community Players spring play, Reef of Dreams. (photo courtesy of Mudasir Zainuddin)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will stage their annual spring play this Saturday and Sunday underwater near the Sand Spit bar to raise money for island charities.

Reef of Dreams is a tropical re-imagining of Field of Dreams,” director Doris Blenny said. “Lee Helm got a wild hair up his butt and rewrote the screenplay at the bar one night. We were dubious at first, but Lee was adamant.

“‘When the primal forces of nature tell you to do something, you do it,’ is how he put it,” Blenny said. “Lee’s take is a dive resort owner hears a voice and builds an underwater dive shop, hoping Émile Gagnan will pay him a visit.”

Actors will perform offshore at Sand Spit Reef using full-face masks and hydrophones.

“It’s set on a reef, and we had to have some way to speak our lines,” BICP member Alison Diesel said. “We schmoozed the manufacturer to donate the masks. They really add to the dramatic feel. ‘Ever hold a wet wetsuit to your face?’ just doesn’t have the same punch on the surface.

“The underwater speakers give a way-eerier feel to The Voice, too,” Diesel said. “The first time Elena whispered ‘Oui, he will come,’ it totally freaked us out.”

The play’s cast includes:

  • Lee Helm as Ray Kinsella
  • Alison Diesel as Annie Kinsella
  • Hugh Calloway as Jacques Cousteau
  • Finn Kiick as Émile Gagnan
  • Gage Hoase as Sir John Haldane
  • Elena Havens as The Voice

Helm stressed the BICP have gone to great lengths to keep the performance from seeming derivative.

“It captures the film’s spirit without copying its trappings,” he said. “It’s set on a reef, not in a cornfield. There’s no crops of any kind. Or ball-related sports. And in the end, it turns out the voice was talking about Sir John Haldane all along.

“There’s minimal props, so a lot of it’s open to interpretation,” Helm said. “All the acting’s in mid-water, too, so the stage doesn’t get all silted. And we recruited about 40 resort guests as extras to make a long line of dive lights at the end, all coming to the underwater shop.”

The performance will be transmitted to the Sand Spit and the Heritage House, where non-scuba divers can view the show for an additional fee.

“We’ll have five different camera angles, so no one misses any of the action,” Blenny said. “You can really see the tension build on all the actors’ faces when it looks like Ray will lose his resort.

“The show stopper’s when Gage asks, ‘is this heaven?’ and Lee says, ‘no, it’s Blacktip Island,’” she said. “In rehearsals, it brought the house down. Several performers nearly drowned.”

Proceeds from the performances will go to Blacktip Island Habitat for Humanity.

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Underwater Sleep Gym Comes To Blacktip Island

sleep gym

Blacktip Haven scuba divers prepare to descend for a Dive-N-Nap session off Blacktip Island’s sheltered West coast Thursday. (photo courtesy of Jacek Lesniowski)

A Blacktip Island resort is capitalizing on the current sleep gym craze by starting an underwater napping program on the Caribbean island’s west coast sand flats this week.

“It’s a twist on the napercise fad everyone’s into, except it’s underwater,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “We’ve found it’s more calming, with fewer distractions, than the on-land napercise sessions we do. We’re calling it Dive-N-Nap.

“Big rubber bands keep the regulator in your mouth, and big weight belts keep you stuck to the sand,” Havens said. “There’s such a stigma attached to napping. Dive-N-Nap lets you say ‘I’m going diving’ and spares you the embarrassment of saying you’re napping.”

Participants say the sessions are more restful than regular napping.

“You feel like you’re really part of the ocean,” Dusty Blenny said. “Turtles wedge themselves under ledges to sleep all the time, so this is kind of the same thing. Instead of swimming around the reef for 45 minutes, you can lie down and have a bit of sleep.

“You get in whatever sleep position is comfortable, then they weight you down,” Blenny said. “There’s soothing music the whole time – yesterday was Miles Davis, today it was Enya – then bang a gong at the end of the session.”

Organizers countered worries the classes are unsafe or harm the environment.

“We’ve always got two dive staff in the water,” Blacktip Haven divemaster Booger Bottoms said. “Anything goes wrong, they’re there to help, Johnny on the spot. Usually to fetch pillows.

“And it’s in the sand off Diddley’s Landing, where the barge comes in,” Bottoms said. “Nothing lives there. We learned to schedule sessions for when the barge isn’t coming in after that first incident.”

Some on the island questioned the need for the activity.

“Why pay to sleep underwater when you can just nap at home or at work?” bartender Cori Anders said. “Or on your favorite dive site? It’s something different, and I’m gld Elena’s making money with it, but I don’t see it lasting.”

Havens brushed such concerns aside.

“Dive-N-Nap has a strong social draw,” Havens said. “Most participate to be part of something bigger than themselves. And our staff monitors everyone’s air use to make sure there are no nasty surprises.”

“It’s so much more relaxing than terrestrial napping,” Havens said. “That’s desperately needed on this island. People here are far too stressed.”

Dive-N-Nap staff cautioned the activity is not without its drawbacks.

“Most people need a thicker wetsuit, since you lose body heat more quickly when you’re just laying there,” Bottoms said. “The up side’s the shivering burns calories, so it’s great for weight loss.

“Divers are welcome to just chill without falling asleep, too,” Bottoms said. “The only complaint we’ve had is Dive-N-Nap doesn’t help with a hangover. Even on nitrox.”

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Vandals Declare War On Blacktip Island Tank Bangers

tank banger

A stainless steel pointer stick, clipped to a buoyancy compensator in the Blacktip Haven resort drying shed, is the only underwater noisemaker left on Blacktip Island following a spate of vandalism and thefts of noisemaking devices on the small Caribbean island. (photo courtesy of Leah Shore)

Blacktip Island scuba resorts were on alert Friday following a rash of vandalism to underwater noise-making devices. The incidents have been blamed on divers angered at excessive noise on the Caribbean island’s reefs.

“It started with tank bangers – the rubber straps with the plastic balls people put around their tanks,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “We went out to the boats one morning and every rubber strap had been cut, and the bangers left on the deck. The ones on BCs in the drying shed, too. And unattended dive bags.

“Over the next few days other noisemakers started disappearing,” Latner said. “Rattlers, quackers, caribeeners, metal pokey sticks, everything. Guests are scared to tap on their tanks with a dive light for fear someone’ll steal the light.”

Dive professionals are divided over who the culprit might be and his or her motivation.

“It’s gotta be some drunk doing it on a dare,” Blacktip Haven divemaster Leah Shore said. “It is kind of funny, all these annoying things going away and no one having a clue why. My guess is a cranky divemaster who’s fed up with the noise.”

Others suspect more sinister motives.

“We got a note claiming responsibility from an organization calling itself the Silent World Alliance,” Club Scuba Doo owner Ham Pilchard said. “They say they’re striking back against underwater noise pollution, and that people with noise makers are stressing the fish.

“That’s an aggressive act,” Pilchard said. “And leaving cut bangers on the deck? What’s that if not a threat? Someone’s targeting our dive guests with violence. If the police won’t step in, well, we have web cams and lionfish spears that’ll solve the problem.”

Island authorities downplayed the incidents.

“It’s minor vandalism to items with little or no value. Or usefulness,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “There’s nothing to investigate. Or any action to take aside from telling people to safeguard their noisemakers.”

“There’s also zero credible evidence the perpetrator is a terrorist organization,” Marquette said. “And even if there was, there’s no statute outlawing silliness. If there was, I’d have to arrest most of the island.”

Island guests took the matter more seriously.

“My tank banger was a wedding gift. Now it’s ruined,” Kenny Chromis said. “If this is the sort of thing one can expect on this island, and the sort of lack of response from the police, we won’t be back.”

Many dive professionals remained unconcerned.

“Banging on tanks was way out of hand,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “People go diving to ditch uncool loud noises, not to hear a bunch of banging and clattering and rattling every time someone sees a barracuda.

“Damaging equipment’s not OK, but diving’s been a lot more chill this week,” Kiick said. “Whether a joke or aggro, whoever’s doing it deserves a medal. You bang a tank, it better be for something major.”

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Blacktip Island Divemaster Discovers ‘Living Fossil’ Caribbean Coelacanth

coelacanth

A photo of the previously-unknown coelacanth relative discovered by Blacktip Island scuba divers Wednesday afternoon. (photo courtesy of Alberto Fernandez Fernandez)

A Blacktip Island divemaster scuba diving on the Caribbean island’s rugged east coast Wednesday discovered a previously-unknown fish, closely related to the ‘living fossil’ coelacanth native to the Indian Ocean.

“We went in from shore on a day off,” Eagle Ray Divers’ Alison Diesel said. “I shined my light under a ledge and Whammo! There’s this gnarly-ass fish I’d only seen in photos.

“I thought I was narked, but I shook my head a couple of times and it was still there,” Diesel said. “Alberto took photos to prove it. That sucker was as big as me. The fish, not Alberto.”

Marine biologists confirmed the photos were of a coelacanth-like fish.

“It’s not a coelacanth, but it’s certainly a Latimeriidae,” Tiperon University-Blacktip ichthyology chair George Grasby said. “Judging by the fins and scales, it probably dates to the early Eocene Epoch – just post K-T extinction event.

“We’re calling it the deelacanth, since that’s the next step up, alphabetically and evolution-wise,” Graysby said. “It also ties in with our tentative genus-species, since we’ve named it Latimeria dieselius after Alison.”

Researchers are keeping the deelacanth’s location and depth secret to safeguard the discovery.

“The last thing we need is some yahoo snagging this thing and selling it to the highest bidder,” marine biology professor Lucille Ray said. “All I’ll say is it’s down deeper than diving guests go, but that doesn’t rule out scuba cowboys or hand-line fishermen.

“Our researchers are the only ones diving there now, but they can’t stay that deep for long,” Ray said. “We’ve got technical gear coming in so we can equip everyone properly. We hope to find more than one dieselius and, ideally, a breeding population.”

Other scientists disputed how to best study the fish.

“Someone’s gotta bring a deelacanth to the lab so we can examine it properly,” TU-B visiting marine biology professor Chester Balao said. “Going down to look at it’s a fine thing, but it’s not doing anyone any good just swimming around down there. We’ve got to be able to cut one up and see what makes it tick.”

Local dive operations are launching technical diving programs in response to the discovery.

“They can’t keep this thing under wraps forever,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “There’s no secrets on Blacktip, and folks’ll pay top dollar to dive with something they’ve only seen on National Geographic.

“Only other place in the world to see these critters is East Africa and Indonesia,” Latner said. “All those live down around 300 feet, so we’ll be set up with mixed gasses, multi-tank rigs, the whole shebang. We’ve got ‘Have We Got A Deel For You’ t-shirts and caps and water bottles, too.”

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Lionfish Shortage Spurs Blacktip Island Fish Farm

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Local aquaculture enthusiasts hope their plan to raise lionfish in inland ponds will solve the lionfish shortage at island restaurants. (photo courtesy of George Graysby)


A shortage of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish on Blacktip Island reefs has prompted local aquaculturists to launch a captive-breeding program this week to supply lionfish to island restaurants.

“We’re victims of our own success, really,” Blacktip Haven chef Jessie Catahoula said. “We put lionfish on the menu to encourage scuba divers to cull them off the reefs. The cullers did such a good job, there’s no lionfish left.

“Problem is, we’ve marketed the hell out of fresh lionfish tacos, ceviche, medallions, you name it,” Catahoula said. “Tourists come here expecting lionfish, and boy, do they get hacked off when we don’t have any. Flying the meat in from the big island’s killing our bottom line. Thankfully the fish nerds stepped in.”

Resident aquarium enthusiasts floated the idea of a fish farm.

“The restaurants tried substituting other types of fish, but customers caught on,” George Graysby said. “Captive breeding was the only viable solution. We have lots of aquariums, so this isn’t really that big of a jump.

“We still push culling and conservation and all, but going forward all the lionfish served on Blacktip will be farm raised,” Graysby said. “Farm-to-table lionfish, if you will. And we’re working on genetically modifying them, too, to make them venom-less. And bigger.”

Experts say the plan will boost the small Caribbean island’s economy.

“Lionfish is set to be the new tilapia,” Tiperon University-Blacktip economics professor Sally Port said. “Digging the ponds is already keeping two people employed full time. And once the place is up and running, it’ll need a full-time staff to maintain it.

“It’ll be six months before the first fish are ready for harvesting, but at that point, the process will be self sustaining,” Port said. “George and Belinda are starting the fry in aquariums this week and will transfer them to the ponds as soon as, well, as soon as the ponds are completed.”

Island environmentalists cautioned about the project’s potential downside.

“We’ve spent so much time and energy getting rid of these invasive pests, now George’s actively breeding as many of them as he can?” Harry Pickett said. “What happens when a big storm washes thousands of lionfish onto the reefs?

“They’ll wipe out the native reef fish in no time,” Pickett said. “We’ll be worse off than before,” Pickett said. “This is an ecological disaster waiting to happen, never mind the stink a farm like that’ll create.”

Farm backers brushed aside such worries.

“We’re digging the farm way inland where it’s safe from any storm surge,” Belinda Graysby said. “And it’s up by the Tailspinner bar where it won’t bother anyone. And even if it does, if the booby pond stink doesn’t scare people away the smell of a fish farm won’t, either.

“Worst case, if a big hurricane does flood the ponds, well, we’ve got an island full of trained cullers who can clear the reefs in no time,” she said. “Either way, the restaurants’ll get their fish.”

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Caribbean-Themed Medieval Dinner Theater Comes To Blacktip Island

medieval times

Detail from the marquee at Blacktip Island’s new medieval-style dinner theater, which opened this week at the Caribbean island’s public pier. (image courtesy of Piers Planck)

Blacktip Island entrepreneurs this week launched a tropical-themed Medieval dinner theater to celebrate the Caribbean island’s history and broaden its tourist appeal.

“On Blacktip the focus is on scuba diving, fishing and bird watching, and rightfully so,” said show impresario Piers ‘Doc’ Planck. “But the island has so much more to offer. That’s what we’re tapping into with this Middle Ages-style dinner-and-tournament.

“Most people don’t know Blacktip Island was a Knights Templar outpost in the 11th Century,” Planck said. “It was the Order’s sole naval base in the Western Hemisphere, and the survivors of the Friday the 13th massacre escaped to Blacktip with what was left of the Templar treasury.”

Show organizers are still fine tuning many of its details.

“We’re still feeling our way with staging and choreography,” Rosie Blenny said. “It’s mostly James Conlee and Dermott Bottoms in second-hand Aquaman costumes and pool floaties whacking each other with bamboo poles and yelling ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’ But tourists love it.

“We made it aquatic-themed so it was more relevant to island visitors,” Blenny said. “Marketing’s tough, but that’ll change as word spreads. Knights in tights jousting with inflatable seahorses? That’s something people’ll tell their friends and neighbors about.”

The island’s business community is upbeat about the venture.

“Anything that gets people to the island is good, no matter how goofy it is,” Chamber of Commerce president Christina Mojarra said. “They’re staging it at Diddley’s Landing for now, and the audience brings its own chairs, but if this thing takes off, we’re looking at building a permanent stadium that can be used for other events, too.”

Not all island residents support the new show.

“The idea of the Knights Templar having a presence on Blacktip Island is ahistorical hooey,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “It was the Hospitallers. Tourism income is all well and good, but not at the expense of historical fact.

“And Antonio Fletcher dressed as King Neptune presiding over the affair undercuts any Society for Creative Anachronism-style educational value it might have,” Altschul said. “It is hard to look away from, though. Like an auto accident or a boat wreck.”

Island visitors were generally positive about the show.

“I didn’t really get what was going on, or what the point of it was, but it was fun to watch . . . whatever it was,” Eagle Ray Cove guest Otto Korrecht said. “Honestly, if I understood it I may not have liked it as much.

“The food was, well, the ‘Templar Conch Chowder’ and ‘Hospitaller Halibut’ were dodgy, and the ‘Holy Land Ale’ was just warm beer with limeade in it,” Korrecht said. “But you didn’t really notice during the jousting, though. I’m guessing that’s a big part of the business model.”

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