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Blacktip Island Church Reopens For Silent Services

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The Blacktip Island interdenominational church will open its doors Sunday to worshipers for the first time since the small Caribbean island was placed under COVID quarantine in March. (Photo courtesy of Pierre Grunt)

Blacktip Island’s non-denominational church Thursday announced it will reopen and conduct silent services starting Sunday, in keeping with the Tiperon Islands’ COVID-19 prevention guidelines, church leaders said.

“The worry is any kind of vocal activity can aerosolize the virus, even if you’re wearing a mask,” the Rev. Pierre Grunt said. “Now that we’re allowed to hold in-person services, we have a duty to make them as safe as possible. That means no one’ll be allowed to talk. Even me.

“We did a trial run where I did a Power Point sermon, but that put people right to sleep,” Grunt said. “I settled on acting out my sermon. Folks are already used to silent prayers, and the congregation’ll hum the hymns. With any luck, the loudest noise during the service’ll be cash hitting the offering plate.”

Churchgoers praised the idea.

“It’s been ages since we’ve been to church, what with the lockdown and everything,” Sally Port said. “Reverend Grunt’s divinely inspired to come up with this solution. Everyone on island’s tested negative, but you can’t be too safe. There’s so many stories of false negatives.

“Some people suggested using American Sign Language, but turns out no one knows ASL,” Port said. “Reverend Grunt’s pretty good at getting his point across with gestures and glares, even before this. And it’s not like his sermons vary too much anyhow.”

Church officials stressed other safety precautions in place to encourage attendance.

“The pews are cordoned off in six-foot gaps with blue painter’s tape,” church deacon Goldie Gobie said. “And masks, of whatever nature, will be required. We’ve also instituted a do-it-yourself Communion where congregants bring their own bread and wine and administer it to themselves. We’re calling it a ‘BYO Eucharist.’

“With the distancing, though, anybody needing baptizing’s out of luck,” Goby said. “The Our Lady of Blacktip Catholic church’s doing drive-through blessings with Holy Water spray bottles, So that may be an option, undignified as it is.”

Some residents said they would not attend, despite the precautions.

“To me, it’s probably best to avoid church altogether,” Reg Gurnard said. “I’ve been doing that for years and I’ve been damned healthy. If it ain’t broke, I’m not about to fix it.”

Others are opting for alternative worship services.

“I’m having an all-inclusive, ecumenical service Saturday, underwater on Jawfish Reef,” the former Rev. Jerrod Ephesians said. “Anyone of any faith, or lack thereof, can come sit in the sand with me and get in tune with the universe. And I set up a GoFundMe page for offerings.”

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Road Rage Spikes After Blacktip Island Confinement Lifted

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Gage Hoase’s car rests in a ditch beside Blacktip Island’s booby pond following the second road rage incident Wednesday, the small Caribbean island’s first day of deconfinement. (staff photo by Wendy Beaufort)

The end of Blacktip Island residents’ COVID-19-related stay-at-home order Wednesday was marked by a steep uptick in road rage incidents, community leaders said.

“Everyone’s on edge, being cooped up for so long,” said Kay Valve, Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort general manager. “It was the first chance people had to get out and drive around, and, well, some of them got a little over enthusiatic. If confinement brought out the best in people, deconfinement brought out the worst in some.

“It started with B.C. Flote and Doc Plank yelling at each other after they nearly crashed vehicles in the car park,” Valve said. “Then B.C. started waving a machete and things turned ugly. Nothing would’ve come of it, but it happened right outside the lobby, where God-and-everyone could see it.”

Authorities were quick to de-escalate the situation.

“I took away B.C.’s machete, then made them drive off—slowly—in opposite directions,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Gave them both official citations, too, so they’ll have to explain themselves in court. Everyone needs to know we won’t stand for this kind of hooliganism. I’m clamping down, hard, before it gets out of control.

“I was still cautioning them when word came about ‘Tonio Fletcher and Gage Hoase going at it at the east coast intersection,” Marquette said. “Two roads on the island, and only a handful of cars out, and those two knuckleheads managed to have a wreck and a fistfight. They’ll be going to court, too. They’re lucky they’re not in the jail.”

Witnesses say the second incident also resulted from a traffic gaffe.

“Gage rolled the stop sign and cut ‘Tonio off,” Jessie Catahoula said. “‘Tonio chased him down and ran him into the booby pond. It was actually pretty funny to watch, especially them going at it hammer and tongs in the bushes after. Rafe didn’t think so, though.

“I guess for two months people haven’t really had access to cars, so their skills slipped,” Catahoula said. “Or they couldn’t wait to make up for lost time. We’re all happy to be able to drive again. Hell, everyone’s speeding and joy riding.”

Many residents questioned the constable’s get-tough response.

“I get why Rafe wants to stop this stuff before it gets out of hand, but this’s Blacktip. Things work themselves out,” Lucille Ray said. “Once people blow off some steam, things’ll go back to normal. Or as normal as it gets on this island.

“Rafe citing people left and right’ll just make things worse,” Ray said. “Thing is, with a citation issued, they have to go to court over on Tiperon, but we’re still not allowed to leave the island. Gut feeling is Rafe’ll drop charges when travel opens back up. He’s just blowing of some post-confinement steam, too.”

Marquette would neither confirm nor deny Ray’s theory, though he did issue citations to the Blacktip Times reporter and photographer covering this story.

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Anti-Police Violence Protest Erupts on Blacktip Island

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Blacktip Island’s police office and jail has been the scene of three days of anti-police violence protests by several island residents. (photo courtesy of 3wisemen)

A crowd of several Blacktip Island residents protested police violence outside the small Caribbean island’s police office and jail for the third day Thursday, authorities said.

“It started with Harry Pickett and Angela Fisher shouting and such outside the jail,” Customs officer Noddy Bolin said. “Next thing, two more folks joined in. Near as we can tell they’re protesting violence in general. I don’t think there’s ever been a case of police violence on Blacktip.

“The jail’s pretty out of the way, so I don’t think anyone has any problem with it. Or notices,” Bolin said. “The signs are funny, though. One says something about ‘stoop violence.’ And Harry’s been waving one that says ‘know peas’ or some such nonsense.”

Police officials say there are no plans to disrupt the protest.

“I’m not at the office much, so they don’t really interfere with me doing my job,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “I was kinda surprised to see them there again this morning. There was talk of a curfew, but that seems like a lot of trouble if they’re not tearing anything up. Folks want to let off steam, that’s their right.”

“It doesn’t seem to be about me anyway, they just want to be part of what’s happening elsewhere,” Marquette said. “I’m the lightning rod, I guess. Worst incident I’ve been mixed up in was when I used a wheelbarrow to get Dermott out of the Sand Spit after he broke in, drank all their rum and passed out. I scraped his knuckles pretty good, but there was no other way to move that much bulk.”

Protestors agreed their anger was not aimed at Marquette.

“It’s nothing personal toward Rafe,” Fisher said. “There’s just so much police violence in the world, we felt like we had to do something. And since we can’t leave the island, well, the jail seemed like the best place to protest.

“Honestly, we were hoping for a bigger turnout,” Fisher said. “There’s still time for a few more people to join in — we’re here for as long as it takes to, well, do whatever.”

Long-time residents dismissed the protest.

“Closest we ever had to a riot was when the barge couldn’t dock for a month and all the bars ran out of hootch,” Elena Havens said. “That wasn’t pretty, but Rafe de-escalated it right quick. Threatened to call James Conlee’s mom, and that was the end of it.

“Rafe did get semi-physical when Jerrod busted into the Ballyhoo with a cast-iron frying pan, yelling about smiting sinners or some such,” Havens added. “But all Rafe did was block Jerrod’s path and tell him God wanted him to put down the pan.”

The island’s store owner, however, is taking matters more seriously.

“This island’s going crazy, and I’m more than prepared for any looting,” store owner Peachy Bottoms said. “I’m standing guard outside the door with my broom, and I won’t hesitate to whack anybody who looks like they might act up.

“Locked up all the spray paint and matches, too,” Bottoms said. “Eggs are being doled out two at a time. And if things get out of hand, I may not have pepper spray, but I do have a bunch of jalapeno juice.”

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Blacktip Island Bans Visitors To Enforce Social Distancing

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Blacktip Island authorities took steps this week to ensure the small Caribbean island’s beaches remain empty by banning residents and visitors alike from landing on the island. (Blacktip Times staff photo by Wendy Beaufort)

Blacktip Island authorities Thursday announced a ban on all visitors to the small Caribbean island to ensure compliance with current social distancing guidelines.

“The island was getting too crowded,” de facto mayor Jack Cobia said. “Folks have to stay 10 feet apart, and for the most part they are, but if we get too many more bodies on this little rock, people’re gonna have to start standing in the sea. With the current rate of arrivals, that’s just a day or two away.

“We’re nipping this in the bud,” Cobia said. “Some folks are upset, but that’s beside the point. This’s a public health issue. We’re not about to have a situation where folks are hanging out offshore in skiffs or on pool floaties. That’s not dignified. Or healthy.”

Residents say the influx is due to the Tiperon Island government allowing access to the island after several months of quarantine.

“When quarantine lifted, a lot of year-round residents who got stuck off island came flooding back,” Rosie Bottoms said. “Wasn’t a big deal at first, but the folks kept coming. Staying 10 feet apart’s tough enough with just a few people around.

“Then all the second-home owners started coming back, too,” Bottoms said. “That’s when we realized it was a no-win situation. We’re already seeing lots of folks with wet feet from walking in the surf to keep their distance.”

Authorities said the ban will be strictly enforced.

“I greet every inbound flight to make sure nobody gets off,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We got limited real estate on Blacktip. The only way somebody can deplane is if somebody else boards and they swap places.

“It’s an unfortunate necessity,” Marquette said. “Tried spray painting big circles on the ground, but everyone ignored them. I got a list of everyone on-island right now. You’re on the island and not on the list, you get cited. Two offenses, you get to socially distance in the jail cell.”

Some on the island complained the new rule is unfairly restrictive.

“Rafe and Jack, they got no right to say who comes and goes. They’re taking away our freedoms,” Harry Blenny said. “Ain’t seen Christa Goby for months, since she’s stuck over on Tiperon. And end of the day, I just want to go outside, have a beer and holler at my neighbors. Now I can’t.

“All Rafe’s talk on enforcing, I think he’s just bored,” Blenny said. “Or putting on a show for the bosses. He always did like paperwork. Only person happy about this’s ol’ Doc Tang, and that’s just because his wife’s stuck on Tiperon and he ain’t seen her since March.”

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Lionfish-Culling Robots Run Wild On Blacktip Island Reefs

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Underwater drones used to rid Blacktip Island reefs of invasive lionfish have begun operating independently of their controllers, marine park officials said. (photo courtesy of Afnecors)

Several remote-controlled lionfish-culling drones, deployed earlier this year to aid in removing the invasive species from Blacktip Island reefs, this week began operating independent of their controllers, marine parks officials said.

“We use underwater drones to increase our culling capacity and to kill the lionfish down deep where scuba divers can’t go,” marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “You could sit at the computer and direct them in real time down to 400 feet. They’ve been a real game changer in lionfish eradication.

“A few days ago we noticed one of them was operating independent of any of us topside,” Schrader said. “At first we thought someone had hacked them, but the more we watched, we realized the drone was operating on its own without anyone’s direction. Then we noticed a couple more doing the same thing. They seem to be learning and adapting. That really got our attention.”

Some familiar with the drones say their behavior has changed as well.

“These things are hunting way more aggressively than we ever run them,” drone operator Rusty Goby said. “They’re tearing around the reef, smashing into coral and tearing up the reef structure. They’re killing a ton more lionfish, but at a cost.

“They’re also pushing their 420-foot depth limit, but not passing it,” Goby said. “That shows they know their limitations. That’s a frightening level of self-awareness. From what we can tell, they’re thinking for themselves.”

Researchers say the idea of self-directed machines is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

“This is the age of artificial intelligence. We should have anticipated this,” said Ernesto Mojarra, marine biology professor at Tiperon University-Blacktip. “The question is how many of these drones will go independent? And what happens when they kill all the lionfish?

“They’re learning from each other. If one starts hunting other kinds of fish, they could potentially wipe out the reefs,” Mojarra said. “And once all the fish are gone, what do they do next? Killing is their raison d’être. I doubt they’ll just shut themselves off.”

Island dive operators also expressed a growing concern about the drones.

“No way we can put divers in the water with these gizmos in kill mode,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “They’ll go after divers. Especially the younger, smaller ones. ‘They’ll come after all of us.

“What if this is some robo-Freudian thing where they want to kill their creators?” Kiick said. There may be no diving here until their batteries wear out. And no living on Blacktip if they can adapt themselves to land.”

 

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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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Stressed Blacktip Island Groupers Get Virtual Reality Goggles

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One of Blacktip Island’s over-stressed Nassau grouper confronts a photographer on the small Caribbean island’s Hammerhead Hole reef Thursday. (photo courtesy of q. phia)

A Blacktip Island conservation group has teamed up with local scientists to adapt virtual reality headsets to fish in an effort to save the Caribbean island’s stressed Nassau grouper population.

“We’ve had a marked uptick in the number of visitors to the island, in divers on the reefs,” Reef Stasi president Lucille Ray said. “That’s got the Nassaus freaked out, especially with camera-wielding divers chasing them around the reef, despite the dive staffs’ efforts.

“The groupers are high-tailing it from guests, even when divers point out lionfish for them to eat,” Ray said. “They’re not eating or interacting with other fish. Healthy, happy grouper are an indicator of a healthy reef ecosystem, and ours are severely stressed. As the grouper go, so goes the reef.”

Scientists are concerned about the impact on grouper populations.

“Nassaus only spawn once a year, and now’s the time they do it,” local ichthyologist Goby Graysby said. “Problem is, with them so stressed, they didn’t spawn with February’s full moon. And they’re not showing any signs spawning anytime soon, they’re so wound up.

“Nassaus are endangered worldwide, so this is potentially a hammer blow to the species’ survival,” Graysby said. “We had to take action, and banning divers would’ve killed our island dive industry. Adapted goggles seemed the obvious next step.”

The practicalities of that solution came from a university engineering experiment.

“We’d already been working on goggles for sight-impaired fish, so it was just a minor shift for us,” Tiperon University-Blacktip optical engineering professor Glaseid Snapper said. “Our goggles show grouper a deserted reef so they’ll relax. They also dial back the groupers’ lateral line sensitivity, so they don’t notice movements in the water around them as much.

“We’re beta testing it on a few fish on one of the more popular reefs,” Snapper said. “After that, we’ll outfit as many fish as possible to get them calmed down and getting jiggy with each other again.”

Large-scale goggle production will be handled by island scuba manufacturer Bamboo You.

“We’ll crank out as many of these puppies as needed,” Bamboo You sales manager Christina Mojarra said. “Guests can also adopt a grouper, for a fee, to help offset the cost of the units. It’s an ambitious plan, but we’re up to the challenge.”

Environmentalists stressed the goggles are only a short-term solution.

“We need to modify the underwater behavior of dive guests so groupers don’t get so wigged out,” animal rights activist Harry Pickett said. “The underwater paparazzi behavior has got to stop. This is a canary in the coal mine moment—if this stress spreads to other fish species, they may all stop breeding.

“We’re making it a real community effort,” Pickett said. “Staff at all the resorts are educating guests on how to properly interact with our finned friends going forward. Until this crisis is over, we’re all groupers.”

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Blacktip Island Resort Uses Conveyor Belts To Load Divers

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One Blacktip Island scuba company has begun hauling divers aboard with commercial conveyor belts to cut down on boarding ladder injuries in rough seas. (photo courtesy of Leah Shore)

A Blacktip Island scuba resort stirred controversy Wednesday when it announced plans to use conveyor belts commonly used in the fishing industry to haul divers back onto its dive boats.

“This’s a safety issue. I don’t know why folks are getting all up in arms,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “It’s winter. The seas are rough. A lot of our divers don’t understand how dangerous the boarding ladders can be. When there’s six-foot swells rolling through, and divers’re lollygagging on the ladders getting their fins off, that dog’ll bite you.

“This isn’t some ride at Disney. People can get hurt,” Latner said. “They’re on the ladder for four, five waves, getting the living snot beat out of them. We’re tired of bandaging them up. And cleaning up the decks.”

The resort’s solution was to install marine conveyor belts to lift divers onboard.

“It’s a variation on the belts commercial fishing boats use to land their catch,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “We call it the ‘Magic Carpet’ that sweeps divers back aboard. Guests swim up, grab ahold, and the belt feeds them up to the midships gunwale where our staff can sort them out.

“Some of our guests are big people, too, with lots of weight in their BCs,” Skerritt said. “This makes things way easier on our staff. It’s good for divers, good for our divemasters and keeps out ladders from getting damaged. There’s really no downside.”

Many dive guests are not pleased with the new system.

“It’s not dignified, being dragged up a ramp like that, arse over appetite, and plopped on the deck like a hooked cod,” Carrie Coney said. “They’re treating paying guests like netted fish. And likening us to beached whales.”

Others praised the new belts.

“For me, it added another bit of fun to the dive,” Rosie Blenny said. “I got to look at fish, then had a nice ride afterwards. If people are worried about looking like beached whales, well, that’s not the Magic Carpet’s fault.”

Eagle Ray Divers staff stressed the belts’ efficiency.

“It’s not about the guests liking it or not. It’s about getting them back onboard without bloodshed,” divemaster Marina DeLow said. “They bearhug the ladder 20, 30 seconds in rough seas, it gets messy. We tell them to think of it as the moving carpet on the bunny slope at a ski resort.”

Other resorts are watching the belt-loaded divers closely.

“If it works out and cuts down injuries, we may try the same thing ourselves,” Club Scuba Doo owner Ham Pilchard said. “We’re looking at installing a forward-facing belt that’ll scoop surfaced divers up as the boat idles past without them having to do anything but just float there.”

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