Reef Rage Sparks Blacktip Island’s New Underwater Police

reef rage

Blacktip Island’s tranquil beauty has been marred by recent violence on the Caribbean island’s dive sites. The incidents prompted the creation of a special underwater police unit. (photo courtesy of Ger Latner/Eagle Ray Divers)

A rash of underwater incidents described as ‘reef rage’ has prompted Blacktip Island officials to create an underwater volunteer police unit to safeguard the Caribbean island’s divers.

“The high stakes world of scuba tourism isn’t for the faint of heart,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “There’s more dive boats out there, carrying more divers, each competing for the same amount of space on the reef. You pay a bunch of money to dive here, you want to see everything. Trouble is, so does everyone else.

“We’ve had everything from divers bumping other divers out of the way to pulling dive knives on each other,” Latner said. “The final straw was the guy who surfaced with a cut regulator hose. The bubbles were beautiful from the surface, but somebody could’ve been hurt.”

The island’s police constable formed the ad hoc Special Underwater Police Auxiliary to deal with the attacks.

“There’s only one of me, and I barely know how to swim,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “I can put on a snorkel vest and watch from the surface, but I can’t stop anything from happening, and I can’t be at every site all day.

“I ran local divers through a quick Special Constable course, then turned them loose,” Marquette said. “We stress de-escalating confrontations and non-violent intervention. The volunteers do carry underwater Tasers, though. Just in case.”

S.U.P.A. officers say their experience often lets them stop trouble before it starts.

“Most confrontations start with someone inadvertently getting kicked, or not letting other divers see an interesting sea creature,” said S.U.P.A. member Frank Maples. “Photographers are especially bad. If we can nudge them along, we’ve nipped the problem in the bud.”

One overzealous scuba diver has been arrested so far.

“The jerk with the big-ass camera started it,” Blacktip Haven guest Maxie Fondé said. “Planted that sucker in front of an eel hole and camped there 10, 15 minutes. Wouldn’t let me or my husband see.

“He ignored a polite tap on the shoulder, then flipped my off when I pulled him away,” Fondé said. “Shooting my spear into the sand next to his head sure got him to move, though. Then he had the audacity to file charges.”

Other dive guests applauded the new special constables.

“It’s nice not having to confront bad divers anymore,” said Club Scuba Doo guest Olive Beaugregory. “If someone’s being an ass, I just motion to the reef patrol and they take care of things. Just this morning, when a man was lying on the reef, the constable squeezed his inflator vale and WHOOSH! sent him to the surface. Problem solved!”

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Leadbellies Dive Club Angers Blacktip Island Dive Staffs

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A pair of weight-belt bandoliers worn by members of the Leadbellies Dive Club. The club’s questionable weighting practices have angered many Blacktip Island divemasters. (photo courtesy of Eagle Ray Divers/Eagle Ray Cove resort)

A social club for scuba divers who wear excessive amounts of lead weights angered Blacktip Island dive staffs this week when the club booked space on all the Caribbean island’s dive boats.

“It’s a show of force on our part,” Leadbelly Divers president Ida Sunck said. “Wherever you go, divemasters shame you for wearing too much lead. It’s embarrassing and degrading. So we banded together to push back.

“We put members on every boat on the island, so there’s no way one outfit can shuffle us off to another one,” Sunck said. “We’re the customers, and we’ll wear as much weight as we want. Period.”

To qualify for membership, divers must meet strict weighting requirements.

“The baseline, with no wetsuit, is at least 10% of your total body weight, Leadbelly Bob Dunker said. “After that, there’s a BMI-based sliding scale, with roughly one pound added for each millimeter of wetsuit thickness worn.

“With a five-mil suit, you’d better be wearing 30 pounds, minimum, or you’re out,” Dunker said. “We encourage members to use weight-integrated BCs, just to surprise the divemasters, but some folks use so much they have to strap on weight-belt bandoliers.”

Island dive professionals say their opposition is focused on safety.

“It’s crazy wearing that much weight, especially on a wall dive,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “If you’re wearing 20-plus pounds of lead over the wall and your BC fails, you’re gone. The guy with 26 pounds? That’s not integrated weight. That’s ballast. Why not just use the boat’s anchor?

“With that much weight, they’re vertical in the water,” Hoase said. “They burn through air and stress the hell out of their hearts. And most of them aren’t in the best shape to begin with. We keep the oxygen kits set up and ready to go with this group.”

Other staff focused on environmental concerns.

“Overweighted like that, they’re dragging across the bottom,” Club Scuba Doo operations manager Finn Kiick said. “They kill coral every time they kick. We showed them the Marine Parks rules, but they don’t care.

“We tried to charge a dollar a day per every pound they used, too,” Kiick said. “But the owners scotched that one.”

The island’s resort owners have welcomed the Leadbellies.

“Sure they’re yahoos, but if we turn them away, they’ll just dive with Sandy Bottoms or Blacktip Haven,” said Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt. “The dive staff just needs to suck it up.

“We lose a customer, we’ll never get him back,’ Skerritt said. “We lose a couple of staff cat-herding the guests, well, we can always get more dive hippies. I got a foot-high stack of resumes by my desk.”

Island guests, meanwhile, gave the club high praise.

“The kids love to watch their giant strides,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Christie Cottonwick said. “The splashes are phenomenal! It’s like being at a belly-flop contest!”

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New Blacktip Island Constable Fired For Enforcing Laws

new policeman

Tourists speeding on bicycles bore the brunt of the traffic citations issued by Blacktip Island’s short-tenured probationary police constable during the recent holiday weekend. (photo courtesy of draconiarain)

Blacktip Island’s newly-assigned police constable, who arrived Saturday to provide backup and relief for the island’s sole police officer, Rafe Marquette, was fired Sunday afternoon due to his issuing an excessive number of traffic citations.

“Probationary Island Police Constable B.H. Wrasse set the record for number of tickets written and shortest time on the job,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “He came in gung-ho and wrote tickets for every minor infraction he saw. Seat belt violations. Failure to use turn signals. Public intoxication. Disorderly conduct.

“There’s no call for that sort of thing on Blacktip,” Cobia said. “He was ticketing tourists on resort bikes for topping 15 miles per hour. You get one of those bikes to go that fast, you deserve a medal, not a citation. He bit the hand that feeds us all.”

Other officials say Constable Wrasse’s firing was due to who he ticketed.

“Problem is, it was St. Dervil’s Day weekend,” Public Works chief Stoney MacAdam said. “The whole island was drunk, most of them were driving and we were all disorderly. I mean, it was St. Dervil’s Day.

“B.H. screwed the pooch when he ticketed four Bottoms, three Skerritts and a couple of other big wigs,” MacAdam said. “Skerritt and Skulkin’s the only law firm on the island, and he managed to ticket both Skerritt and Skulkin in less than an hour. Skerritt twice. Not a good career move.”

The fired constable was unapologetic.

“I’m sworn to uphold the laws,” P.I.P.C. Wrasse said. “All the laws. I don’t get to choose which ones get enforced.

“Seems Blacktip’s not a rule-of-law kind of place, though,” Wrasse said. “It’s not safe, and people are going to get hurt. But at least I’m reassigned to Tiperon. They enforce everything over there.”

P.I.P.C. Wrasse had no sympathy among residents.

“We barely need one cop, much less two,” Bartender Cori Anders said. “People sort things out on their own here. Now, Rafe Marquette can be handy when someone gets a snoot full and starts trouble at the bar, but that’s about it.

“Besides, drink driving’s standard on Blacktip,” Anders said. “There’s no taxis or buses, and everyone’s out partying. Someone has to drive home. So long as no one gets hurt, or breaks anything, it’s not a problem.”

Others concurred.

“Rafe’s family,” handyman Antonio Fletcher said. “Knows what needs to be enforced and what doesn’t. Keeps his nose out of peoples’ business.

“The new kid didn’t see how Blacktip’s not like other places,” Fletcher said. “Most seat belts are too rusted to latch. And we only have two roads. No need for turn signals. You’re either going this way or that way.”

Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette was not available for comment.

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Maglev Sightseeing Sub Debuts On Blacktip Island Reefs

maglev sub

Blacktip Island’s new maglev bullet sub made its underwater debut Thursday afternoon. The sightseeing submarine can circle the small Caribbean island in less than an hour. (photo courtesy of Sally Port/Tiperon University-Blacktip)

A new high-speed sightseeing submarine took its maiden tour around Blacktip Island Thursday morning to launch what backers hope is as an emerging tourism market.

The submarine circles the island on a magnetic levitation rail at a depth of 25 feet, carries up to 32 passengers and can complete the island’s 26-mile circumference in less than an hour.

“Lots of places have submarine rides, but Blacktip’s the only one with a bullet sub,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “All us resort owners ponied up, and the Tourism Department kicked in some cash, too, to get more guests to visit the island.

“Lots of people don’t dive. They just want a quick look at the reefs, then back to the bar,” Skerritt said. “Hell, half our divers cover two, three sites every dive anyway. And no one gets seasick on the sub. So far.”

Scientists say maglev technology makes the quick tours possible.

“The carriage does 37.3 miles per hour, top speed,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip engineering chairperson Sally Port. “The drag from the water keeps the velocity down, and that’s key. If it went 200 miles per hour underwater, all you’d see would be a blue blur.”

The submarine is not without its critics.

“They’ve turned a pristine reef into an amusement park,” Pelagic Society president Edwin Chub said. “And no environmental impact study was done. They just pounded a rail into the reef and let her rip.

“And ‘bullet sub’ is a fitting name. It goes so fast fish can’t get out of its way,” Chubb said. “Snapper and coral die for this every day. There’s ichor on Rich and Sandy’s hands.”

Business owners brushed aside the criticism.

“There’s been bullet trains in Japan and Korea for years, so why not have one underwater on Blacktip?” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “We’re just keeping up with the times. Showing fish to people who wouldn’t otherwise see them, and without a long boat ride.

“Guests say it’s better than diving,” Bottoms said. “The sub slows down at good sites where there’s stuff to see, then zips past the boring junk,” Bottoms said. “We can cycle through 30-plus tourists an hour, then sell them seaweed-dyed Bullet Sub t-shirts when they get off. This is the future of ecotourism.”

Guests on the sub’s inaugural trip agreed.

“It was like being in a video game, zooming over the coral like that,” said Sandy Bottoms’ guest Paula Porgy. “We scared the crap out of a bunch of fish, and I think we bonked into a couple of divers, but what a ride!

“It was the trip of a lifetime! We saw everything!” Porgy said. “And we were back in the hot tub in time for pre-lunch margaritas. Who could ask for more?”


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Music, Biology Highlight Blacktip Island’s Sea Cucumber Festival

sea cucumber

A Blacktip Islander holds up a donkey dung sea cucumber during the annual spring spawning aggregation in the Blacktip Island shallows Thursday. The Caribbean island’s Sea Cucumber Festival commemorates the role the echinoderms played in Blacktip Island’s history. (photo courtesy of James St. John)

The annual sea cucumber migration heralds Blacktip Island’s spring Sea Cucumber Festival at the Heritage House this weekend. The event celebrates the marine echinoderms’ vital role in the small Caribbean island’s history.

“Like clockwork, they come in from the deep reefs to breed in the shallow lagoon the first week in May,” Tiperon University-Blacktip biology professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “It’s hard to notice at first, but before you know it, the shallows are jam-packed with them.

“It’s like a field of slowly-undulating dung,” Mojarra said. “Beautiful, really. They cluster in the mangrove roots to spawn. And always return to the place they were hatched. We think. They all kind of look alike.”

The cucumbers were key to early settlers’ survival.

“The original islanders would never have survived without sea cucumbers,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Back in the day, sea cucumbers were a major food source during lean times.

“When they migrated to shallow enough water, settlers’d scoop them up, sun-dry them and store them to eat later,” Altschul said. “The festival commemorates that with sea cucumber salad, stew, kebabs and jerky. Dermott Bottoms even cooks up sea cucumber rum in his bathtub.”

The migration also draws international sea cucumber experts.

“This is the only place in the world with the unique combination of deep reefs, accessible cuts and shallow mangrove coasts that allows us to document the entire migration start to finish,” visiting biologist Marlin Bleu said. “Any place else, you’re never sure if the cucumber you were tracking on the reef is the same one you’re studying in the shallows.

“Other islands, we tried radio tracking, but transponders don’t work more than a few hours, what with the slime and all,” Bleu said. “Here, the only issue is the locals eat the cucumbers faster than we can study them. There’s conservation laws, but they go by the wayside during the big migration.”

Many locals bristled at the criticism.

“Of course we eat them,” long-time resident Clete Horn said. “What else are you supposed to do? It’s our heritage. Daddy and Granddaddy went cuking, you can bet I will, too.

“It’s not like there’s a shortage of cukes. Just look at them,” Horn said. “The geeks want to study them, there’s plenty for everyone. Just stay out of my way.’

In addition to food and drink, the festival will also feature live music by local bands The Stinging Hydroids, Scratcher Wrasse and the Slippery Dicks and local favorite the Social Morays.

“It’s Blacktip. We turn pretty much anything into a party,” Altschul said. “Whatever it takes to have sanctioned public drunkenness, really.”

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‘Nitrox Bandit’ Has Blacktip Island Authorities Baffled

bizarre thefts

Eagle Ray Cove dive boats are under constant surveillance this week after a series of bizarre thefts at Blacktip Island resorts. (photo courtesy of Ger Latner)

A rash of stolen scuba gear this week has Blacktip Island authorities puzzled, and tourists worried, on the small Caribbean island.

“There’s dive gadgets disappearing from drying sheds, boats and resort porches all over the island,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “First a full-face mask and two Zeagle BCs went missing. Then a bunch of big dive knives and tank bangers.

“The only common thread is the missing items are all things dive staffs hate,” Marquette said. “And the thief always leaves a ‘Nitrox Diver’ mask strap behind as a calling card.”

Island officials are concerned the thief, dubbed the ‘Nitrox Bandit,’ is a threat to the island’s tourism.

“We’re trying to keep a lid on this thing so guests don’t get spooked,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “So of course everybody knows about it.

“Whether it’s for laughs or for profit, a smart ass is about to ruin Blacktip’s economy,” Cobia said. “Of course, the elephant in the drying shed is it may be some rat bastard from Tiperon Island trying to steal our guests. They’ve done it before.”

The island constable has focused on island divemasters.

“Most likely is it’s a disgruntled DM,” Marquette said. “One who’s either had it with annoying scuba gear, or trying to hide one crime amongst a lot of others. Either way, it’s classic divemaster passive aggression taken to the next step.”

The scrutiny has angered some dive staff.

“It’s not fair, Rafe pulling us aside and grilling us without a bit of evidence,’ Eagle Ray Cove divemaster Lee Helm said. “He questioned me in front of guests yesterday, and others have been detained more than once.

“It’s profiling, plain and simple,” Helm said. “The divemaster’s union will have something to say about this, I can assure you.”

Island resorts, meanwhile, have upped their security.

“We’re patrolling the drying shed and the boats ‘round the clock,” Eagle Ray Cove dive operations manager Ger Latner said. “And Finn up at Scuba Doo has webcams and motion detectors. God help the person caught with a ‘Nitrox’ slap strap on them. There’s been several ugly incident with innocent guests already.”

While many guests are troubled by the thefts, others see them as an adventure.

“It’s like vacationing in a 1950s Cary Grant crime caper film, isn’t it?” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort guest Suzy Souccup said. “There’s a real-life cat burglar out there, eh?

“This is my best vacation ever!” Souccup said. “Sure, I lost my underwater Etch-A-Sketch, but I have the thief’s calling card on my mask now. What a souvenir!”

The police and mayor’s office have released a join plea to the island’s scuba-diving guests.

“Divers, if you have annoying, or useless, scuba gear, lock it up,” Marquette said. “Or better yet, leave it at home.”

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Local Artists Display Blacktip Island’s Pre-Raphaelite Heritage


“The Mirror of Venus” has been reimagined to feature the Eagle Ray Cove dive staff in Marina DeLow’s “Narcissus at the Booby Pond.” The painting, and others, will be on display Saturday at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort. (photo courtesy of Yelkrokoyade)

Blacktip Island’s artistic roots will be on display this Saturday at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort for the Blacktip Arts School Society’s Neo-Pre-Raphaelite Art Show and Auction, with proceeds going to local art students.

“People don’t realize what a thriving arts scene we have on Blacktip,” show organizer Reg Gurnard said. “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood has a long, if underappreciated, influence on Blacktip.

“The Rossetti family often wintered here in the 1850s,” Gurnard said. “Dante Gabriel taught painting classes at the island school, and Christina first read her Goblin Market to our Sunday school children. Some say the tropical light and lush colors were an inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelite style.”

Fellow painter Ginger Bass concurred.

“We try to stay as true as possible to the original strictures of the PRB,” she said. “Not copying, but rather, perpetuating their style and sensibility with a modern tropical flare. That’s where the ‘neo’ comes in.

“Rather than Lady Godiva on her horse, we have a Divemaster Godiva riding nude on a dolphin,” Bass added. “With her hair flowing strategically to cover any naughty bits, of course.”

Some in the community found the artwork objectionable.

“It’s smut disguised as art,” said the Reverend Pierre Grunt. “I mean, have you seen the ‘The Lady of Sandy Bottoms’ Herring Frye did? And don’t even get me started on Cal Batten’s ‘Ophelia and the Conchs.”

Others decried the paintings’ esthetic.

“This stuff was all the rage what, 150 years ago?” local artist and bartender Cori Anders said. “There’s nothing new about it. Never mind that the Pre-Raphaelites’ central tenet was to reject the commonplace and conventional.

“There’s so much contemporary art that better shows off Blacktip’s creative chops,” Anders said. “Just look at the exciting things Jerrod’s doing with flotsam and jetsam. And Dermott’s work with beer bottles? Words fail me.”

The show will feature a juried competition, and will conclude with the auction of all paintings.

“The goal’s to give back to our community,” resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “Folks get to enjoy looking at these pictures, then all the auction proceeds go to the kids. Minus expenses. Expenses can be high on Blacktip.”

The show will also feature Pre-Raphaelite-inspired poetry during an open-mike session preceding the auction, with any PRB-related works welcomed.

Victorian-era treats will also be served, including mock turtle soup, brandy snaps à la crème and fried celery.

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