Category Archives: Scuba Diving

Fisherman Discovers Sunken Pyramids Off Blacktip Island

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Antonio Fletcher’s photo of what he claims are ancient pyramids atop a remote seamount off Blacktip Island’s northwest coast. (photo courtesy of Antonio Fletcher)

Local fisherman Antonio Fletcher says he discovered underwater pyramids on a seamount off Blacktip Island’s west coast Wednesday morning while searching for a new fishing spot.

“Went out to Robber’s Bank, where folks don’t usually go,” Fletcher said. “Had my camera on a weighted line to see where the fish were and BAM! There were these big bumps on top of the bank.

“Looked to be stair-stepped. Like Mayan and Aztec pyramids. Or maybe Egyptian,” Fletcher said. “Makes sense, you know – that was high ground before sea levels rose, and Central America’s right close by.”

Local archeologists are asking fishermen and scuba divers to avoid the seamount until they can investigate Fletcher’s claim.

“This could be the find of the century, but we can’t get to it because of ripping currents the last few days,” Tiperon University-Blacktip professor Catalina Luxfer said. “There’s no known man-made structures in this part of the Caribbean, though, so it may just be a big coral head. But if it is something, we don’t want it looted.

“That seamount’s remote, but it’s not unknown. If there’s structures like that on it, I’m not sure why someone hadn’t seen them, though,” Luxfer said. “As for Mayans and Aztecs, those are two completely different civilizations separated by thousands of years. And I’m not touching the Egyptian angle.”

The island’s non-scientists are eager to explore the site as well.

“I don’t care what Catalina wants, we’re gonna drop divemasters out there once the currents die down, see exactly what we’ve got,” said Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt. “If ‘Tonio’s right, this is a major find.

“We can charge guests double for diving on Mayan pyramids, and folks’ll be lined up out the door begging to pay,” Skerritt said. “Pyramid diving could make Blacktip the premier scuba destination in the western hemisphere. Catalina can study the site all she wants while our divers are there.”

Many locals are dubious about the find.

“It’s probably just a couple of big rocks. Or sleeping turtles,” fisherman Rocky Shore said. “I mean, what kind of camera does ‘Tonio have that he can just lower it down and get reliable photos? And where’d he even get a camera? He can barely afford gas for his outboard.

“End of the day, this is ‘Tonio,” Shore said. “He thinks he’s Fletcher Christian reincarnated. It’s a wonder he didn’t claim he found Atlantis.”

Fletcher remained optimistic.

“Not saying it’s Atlantis,” he said. “But it could be part of it.”

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Blacktip Island Church Demands Ban On Split Fins

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Use of paddle-style scuba fins may become mandatory on Blacktip Island dive sites if a local religious leader’s anti-split fin campaign is successful. (photo courtesy of Steve Dingledein)

The Blacktip Island scuba diving community was polarized this week by an island religious leader’s demand that split scuba fins be banned in favor of paddle-style fins.

“These cloven-hooved fins are the devil’s work, plain and simple,” said the Rev. Pierre Grunt, head of the Blacktip Island Temperance League. “They may seem innocent, but that’s how Satan fools the unwary.”

“They’re symptomatic of the evils overwhelming our island,” Grunt said. “It’s no coincidence the reefs started dying the same time these fins showed up. To save our reefs, we have to return to the paddle fins of our forefathers.”

Grunt’s claim struck a chord among some local divers.

“I never realized how bad these fins were until Rev. Grunt opened my eyes to what’s really going on,” said island resident Edwin Chub. “That was a jaw dropper, all right. I went straight out and threw my split fins away. Lots of us did. I’m not gonna be a part of something like that.”

Local scuba operators denounced the grassroots campaign.

“Pierre scares away any resort guests with this crap, I’ll split more than his fins,” Eagle Ray Cove Resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “That goes for his rants about no diving on Sundays, too. Why would the preacher care about scuba fins? Or even notice them?”

Some Blacktip residents questioned Grunt’s motives.

“The only non-coincidence is Pierre’s part-owner in Bamboo You, and sales have tanked on their bamboo paddle-style fins,” local Clete Horn said. “Last month his schtick was an alcohol ban, and that fell flat on its face.

“He’s just switched to fins, telling a bigger whopper and hoping more folks’ll buy in,” Horn said. “Big picture, Pierre wants to fill his church. And his offering plates.”

Some in the island’s religious community worry the campaign will be detrimental long term.

“We’re being demonized over these fins,” High Druid Joey Pompano said. “People are blaming us for bringing them to the island. For encouraging people to use them.

“We don’t care what fins people use, or if they don’t use fins at all,” Pompano said. “Rev. Grunt and his BITS can go to hell. Why don’t they pick on the Unitarians once in a while?”

The Rev. Grunt remains unapologetic.

“Deuteronomy 23:13 is quite clear,” he said. “ It reads, ‘Thou shalt have a paddle upon thy person . . .’ You can’t get more straightforward than that.”

Grunt declined to comment on his ties to Bamboo You. Company officials did not return several Times phone calls.

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Underwater Headphones Let Blacktip Island Divemasters Narrate Dives

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Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm, in a full-face mask, narrates a dive on Blacktip Island’s Jawfish reef Thursday. The resort’s new program allows in-water divemasters to talk directly to resort guests throughout their dives. (photo courtesy of NOAA)

In an effort to stay one step ahead in the competitive world of recreational scuba, one Blacktip Island resort Monday began offering reef tours led by in-water dive guides giving running commentaries to snorkel and scuba guests outfitted with waterproof headphones.

“We kit our divers out with underwater headsets, and our divemasters have full-face masks so they can talk through the entire dive,” Eagle Ray Divers manager Ger Latner said. “Before, the best a dive guide could do was point to something and maybe write a quick note on a slate. Now our DMs can give full explanations.

“We’re the only dive op on Blacktip that offers this service,” Latner said. “All the extra gear costs, but it’s worth it.”

Resort guests guests agreed

“I never know what the divemaster’s pointing at, and I can never ask,” guest Jackie Wrasse said. “I usually just signal ‘OK’ and move on. Sometimes I think they point at nothing just to mess with me.

“With this, though, I know exactly what they’re showing me,” Wrasse said. “I had no idea there were so many things down there that’re supposed to be interesting.”

Other island dive operators were critical of the tours.

“With one or two divers it can be OK,” said Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick. “But you get 20 divers all trying to get up close to one tiny sea slug, it turns into a real Charlie Foxtrot.

“Already, you can tell where an Eagle Ray divemaster’s been,” Kiick said. “Just look for the broken sea fans and kicked-to-hell coral. No way we’re doing that to the reef.”

Some Eagle Ray Divers staff had reservations as well.

“It’s not fair, having to talk through the entire dive,” divemaster Lee Helm said. “Some people are good at it, but I like to zone out when I lead a dive. And it’s pure hell when there’s nothing to show people, but they still expect a nonstop monologue.”

Others have embraced the narration.

“It’s great being able to explain what I’m showing and why it’s cool,” said divemaster Alison Diesel. “It’s also great the guests can’t talk back. We tried that at first. It didn’t end well.”

“It’s also fun, when a diver hand-signals a question, to answer wrong just to see the look on their face,” Diesel said. “I’m playing with doing tours in rhyme, too. I started with couplets yesterday. I’m working my way up to rap.”

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Eiffel Tower Replica Is Blacktip Island’s Newest Dive Site

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Starting Saturday, Blacktip Island scuba divers will be able to explore an underwater 1:10-scale steel replica of the Eiffel Tower. The privately-constructed structure honors the invention of the open circuit scuba regulator in France in 1942. (photo courtesy of Stoney MacAdam/Blacktip Island Public Works)

Blacktip Island scuba divers can now explore a replica of the Eiffel Tower after local entrepreneurs and public works officials teamed up to build a 130-foot, mostly-underwater tower replica off the Caribbean island’s northwest coast. The structure celebrates the 75th anniversary Jacques Cousteau’s introduction of the open-circuit scuba regulator.

“Blacktip’s a scuba island, and this is our shout-out to Jack Cousteau,” local businessman Rich Skerritt said. “A statue of him, or of the regulator, seemed disrespectful. Then we hit on the idea of the tower, what with its French connection and all, and voila!

“It’ll be a scuba icon, just like the real tower’s a Parisian icon,” Skerritt said. “We kept it tasteful, with a flashing light show every hour and everything. It’ll be even better once it gets a bit of coral growth and attracts some fish life.”

Skerritt’s associates agreed.

“Diving-wise, it’s like those oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, just shallower and easier to get to,” resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “We made sure it stuck out of the water a good 15 feet for safety and so boats can tie off on it. For a fee. And we got plans for an underwater restaurant on it, too.”

Not all Blacktip residents are happy with the tower.

“It’s an eyesore and an environmental nightmare,” said Harry Pickett, president of the Blacktip Benthic Society. “Acres of coral were destroyed to build that monstrosity. Rich and Sandy want to turn the reef into their private amusement park.”

Others voiced safety concerns.

“It’s a navigational hazard, plain and simple,” Marine Parks spokesperson B.C. Flote said. “It’s a distraction for aircraft, too. Monday’s late flight mistook the tower light show for the landing strip. Luckily there were night divers there to save the passengers and recover all the luggage.”

The tower’s designer brushed aside those concerns.

“We purposely built that sucker at the edge of the wall,” Public Works engineer Stoney MacAdam said. “The current took any construction sediment right out to sea.

“And those lights are a safety feature,” MacAdam said. “Lost divers, night divers, they can always find the tower. Some pilot can’t tell the difference between the Eiffel Tower and an airfield, that’s a training issue. It’s not on us.”

Skerritt bristled at criticism of his resort charging double to dive the site.

“That tower cost a pretty penny. We got to recoup our investment,” he said. “And with the ripping currents out there, we also have to have a chase boat down current to grab any yahoos who don’t clip onto an I-beam quick enough. That kind of attention to safety costs money.”

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Fish On Strike At Blacktip Island Dive Sites

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Blacktip Island scuba divers are blaming the island’s French angelfish for inciting a swim-off strike involving all the fish at all the Caribbean island’s dive sites. (photo courtesy of Barry Peters)

Scuba divers on Blacktip Island reefs Wednesday and Thursday were surprised to find the dive sites empty of reef fish, in what experts are calling a cross-species protest.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “As of yesterday morning it was hard to find any fish at all, and the ones you did see would taunt you, then dart away.

“It started with the French angelfish turning tail on photographers,” Latner said. “Then all the other fish followed suit. Guests thought it was funny at first, but now everyone’s pissed off. Every photo from today has been of bare coral or a fish’s butt. Even the sea slugs are hiding under the coral heads.”

Local marine biologists say the phenomenon is likely a form of piscine protest.

“Based on what data we have, our working theory is the fish are consciously spurning divers due to an environmental stressor,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip biology professor Ernesto Mojarra. “It happens a lot. You just don’t hear about it.

“Given the hostility displayed toward photographers, most likely the fish are tired of underwater strobes flashing in their faces all day,” Mojarra said. “They’ve made no demands yet. That we know of. They can be difficult to read, but we have our best biologists on site to mediate.”

Local resort owners, though, are not waiting patiently.

“I don’t care what they’re hacked off about, this is killing my business,” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “It figures it’s the French angelfish behind it. Those bastards are always starting trouble.

“They demanded vacation time last year,” Bottoms said. “Got the idea from the grouper, who take off for a week on the spawning grounds every winter. Now all the other fish want entitlements. We need to cut them loose and bring in new fish who’ll be grateful to have a reef like this. You think the lionfish won’t jump at the chance?”

Experts, however, warned such action could escalate into violence.

“This morning a multi-species school circled Hammerhead Reef for hours,” Mojarra said. “A bunch of barracuda watched, but didn’t join in. If the barras, or the sharks, get involved, things could get ugly. Fast.

“We need to rachet things down a notch,” Mojarra said. “Banning cameras and strobes from the dive sites would be a good start. It’s drastic, but that good-faith gesture could be the thing that resolves this.”

While most guests were angered by the lack of marine life, some were unexpectedly supportive.

“I came here to look at the fish, sure, but it’s their right to not hang with divers,” said Blacktip Haven guest Maxie Fondé. “They’re wild animals, after all.

“Big picture, I support what they’re doing,” Fondé said. “I mean, if I don’t stand up for their rights, who, or what, will stand up for mine when the time comes?”

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Blacktip Thespians To Perform Underwater ‘Day Of The Staghorn’

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Detail of Lee Helm’s Staghorn King costume for the Blacktip Island Community Players’ underwater staging of the post-apocalyptic drama ‘The Day of the Staghorn.’ (photo courtesy of Onislandtimes)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will perform the post-apocalyptic underwater drama, The Day of the Staghorn, off the Sand Spit Bar Saturday and Sunday to draw attention to the plight of the Caribbean island’s ailing coral reefs.

The play, written by Blacktip resident Payne Hanover, is based loosely on The Day of the Triffids, the 1951 novel and 1962 motion picture about intelligent, animate plants that take over the Earth.

“In this, it’s the coral that’s a threat to mankind, so it’s different,” Hanover said. “Dump runoff gives one coral species the ability to think and move. Then the coral attacks the people that threatened it.

“The story’s set underwater, after rising seas cover the island,” Hanover said. “Humans have to build an undersea haven, then protect it from the marauding coral. It’s actually turned out quite well, all things considered.”

The play will be performed underwater to highlight the island’s coral damage.

“It started with wondering what would happen if the reefs could fight back,” said director Doris Blenny. “For the audience to see how much damage there is to the actual coral, it really drives that point home.

“As for the staghorn suits, Elena Havens and the costumers put in long hours making them as realistic as possible, right down to the stinging cells,” Blenny said. “And we did vote down repeated suggestions to make it a musical. It was a close thing”

The scuba-certified cast includes:

  • Hugh Calloway as Bill Mason
  • Marina DeLow as Josella Playton
  • Finn Kiick as Wilfred Coker
  • Gauge Hoase as Michael Beadly
  • Jessie Catahoula as Miss Durant
  • Lee Helm as the Staghorn King

Though island environmentalists praised the play, resort owners are concerned about its impact on future business.

“All this touchy-feely talk about coral is fine,” Club Scuba Doo owner Ham Pilchard said. “But showing a damaged reef is going to scare off divers. The Caymans are gonna eat our lunch over this. And casting divers as the bad guys? There’s gonna be some ugly blowback on that.”

Producers, however, insist the play will do more good than harm.

“We expect it to draw additional divers to Blacktip rather than scare them away,” Blenny said. “We’re staging multiple showings, as the actors’ no-decompression limits allow, so as many people can see it as possible.

“The only negative so far has been Lee Helm developing an unnatural attachment to his Staghorn King costume,” Blenny said. “He kept sneaking around the island bars stinging people. It took three of us to hold him down and peel the suit off of him.”

All proceeds from the production will go to the Nature Conservancy’s Coral Reef Preservation Fund, Hanover said.

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Underwater Rock Climbing Comes To Blacktip Island

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Underwater rock climbers scout Slubberdudgeon Wall on Blacktip Island’s southeast coast prior to a climb Thursday afternoon. (photo courtesy of Derek Keats)

Scuba divers on Blacktip Island can now do more than look at fish after Club Scuba Doo resort launched an underwater rock climbing program this week.

“We’ve got to attract a younger, hipper crowd,” Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “We’re revitalizing the sport. Underwater climbing’ll make scuba an adventure again.

“With that wall that dropping thousands of feet straight down, Blacktip’s a natural for deep-water climbing,” Kiick said. “It’s the best of both worlds. You’re on scuba, but you get the adrenalin rush of free-climbing. And with the zero-gravity feel, it’s like rock climbing on the moon.”

Other dive operators were critical of the plan.

“We spend all day telling guests not to touch coral, explaining how the slightest touch can kill a thousand-year-old coral head,” Eagle Ray Divers manager Ger Latner said. “Now we’ve got these knuckleheads encouraging divers to crawl all over it.

“They’re also gonna get divers hurt, too,” Latner said. “People looking for their next hand hold instead of their gauges? That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Club Scuba Doo management defended the program.

“We do the climbing on the southeast wall where all the coral’s dead anyway,” resort owner Ham Pilchard said. “And we don’t allow anchors or hooks of any kind. This is about as eco-friendly as you can get.

“Long-term, this is good for the reefs,” Pilchard said. “It gets young people on the reef and excited about the underwater world. We’re creating the next generation of marine ecologists here.”

Kiick stressed the sport’s safety.

“There’s been zero cases of climbers blowing no-deco limits or breathing their tank dry,” he said. “The injuries so far have been from fire coral. And scorpion fish.

“They’re hard to see, ‘til you grab them,” Kiick said. “We give our climbers Kevlar gloves and booties now, for their own protection.”

Underwater climbers had high praise for the sport.

“It’s great to be able to climb without anyone belaying,” Club Scuba Doo repeat guest Leah Shore said. “Plus, it’s fun for the whole family. We can dive with the kids one day and climb with them the next.

“For longer climbs, or deeper climbs, you can use doubles if you want,” Shore said. “There’s some phenomenal 5.12 overhangs down around 180, if you’re into techie climbing. We don’t let the kiddos do that, though.”

Resort scuba instructors will offer a range of underwater climbing specialty courses.

“You do four climbs rated 5.4 – 5.6, you get your basic Underwater Rock Climber card,” Kiick said. “For the more hardcore, we’ll be offering Trimix Climbing, Heliox Climbing and Extended Range Technical Climbing courses.”

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