Blacktip Island ‘Distance Divers’ Scuba Via Video Conferences

CONFERENCE CALL

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

Megalodon

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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Cancelled Olympics Sideline Blacktip Island’s Beer Pong Team

beer pong

Members of Blacktip Island’s Olympic beer pong team practice Tuesday night prior to learning they would not compete this summer due to the Tokyo Olympics being cancelled. (photo courtesy of Peachy Bottoms)

The Blacktip Island Olympic beer pong team’s hopes of glory were crushed Wednesday by the International Olympic Committee’s decision to cancel the 2020 Summer Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a team spokesperson said.

“We’re gutted right now and, frankly, in a bit of denial,” coach Peachy Bottoms said. “We’ve been training so hard. We were favored to win team and individual medals. Now all that hard work’s been for nothing.

“We understand the global health need, but it still hurts,” Bottoms said. “The Olympic Committee made the decision, and we’re abiding by it. The only question now is when, or if, the games’ll be rescheduled.”

Team members expressed their own frustrations

“We worked our tails off, mostly in the evenings,” Antonio Fletcher said. “Gave up dominoes to train for this. Had uniforms and everything. Now the bigwigs just smacked all of us right in the mouth.

“Gonna keep training, I reckon, and hope for the best,” Fletcher said. “The worry isn’t if we’ll lose our skills. Those’re drilled in. Some of us’ll lose our focus, our mental edge, though. Might never bounce back.”

Others were more outspoken.

“Mentally, most team members are hanging on by a thread as it is,” team member Alison Diesel said. “We can’t just lie down and take this. We’re protesting like hell. Of course, we can’t leave the island, so not many people’ve noticed.

“We got a picket line in front of the Sand Spit bar, where we train, so the committee can see how hacked off we are,” Diesel said. “It’s streaming online, but we’ve only had seven viewers so far. That’s doubly depressing. But we’re not giving up hope.”

Some in the community see the cancellation as politically motivated.

“This was our big chance to put Blacktip Island, and the Tiperons, on the map,” Reg Gurnard said. “Our team’s damned good. The Olympic Committee knows it, too, and is scared of us. This isn’t about health, it’s about protecting the big guys and denying the Tiperons their first-ever medal.”

Others hoped for a compromise with the committee.

“If we know the risk and are still willing to take it, that should be enough to open the games,” team member Leah Shore said. “It’ll all be on us. Give us our shot and we’ll stay there in quarantine as long as necessary.

“We don’t want a two-week stay in Tokyo at someone else’s expense,” Shore said. “But for team and country, that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.”

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Iguana Pox Has Blacktip Islanders Hoarding Beer, Chips

iguana virus panic

Blacktip Island’s Sand Spit bar is locking its small supply of beer in secure coolers during the island’s pox-induced beer shortage. (photo courtesy of Cori Anders)

Panic during an island-wide outbreak of Blacktip Iguana Pox has caused residents to buy all the beer and chips on the small Caribbean island, creating severe shortages at the island’s store and bars.

“The outbreak started when Dermott Bottoms and James Connolly, drunk as coots, got scratched up real bad wrestling an iguana one night,” island nurse Marissa Graysby said. “They didn’t treat the lacerations, got infected and the next thing you know we’ve got a major pox event. We get individual-level cases all the time, but never this bad and with so many people.

“The clinic’s out of anti-pox, and there’s a shortage on Tiperon, so we’re under island-wide quarantine for the duration,” Graysby said. “People panicked and decided to stock up on beer and snacks, of all things. It doesn’t make sense, but these things rarely do.”

Island residents say the hoarding is justified.

“Hell with toilet paper. I can use any old thing for that. And do,” long-time local Harry Wrasse said. “But there’s no substitute for beer. Or Cheetos. Jack Cobia told me to drink water instead, but that stuff’ll kill you. Same goes for white rum.

“Do I got beer stashed away? You bet I do. Can’t tell me not to buy beer,” Wrasse said. “No law against buying extra. No telling how long this quarantine’ll last. Anybody tries to take my beer, they’re gonna get hurt.”

The island suppliers are working nonstop to restock.

“Our beer and snack shelves are bare,” store owner Peachy Bottoms said. “That never happens, even in winter when rough seas keep the supply barge from landing. We’re asking folks to buy just what they need, but no one’s complying. They’re scared. You can see it in their eyes.

“We set up an air bridge to fly more beer and potato crisps in as fast as we could, but yahoos keep rushing the planes, walloping the flight crew and snatching stuff from the cargo bays before we can get it to the store,” Bottoms said. “We’ve plenty of other supplies. There’s piles of bog roll, and no one’s touching the gluten-free bread or veggie burgers.”

Island leaders urged calm.

“We’re not asking people not to buy beer. We’re asking them to be reasonable,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “It’s Blacktip, though, so ‘reasonable’ may be a bridge too far. There’s been talk of declaring a state of emergency, but it’s hard to call lack of beer an emergency, even on Blacktip. If the violence gets out of hand, though, we may have to.”

Authorities have been nearly overwhelmed maintaining order.

“With beer in short supply, prices are skyrocketing,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Single beers are going for $20, $25. Warm. There’s a raging black market, but I can’t arrest anyone without evidence, and the buyers aren’t about to turn in their suppliers.

“The bigger issue is public safety. I’m the only constable and I’m spread thin,” Marquette said. “I broke up three brawls just this morning, and we’re only on Day Two of the quarantine. I deputized two Special Constables, but they’re off trying to buy beer. If the pilots and baggage handlers throw in the towel, we’re looking at total anarchy.”

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Blacktip Island’s Caves Become ‘CaveBNB’ Vacation Lodgings

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Blacktip Island property owners have begun renting furnished cave lodging to visiting tourists. (photo courtesy of Rusty Goby)

Inspired by the popularity of vacation rental services VRBO and AirBNB, some Blacktip Island residents are now renting furnished island caves to vacationers seeking unusual lodging on the small Caribbean island.

“The private rental market’s overloaded,” cave owner Sally Port said. “Some of us figured we’d take advantage of an overlooked aspect of the housing some of our forefathers used. We’re offering ‘unique’ and ‘offbeat.’ Not everybody can say they spent their holiday in a real cave.

“Me, I cleaned up the cave behind the house, tricked it out with a generator and comfy beds and couches and whatnot and marketed it to tourists,” Port said. “It’s cozy and watertight and has all the modern amenities you’d find in a standard home. Mostly. We’re calling it CaveBNB.”

Some owners noted the caves’ lack of uniformity.

“‘Modern amenities’ is a bit strong for some of the listings,” Rusty Goby said. “Some have electric lights and fridges, sure, but some are candlelight and bring-your-sleeping-bag, bog-standard grottoes. With roaches and snakes and whatnot. That’s what some of the more adventurous guests are looking for, though.

“Wind can be an issue in some of the low-end caves, but the nicer ones have house facades and doors built on to their fronts,” Goby said. The great thing about all the rental caves is it’s always right around 75 degrees inside, so they’re cool in the summer and warm in the winter.”

Guests were generally upbeat about the lodgings.

“It’s like glamping, but more upscale,” scuba diving guest Bill Fisch said. “My wife calls it ‘clamping,’ and we couldn’t be happier. It puts us back in touch with our prehistoric ancestors. Cooking over an open fire’s kind of fun, too. I haven’t done that since I was little.

“The kiddos just love playing caveman,” Fisch said. “When they got rowdy last night, we gave them Crayons and had them draw sea creatures on the walls. It looks like an aquatic Lascaux in there now. There’s bats, too, and the owner doesn’t even charge extra. You just have to cover your drink at dusk when they fly out.

Island officials are still evaluating the new lodgings.

“We’ve some issues we’re looking into, but if rental caves get more overnight visitors to the island, we’re all for them,” chamber of commerce president Ledford Waite said. “Now, there’s the issue of electrical wiring needing to be up to code. Rusty’s cave has a big-ass, ten-gauge extension cord running from the power pole into his cave, and we had to nip that in the bud.

“Sanitation’s an issue, too,” Waite said. “Lodgings should have chem toilets, at a minimum, but some owners are old school and just have a hole in the floor that empties into the water table. Waste gets washed away to God-knows-where. It’s cheap and effective, but it’s not right.”

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Local Author Recasts ‘Beowulf’ as a Modern Caribbean Epic

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Blacktip Island’s rugged shores are the setting for Antonio Fletcher’s modernized rendition of the epic poem Beowulf. (photo by Paloma Fairlead / BTT staff)

Local author Antonio Fletcher this week released his modern Caribbean retelling of the Old English epic poem Beowulf in an effort to popularize a literary classic by recasting it in a modern setting to make it more culturally relevant.

“Most folks know the Beowulf story, or the first part of it, but who’s really read it? Or seen the movie? Not me,” Fletcher said. “Bringing it up to date, making it matter here and now, that’ll make Blacktip Islanders proud, you know. Taking some stale old story and claiming it for our own. Like what Derek Walcott did with The Odyssey. I expect this’ll do at least as well.

“An Old English poem and the modern Caribbean don’t seem likely to work together, but that’s where it gets its energy,” Fletcher said. “I switched out those cock-eyed, four-beat staves with a soca rhythm to give a Caribbean feel, and instead of ‘wine-dark seas’ and ‘whale roads,’ I got ‘rum-dark seas’ and ‘wahoo roads, so it’s pretty different. Calling it Barra-Wulf,” ‘cause the hero’s like a barracuda.”

Fletcher said his inspiration came at a bar late one night.

“Sitting in the Ballyhoo a few months back, and ol’ Dermott had had him too much white rum and started tearing the place apart, laying out anyone who got within reach,” he said. “I thought, ‘Dermott looks like a big, shaggy animal busting up a good party, and that put me in mind of Beowulf.

Barra-Wulf starts with the Blacktip Island mersquatch busting up a resort bar on a big karaoke night,” Fletcher said. “Barra-Wulf, he motors up in his in his flat-end canoe, hears about a monster ruining island parties and decides to do something about it. He whacks the mersquatch, then the mama mersquatch, just like in the poem. At the end, he dies fighting a giant barracuda. Kills it, but he dies, too. It’s something everyone can relate to.”

Local literary critics applauded Fletcher’s efforts.

“Cross-cultural literary appropriation is a long-standing literary tradition, so Antonio is in fine company. I expect,” Blacktip Times book reviewer and part-time literature professor Paloma Fairlead said. “Beowulf is about a hero who travels great distances to test his strength against supernatural monsters, despite impossible odds. That take on the human condition is universal, even on Blacktip, and shows we’re not so different from people a thousand years ago on the other side of the world.

“I haven’t actually read ‘Tonio’s book yet, but it sounds like he swung for the fences,” Fairlead said. “Tackling a classic like that is refreshingly ambitious on an island where ‘literature’ is too often the label of a beer bottle. It’s ‘Tonio, so the language and phrasing are probably a bit rough, but it will no doubt resonate with readers.”

Some residents, though, were not so positive.
“Haven’t read ‘Tonio’s book either, but no way anyone could make that old thing more boring, so ‘Tonio’s on solid ground there,” James Conlee said. “Thing is, this’s the 21st Century. People have smart TVs and email and Ebay and all that. Nobody’s got time for some 300-page poem. Unless there’s sex scenes in it. And there’s not, as far as I could tell.

“Man fights a monster, then goes fishing, then dies. Nothing new about that,” Conlee said. “My signed copy makes a great coaster, though. And a doorstop, in a pinch.”

Fletcher remained unphased by the criticism.

“People on this little rock need heroes, and I’m giving them one, one that could be any one of them in the right circumstances,” he said. “Except one person, but I’m not saying who that is.”

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Stressed Blacktip Island Groupers Get Virtual Reality Goggles

vr goggles for grouper

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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