Tag Archives: coral preservation

Blacktip Island Marine Parks Launch Underwater Walking Trails

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Blacktip Island’s new underwater walking trails offer buoyancy-challenged divers the chance to see some of the Caribbean island’s most iconic underwater sights, such as the grotto at Jawfish Reef. (Photo courtesy of Val Schrader/Marine Parks)

The Tiperon Islands Marine Parks Department has teamed with Blacktip Island’s Skerritt Construction to build a network of underwater trails, aimed at reef conservation, around some of the island’s most popular dive sites. The first trail was officially opened Thursday afternoon.

“The coral on these dive sites is being destroyed by all the divers,” Marine Parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “They grab coral. They kneel on coral. They stand on coral. They destroy hundreds of years of growth in an instant.

“We were told banning divers was off the table,” Schrader said. “Instead, these trails will give divers a place to stand and kneel and drag their gauges without killing anything. Think of them as pre-killed zones to protect the reef.”

The paths are laid out over sand and across stretches of dead and severely-damaged coral identified by Marine Parks personnel. Trail building was done by Skerritt Construction.

“We use coral-safe marine concrete, stuff that’s been in use since Roman times,” said Skerritt Construction owner Rich Skerritt. “The pointy-heads from Parks mark off where the path should go, and we go to town.

“It’s a Godsend for the island, really,” Skerritt said. “Topside’s about all paved over. We were having to lay people off.”

Local reaction was generally positive.

“I had a lovely dive just this morning,” Blacktip resident Edwin Chub said. “They put in benches so you can sit and ponder a single coral head.

“And when the current picked up, well, there’s also aluminum pegs to pull yourself along, or just hold yourself in place,” Chub said. “They really did think of everything.”

Others were not convinced.

“This sends entirely the wrong message – that it’s OK to touch the reef,” said Harry Picket, president of the Blacktip Island Pelagic Society. “Even on dead coral there’re still polyps trying to reestablish themselves. Most dive guests don’t know dead coral from live coral from their own butts.”

Local dive operators, though, hailed the trails’ potential.

“They’re perfect for Discover Scuba Diving students,” Eagle Ray Divers dive operations manager Ger Latner. “Our instructors can just drag the punters over the paved stretches and not worry so much about buoyancy. It’s good for the reef and divemaster blood pressure.

“We’re also offering hard-hat diving courses,” Latner said. “You can strap on a helmet and lead boots and walk the trails if you want. For an upcharge.”

Marine Parks officials say the trails also open more opportunities for visiting divers.

“We’re building shore entry sites near all the main underwater trails,” Schrader said. “We also have trail maps, and underwater rangers to make sure no one gets lost. Or strays off the trails and into the coral.”

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving

Blacktip Island Reef Preservation Rally Turns Violent

PB091747.JPG

The Our Lady of Blacktip non-denominational cathedral was the site of a street brawl between scuba divers and music lovers Thursday afternoon. (photo courtesy of Dorris Blenny)

A coral reef conservation rally at a Blacktip Island resort left 11 people injured Thursday evening after two groups of activists attacked each other over a misunderstanding about the event’s purpose.

“We were out front of Sandy Bottoms’, drumming up support for the island’s reefs,” Coral Reef Activists for Preservation president Harry Pickett said. “We had our placards, and were handing out leaflets. It was a great turnout of locals and tourists. Everything was going fine.

“Next thing you know, though, there’s yahoos across the road, by the church, yelling at us about singing or something,” Pickett said. “Somebody yelled back and it just exploded from there.”

The rival protestors were music aficionados who had gathered at the Our Lady of Blacktip interdenominational cathedral to support what they believed to be an attack on the island’s community chorus.

“The radio announcement clearly said ‘choral preservation,’” choirmaster Doris Blenny said. “We got there and found an angry mob picketing outside the church. We weren’t about to lose our choir or gospel singers to those Philistines. Not without a fight.”

Island officials say the conflict escalated quickly.

“Near as I can tell, the church folks thought the scuba divers were anti-music agitators,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “A random word set someone off, and all hell broke loose.

“The churchgoers waded in swinging their protests signs. Those things were made with good, solid maple, too,” Marquette said. “After a moment of shock, the divers roared right back at them, screaming and whomping. It’s amazing more people weren’t hurt.”

Police credit local lay clergy with restoring the peace.

“Jerrod went all Kwai Chang Caine on the whole lot of them,” Marquette said. “I know now why they defrocked him. He kept casualties to a minimum, though.”

“Neither side responded to reason,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians. “Blood was flying and the situation needed to be defused, physically, without injuring anyone. Unnecessarily.

“Years of online Shaolin meditation training just kicked in,” Ephesians said. “I don’t really remember what happened, but once the leaders were subdued, the rest of the mob fell in line.”

Ephesians declined I.P.C. Marquette’s offer to become a Special Constable.

“We need to focus on healing the community, not on punishment,” Ephesians said. “We’re planning a reef-themed musical event for this weekend. We’ll come together to show reefs and music aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Blacktip Island’s famous for its singing coral heads, after all,” Ephesians said. “To simulate that sound on stage, the church choir will sing ‘Octopus’ Garden’ with their heads in fish bowls.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving