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Blacktip Island Resorts Stage Underwater Hide-And-Seek Contest

Scuba hide-and-seek

A group of Blacktip Island scuba-diving guests have a practice session Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the Caribbean island’s inaugural underwater hide-and-seek contest. (photo by Paloma Fairlead/Blacktip Times)

Blacktip Island’s scuba charter companies will join forces Sunday afternoon to host the inaugural Where’s Waldo underwater hide-and-seek contest on and around the island’s Hammerhead Hole dive site, the Blacktip Island Tourism Department announced Thursday.

“It started with us joking about how dive staff are constantly searching for lost dive guests underwater,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “From there it morphed into a monthly staff training exercise, the guests got a kick out of it, so we made it a game.

“The staff still gets to sharpen their skills,” Latner said. “If anything, it’s even better training when the guests are trying to get lost. And to raise the bar more, we invited back some of our most navigationally-challenged guests as all-star hiders.”

Organizers say the rules are hide-and-seek standard, with a few twists.

“Everyone has five minutes to hide after they jump off the dive boats,” contest judge Jay Valve said. “We expect people to scatter like minnows once they hit the water. Open-circuit scuba bubbles are a dead giveaway, and rebreathers are banned, so we’re expecting more swimming away than crouching and hiding. Guests do it naturally.

“Hiders are limited to one 80-cubic-foot cylinder, and we’ll be frisking everyone for hidden pony bottles,” Valve said. “If you’re not ‘found,’ but you’re low on air and surface, you’re automatically ‘out.’ And we’ll have spotters, and drones, keeping watch.”

Some worried the contest presents significant safety issues.

“The temptation’s to suck your tank down to the last breath,” island nurse Marissa Goby said. “That’s potentially problematic, decompression sickness-wise, if you’ve been down a while. Or forget to exhale on your way up. There’ll be chase boats, and I’ll have a helper with first-aid training on hand, but it still creates a lot of risk.

“Also, the safety crews have to cover a ton of territory—people can go a long way with 3000 psi,” Goby said. “They’ll have GPS trackers on everyone to keep track of where they are, or where to recover the bodies, but GPS only works on the surface. We’re expecting lots of skip breathing, too, so we’ll have ibuprofen on hand for those vicious carbon-dioxide headaches.”

Others say the safety concerns are overstated.

“Bird dogging goofballs across three dive sites? That’s just a normal workday for us,” divemaster Alison Diesel said. “Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between divers trying to get lost and divers trying not to get lost. Bottom line, they can swim, but it’s not our first cat herding.”

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Tie-Dye Festival To Aid Blacktip Island’s Dying Reefs

tie-dying championship

A freshly tie-dyed shirt waits to be unbound Thursday afternoon in amateur dyer Wendy Beaufort’s workshop. Beaufort was practicing for this weekend’s Coral Reef Dye-Off craft competition to benefit the Caribbean island’s coral reefs. (photo courtesy of Johann H. Addicks)

Blacktip Island fabric artists will gather at the Blacktip Haven resort this weekend for the inaugural, two-day Coral Reef Dye-Off tie-dye competition to draw attention to the Caribbean island’s ailing coral reefs.

“Our coral’s nowhere near as healthy as it was ten years ago,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “Whether from warmer water, acidic seas, development runoff or a combination, our reefs and our livelihoods are taking a hit.

“This combination juried dying competition and craft show will help combat that,” Havens said. “The competition will draw attention to how hard the coral is fighting to survive, and the proceeds will go to reef preservation efforts. And the shirts, shorts and whatnot are guaranteed to be groovy.”

Some worried the event will do more harm than good.

“Making people aware of the coral’s plight is great, but what happens when all this dye hits the reef? Or the aquifer?” environmental watchdog Wade Soote said. “There’s no telling what the ash and urea that makes the colors bond to fabrics will do once they hit the water table.

“At the very least, there should be an environmental impact study before there’s dozens of people dumping who-knows-what down the drain,” Soote said. “Pretty colors are all well and good, but what if they wipe out the marine park? Elena should know better.”

Organizers say those concerns are unfounded.

“All the used dye will go into a big vat and be neutralized before it’s dumped,” local dyemaster Harry Blenny said. “Also, though store-bought dyes are allowed, we’re encouraging everyone to use all-natural, locally-produced dyes, or even to make their own.

“There’s an art just in making the dyes out of local ingredients,” Blenny said. “Booby poop gives a really bright green you can’t get with a commercial mix. And ground up land crab mixed with balsamic vinegar gives a unique, vivid red.”

Local dye artists are eager to test their techniques against each other.

“You’re never sure exactly how good you are until you go head-to-head against another dyer under time constraints,” Wendy Beaufort said. “There’s lots of unknowns, and the competition should get pretty intense. The non-stop Grateful Dead in the background’ll take some of the edge off that, but still.

“The real challenge will be choice of medium,” Beaufort said. “Most people are sticking with tried-and-true cotton, but a few of us are experimenting with silk. Elena made a whole separate category for that, since the technique’s so different.”

All dyed items will be sold on site, with the winner serving as auctioneer, Havens said.

“We’ll have an auction Sunday evening to raise as much money as we can,” she said. “Hopefully the cash will cover the cost of a new coral nursery. Or snacks for our volunteers.”

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Blacktip Thespians To Perform Underwater ‘Day Of The Staghorn’

day of the staghorn

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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Tiperon University-Blacktip Fields First NCAA Football Team

fightin-mantis

A Blacktip mantis shrimp, (Odontodactylus blacktipius) on a Blacktip Island reef. The fearsome underwater predator is the namesake of Tiperon University-Blacktip’s resurrected athletics program. (photo courtesy of Alexander Vasenin)

Tiperon University-Blacktip kicked off football season Thursday at Skerritt-Bottoms Stadium when its inaugural American-style football team, the Fightin’ Mantis Shrimp, faced their arch rivals Slippery Reef Medical College’s Surgeonfish. The team competes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division IV.

“It’s a boost to island pride, having a varsity sports team again,” said TU-B’s athletic director Goby Graysby. “It was devastating when we had to ditch our water polo program, but we couldn’t go on after all those horses drowned.

“When the Mantis took the field in their turquoise-and-coral, it was magical,” Graysby said. “And how great was to hear the old TU-B fight song –‘Mantis! Mantis! Eyestalks high! We’re the shrimp from B-T-I!’ – echoing from the bluff again?”

Some in the community questioned the university’s motives.

“It’s a money grab, plain and simple,” said longtime resident Billy Ray. “Ol’ Goby’s eyeing the TV money an NCAA team draws. And he’ll get the lion’s share of the Tiperon Islands TV market share. Not to mention t-shirt and jersey sales.

“But if he thinks locals are gonna bankroll a new stadium, he’s nuts,” Ray said. “We got better things to spend our money on. And the ‘Mantis?’ Really? Not the ‘Sharks’ or the ‘Barracuda’ or the ‘Ciguatera?’”

Fans, though, were quick to defend the name.

“Mantis shrimp are deadly predators, despite their small size,” said Mantis supporter Marina DeLow. “Their claws move so quick they break the sound barrier. Even if they miss, the shock wave still kills their prey.

“Those suckers’ll blast apart any crab or clam shell out there,” DeLow said. “There’s a reason fishermen call them ‘thumbsplitters.’ Put one in an aquarium, it’ll break the glass and go for your throat.”

Most locals, though, focused on the team’s disappointing 64-0 loss to the Surgeonfish.

“We’re a work in progress, using what talent we’ve got,” said coach Rocky Shore. “None of these guys can throw. None of them can catch. But they can all run like scalded rats when someone’s chasing them.

“We lost pretty bad, but there was lots of positive stuff we can build on,” Shore said. “All our players showed up sober. Mostly. Our goal this week is to get ‘em to cut down on the drinking and smoking so they can run more than five yards without throwing up.”

University officials remained upbeat despite the loss.

“Logowear sales are through the roof,” Graysby said. “With that, plus the alcohol sales, plus the Bottoms Up Distillery sponsorship, we’ll be able to afford a domed stadium in no time.”

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Singing Coral Heads Discovered on Blacktip Island

Blue chromis school above a stand of Blacktip Island’s singing staghorn coral on Jawfish Reef. (Photo courtesy Amanda Meyer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Blue chromis school around a stand of Blacktip Island’s singing staghorn coral on Jawfish Reef. (Photo courtesy Amanda Meyer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Blacktip Island researchers this week documented coral heads on the Caribbean island’s Jawfish Reef interacting with other corals via harmonic resonance.

“There’d been tall tales from scuba divers about singing coral,” Tiperon University-Blacktip professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “On a hunch, we installed one of our new Broadband Datalogging Sound/Vibe Monitoring arrays on the reef. The BDSM tests showed the staghorn polyps flagellate to create high-frequency vibrations.

“It’s more of a high-pitched hum than actual melody,” Mojarra said. “Like Tuvan throat singing, but in the 16740 hertz range. Near as we can tell, that lets polyps communicate coral-to-coral. It also explains why more people hear the tones as the staghorn recovers from near extinction.”

The discovery settles a debate that’s raged among Blacktip’s divers for years.

“There’s always that annoying whine at Jawfish” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “Like The Chipmunks singing ‘Good Vibrations.’ I chalked it up to doubling up on Sudafed, or vodka hangovers. Now we know better.”

Some experts, however, dispute the finding.

“This is textbook wish fulfillment, fueled by alcohol and who knows what else,” Island Psychological Association president Sigmund Skinner said. “Every scuba hippy wants to anthropomorphize the reef. They want to believe coral flagellates to communicate, and hey! What do you know? They discover coral flagellates. And sings while it does it!”

Local business owners, however, embraced the discovery.

“If coral can communicate with other coral, it stands to reason it can communicate with other organisms, even humans” said Elena Havens, owner of the Blacktip Haven resort. “Elephants communicate over vast distances with ultra-low frequency sounds. This is really no different.

“We’ve started underwater meditation sessions on the reef,” Havens said. “The effects have been stunning. It’s like our guests have become one big polyp colony.”

Researchers, meanwhile, are scrambling to catalogue the coral sounds.

“Ernesto brought us in to decipher the individual tones and tone combinations,” TU-B linguistics department chair Porgy Chomsky said. “We’re testing whether this is simply a species-specific vocabulary, or if we’re dealing with a pancorallic semiotic. It’s potentially ground breaking. Staghorn coral’s the Chatty Kathy of the reef.”

TU-B’s Mojarra concurred.

“If these harmonics are fueling coral growth, it could be key to restoring coral populations worldwide,” Mojarra said. “We have plans to regenerate individual coral heads with recorded music. And a crack team of marine geologists is working up plans for underwater coral topiary.”

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Underwater Golf Comes To Blacktip Island

A groundskeeper prepares the first tee at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort’s new underwater gold course for Friday’s grand opening.

A groundskeeper prepares the first tee at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort’s new underwater golf course for Friday’s grand opening.

Blacktip Island golfers will tee off underwater Friday when Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort opens its 18-hole underwater golf course, allowing scuba divers to tour the island’s reefs while golfing.

“A lot of our guests felt left out,” resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “Scuba golf reaches out to a broader demographic eager for underwater activities and topside attractions.

“It’s the first of its kind in the Caribbean,” Bottoms said “There was a place over in China tried it last year, but their caddies kept drowning.”

“It’s like regular golf, really,” course designer Rocky Shore said, “Except the course hazards are hungry barracuda, coral heads and jellyfish.”

“Another challenge is mantis shrimp claiming the holes,” Shore said. “We shoo them out, but they scuttle right back. Then one claw snap and BAM! your ball’s in a hundred pieces.”

Resort guests had mixed reactions to the new activity.

“I like to dive, and my wife likes to golf,” visitor Buddy Brunnez said. “Now we can dive and golf together. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. For either of us.”

Non-golfing divers complain the course is laid out across a dozen of the island’s most popular dive sites.

“They’re dropping folks into an incredibly fragile ecosystem to flail around with clubs,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “We’ve already seen scolfers blasting out of coral heads with pitching wedges and whacking balls at stingrays.

“And what of the habitat destroyed creating this atrocity?” Haven said.

Bottoms was quick to allay environmental concerns.

“We chose sandy areas for each hole,” Bottoms said. “There was no need to landscape. Well, not too much, anyway. And our course rule is you add a stroke to your score every time you damage coral.”

For island dive professionals, safety is a bigger concern.

“You can yell, ‘fore’ all you want down there, but no one’ll hear you,” said divemaster Marina DeLow. “I had two divers get plunked today. And playing 18 holes, they’re gonna have yahoos blowing their no-decompression limits left and right.”

“We put all these holes in 20 feet of water or less,” Bottoms said. “Getting bent shouldn’t be an issue. Unless you’re a bad golfer. Or get a hole with a mantis shrimp in it.”

Bottoms also plans to build a knee-deep miniature golf course for non-divers and children too young to be certified.

“There’ll be an underwater shopping mall, too,” Bottoms said. “It’ll be tasteful, though, really spruce up the reef.”

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Blacktip Island Dive Sites Get Underwater Wi-Fi

Blacktip Island’s scuba diving guests can now roam the internet while underwater on the Caribbean island’s dive sites.

Blacktip Island’s scuba diving guests can now roam the internet while underwater on any of the Caribbean island’s dive sites.

Blacktip Island entrepreneurs Rich Skerritt and Sandy Bottoms have teamed up to install the first underwater wireless network for scuba diving guests on the small Caribbean island.

“It’s the 20-something generation of divers who’re behind it,’ Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “They get bored on safety stops. They want their social media. And if we don’t give it to them, you can bet the next guy will.”

“Underwater Wi-Fi draws divers to Blacktip Island, away from other dive destinations,” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “It’s good for the island. A rising tide lifts all boats, you know.

“No one resort could foot the bill for something like this, so Rich and I threw in together to meet our guests’ needs,” Bottoms said.

The network functions via underwater routers hardwired to topside modems.

“We put antennas in all the dive site mooring balls, then ran cables down the mooring lines,” Blacktip Island Public Works head Stoney MacAdam said. “You can get a signal in a 50 foot radius of every mooring pin.

“Folks take a smart phone or a tablet down in a waterproof case and, voila, they’re streaming live video to their blogs and their kids are playing Candy Crush.”

The response among divers is split along generational lines.

“This is brilliant,” 28-year-old dive guest Kenny Chromis said. “Just looking at the reef is so 2014. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t share it in real time? Plus, we can leave the baby in the room and still monitor the crib-cam while we dive.”

Others are less enthusiastic.

“Leave it to the damn millennials to ruin diving, too,” said 53-year old scuba enthusiast Joe Pompano. “It used to be calming, a silent world. Now it’s all beeps and pings and yahoos Skyping through their regulators. Put the damn gadgets down and look at the fish, why don’t you.”

Blacktip’s dive operators have embraced the new technology.

“We’re selling waterproof tablet cases like crazy,” Club Scuba Doo dive operations manager Finn Kiick said. “Interactive fish ID apps, too.

“The hot spots also create an extra level of diver safety,” Kiick said. “Our Wi-Fi connected guests never stray more than 15 meters from the boat. And if one does wander off, we can track their signal from anywhere on the island.”

“This is the new frontier in scuba tourism,” Rich Skerritt said. “For a reasonable access fee, of course.”

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