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Diving your way through the Lesser Antilles

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A warm welcome to Scubaverse’s latest blogger: Bobbie Renfro AKA The Bikini Biologist!

Sailing Yacht Ocean Star, an 89 foot schooner stacked with six sails above her black hull and enough varnished wood above and below deck to harken an era of truly classic ship-building, has been my home for the past two months. After completing my PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer certification in Honduras, I landed a job as marine scientist and diving instructor for Sea|mester, an experiential learning program for university and gap year students.

Our first voyage was twenty days taking twenty-four students aboard two vessels from the British Virgin Islands to Antigua and back. Most of our students entered the program with no dive training, so the first week was concentrated on getting them certified in time for the once-in-a-lifetime dives we had planned in renowned stops like Saba’s pinnacles and the Pillars of Hercules in Antigua.

Starting off in BVI with our Open Water training dives, Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda was a perfect spot for the confined water dives. The shallow bay has a sandy beach with typically high visibility and pool-like conditions just a short wade out into the water. We anchored in the sandy area off shore and used a couple of Sea|mester’s dinghies to scoot over to the beach. After completing our confined water dives we hopped over to Mountain Point, Virgin Gorda where our Open Water students could see a little bit of reef for the first time while completing their training. Added bonus of this locale: a brand new shipwreck, the Kodiak Queen was recently sunk at Mountain Point.

The wreck is enveloped in the arms of a larger than life Kraken sculpture, which will eventually become an artificial reef as organisms colonize the structure. The artistic new wreck wasn’t suitable for Open Water training dives, but was a treat for the already certified divers aboard. I personally didn’t get the chance to hop in with the Kraken, but I appreciate the melding of art, science, and diving!

From BVI we moved on to Nevis and then to Antigua where we dove near the Pillars of Hercules both in day and night. The Pillar’s themselves are a geological formation on shore and a worthwhile hike. The diving at this site was fairly average by day, but breath taking at night! As I slipped through the dark sea with a group of Advanced Open Water students, the water rolling off our fins ignited in lime green sparkles, kindled by bioluminescence brighter than any I’ve seen throughout the Caribbean. I’m not sure if this was a lucky night or if Antigua frequently has such brilliant bioluminescence on night dives, but I am going back shortly so I’ll be sure to update!

After Antigua we continued on to Saba, an island that has been high on my diving wish list as I am sure it is on yours. Diving around the pinnacles was like flying around giant upside down ice cream cones. The visibility at the moment is unfortunately a hair poor, but local dive operator Sea Saba explained that it’s typically much better and accounts from my dive buddies that have visited previously support that statement. Even with low vis, the dive was still a unique experience in my dive log for sure.

If you do hit up Saba to dive be sure to explore on land as well. Saba’s Mount Scenery is the tallest point in the Netherlands and while visibility on this hike was equally low due to cloud cover, it was one of the best tropical hikes I’ve done. The vegetation beckons your mind into a Jurassic Park like state the entire way up and standing in the clouds on the tiny round top of the summit felt like standing on top of the world. After hiking Mount Scenery, head to the town of Windward where you can visit local glass artist JoBean and have the chance to make your own glass bead. Mine is teal glass with lime green and coral spun through out like a tiny earth; its my favorite souvenir thus far.

Rounding out the trip back in the British Virgin Islands, we dove on the wreck of the RMS Rhone. This eerie dive site is the result of an actual storm induced sinking of the once proud vessel. While the wreck as been moved and adjusted to make it a safer recreational dive site, the heavy feeling of her lost passengers looms as you slink into the dimly lit swim-through of her bow section. On top of the swim-through and the unique history of the wreck, we encountered several large puffer fish and a small reef shark cruising amongst the wreckage.

The Rhone wrapped up our diving, but we squeezed in some snorkeling and rock jumping at The Baths, an outcropping of large granitic bead rock revealed from years of erosion of the overlying volcanic material. You can climb and swim in and out of a labyrinth of massive boulders at this crowded, but worthwhile BVI tourist stop. This twenty-day voyage blew by fast and now we are starting up a forty-day voyage to explore further along the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles. I’ll have more Caribbean dive site information and descriptions of dive training sites to come.


Bobbie Renfro, M.Sc. Biology — Marine Ecology
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer

Website: http://www.bikinibiologistbobbie.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/thebikinibiologist/

Instagram: @thebikinibiologist

Twitter: @bikinibiologist

Bobbie Renfro is the Bikini Biologist - a marine biologist and diving instructor. Through SCUBA and marine science teaching, she seeks to inspire students to explore and protect our underwater world. She is interested in the ecology of aquatic ecosystems and the behavior of their inhabitants, particularly on tropical coral reefs. Her research has an over arching goal of guiding sustainable ecotourism management. She completed her Master of Science degree from Auburn University and her PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer certification from Subway Watersports in Roatán, Honduras. Find out more about Bobbie and her work at www.bikinibiologistbobbie.com.

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Frontline workers honoured with free dive trip to Yap

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The remote island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia is among the few places in the world that remains free of Covid-19 thanks to its ocean border and a strict travel ban that has kept its residents safe.

Nonetheless, Yap has been affected, too. As one of the world’s premier, award-winning destinations for divers, this paradisiacal location in the western Pacific Ocean has had no outside visitors to its rich shores and reef for nearly a year. But while there may be no virus, the island hasn’t been cut off from the economic impact experienced around the globe.

Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers by A. Tareg

That didn’t stop Bill Acker, CEO and founder of the Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers, from doing something, though.

Last March, soon after the island went into lockdown, Bill began to realize the effect of the virus on daily life beyond the island. “Yes, we are closed, have no divers, had to send our employees home and prepare for difficult times,” he said. “But we’re lucky in that we have, for the most part, avoided the human suffering and death this pandemic has caused.”

Thinking about the problems faced by his family business, they paled when he compared them to those endured by the healthcare workers who have been fighting selflessly around the clock for months on end for the well-being and lives of others.

“One evening, while checking the news online, I saw pictures of frontline workers who were tending to desperately ill and dying people when families and friends could not be with their loved ones. It was heartbreaking,” he added.

The next day, a meeting was held with the resort’s staff and Bill invited suggestions for ways they could do something to honor healthcare workers. The result was the idea to award twenty divers who are working on the frontline to save other’s lives during this pandemic while risking their own, with a free week at the resort.

Manta ray, Manta birostris, gliding over a cleaning station in M’il Channel, Yap, Micronesia by David Fleetham

Divers around the world who had been guests at Manta Ray Bay in the past were invited to submit the names of candidates for the award by December 31, 2020. “We received nominations for 126 individuals from as far away as Germany, the U.S., Australia and Canada,” he said. “It was not easy choosing the winners but our committee of staff members took on the job and selected the 20 finalists.”

“While trying to choose the people to reward for their hard work during this Covid-19 crisis,” Bill added, “by reading the nominations we saw that every one of the nominees was doing things above and beyond the call of duty. Sadly, we don’t have the finances to offer over 100 free weeks in Yap, but we do want to recognize the contributions all of them are making to our world. So, we are offering the rest of the nominees a free week of diving in Yap which includes room, hotel tax, airport transfers, breakfast, diving and Wi-Fi.  The only requirement is that they travel with at least three other people and stay in two rooms or more.”

“We do not yet know when Yap will open its borders,” said Bill, “but when it does, we will welcome these important guests to Yap to relax and dive with the manta rays and the other beautiful denizens of the ocean surrounding our island home. They are the true heroes of this devastating, historic time and we look forward to honoring them with a well-deserved dive vacation.”

Watch out for our exclusive trip report from a healthcare worker from the UK who is one of the 20 to have been awarded this amazing dive trip!

For more information on Manta Ray Bay and Yap Divers visit their website by clicking here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Dream Dive Locker Build Out. Part I: Demolition (Watch Video)

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It’s finally here! Time to start building the greatest dive locker the world has ever seen! Part I: Demolition! #dreamdivelocker

This is the first of a series of videos showing the evolution of building out my dream dive locker. My dream dive locker needs to be dive gear drying and storage, dry storage, workshop, office, editing suite, You Tube studio and classroom. That’s a lot of functions for a small space!

The first step is planning out the space and demolishing the laminate flooring. Then I taped up the walls to get a feel for the space. We have a lot of work to do!

But finally we will have a purpose built space to house all of our dive equipment! Subscribe to our channel to follow our progress! 

Thanks for watching, Team!

James


Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/DiversReady

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