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Diving with… Maartje Sterk, ScubaCaribe Jamaica, Montego Bay

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In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…


What is your name?

My name is Maartje Sterk and I am from The Netherlands.

What is the name of your business?

ScubaCaribe

What is your role within the business?

I am the Dive Team Leader for two dive centers in Montego Bay Jamaica. My responsibilities are making the daily dive schedule, being responsible for all bases, their inventories and making sure all our equipment is in an excellent state and being maintained, giving training to our dive staff, front office, captains and lifeguards, and of course teaching PADI courses and guiding fun divers around our beautiful reefs!

How long has the business operated for?

ScubaCaribe was founded in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) in 1991.

How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?

I started diving in 2012. My mother is a dive instructor and encouraged me to try diving too. My first experience was in 4 degrees dark murky Dutch water. My first ocean dive in the Philippines made me hooked on diving. After my first fun dives in the beautiful warm waters in Asia I went back to Holland and started to do multiple Specialties and Advanced courses. In 2015 I decided I wanted to live abroad and make diving my living so I finished my Divemaster course. In 2016 I became a Master Scuba Diver Trainer in Koh Tao Thailand. Besides my recreational MSDT certificate I am also an Advanced Trimix Diver.

What is your favorite type of diving?

My favourite type of diving is deep dives and wall dives. The deep dives require some more planning and thinking before you go into the water. The theory part and the calculations before this type of dives is especially very interesting. The feeling you have when you are diving next to a big wall, covered in hard and soft coral, schools of fish surrounding you and when you look down you see the wall ending in an endless deep blue with all kind of mysteries, reefs and marine life waiting to be discovered, I can’t even describe it… The chance of seeing some bigger marine life is a little bit bigger and of course the wall is a perfect hiding spot for some small marine life such as lobsters and crabs, or moray eels.

If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?

Montego Bay has a lot to offer. The diving we offer here is very easy. We don’t have extremely strong currents or very choppy seas which makes it perfect for beginners. Because we have a lot of different dive sites, from reefs to walls, you will never get bored of the diving and you will never dive the same reef twice. One of our popular sites is Stingray City. It’s a shallow reef where we almost all the time find the city’s inhabitants: big southern stingrays. It never gets boring to see these massive rays hiding in the sand or stirring up the ocean floor looking for food.

We also have a great team in Montego Bay who will make you feel at home right away! Safety is our main priority according to all the activities we offer. Our team is very friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about the activities we offer and the environment we are in. When you come to visit our base, you will feel part of the family!

What is your favorite dive in your location and why?

My favourite dive site is called Airport Wall. It is a very steep and deep wall located next to Montego Bay International Airport. During your trip there you will see the airplanes coming in just in front of the dive boat. When you descend you will start at a shallow part of the reef which is about 40 feet deep. If you swim out for a couple of minutes north you will reach the wall. The top of the wall is about 50 feet deep and it drops down until you can’t even see the end anymore. We have massive barrel sponges, huge colourful fans, big schools of snapper and blue chromis swarming around you. If you are lucky you will see southern stingrays, spotted eagle rays, barracuda, turtles, and on some very lucky days we can find nurse sharks or even dolphins. A dive at this site can never last long enough!

What types of diving are available in your location?

At our base we offer guided dives from our dive boat. We are located on the north side of Jamaica. That means, right in front of our dive center, we have one big reef along the coast line. When you swim out north from this shallow reef, it drops down in a wall or slope. Therefore we have a massive variety to offer to our divers. Shallow and easy reefs with lots of marine life and some cool swim throughs. For the more Advanced divers we have some incredible walls where you can drift along on your search for different marine life. We also have a small wreck of a DC3 Plane. The plane is partly deteriorated, but you can still see the wings and the propellers of the plane clearly.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

The most rewarding part is to see the happy customers after a day of diving. Also, when I see the staff growing in their knowledge and using it in all the activities we have to offer. Everybody is very interested in the training we provide as a company and willing to improve. It is very rewarding to see people learn and grow.

What is your favorite underwater creature?

My favourite underwater creature is the octopus. It’s very hard to find them because usually they are hiding in some small caverns or holes. When they find their temporary home, they block their front doors with a lot of shells. They are beautiful to look at and almost hypnotizing! They can squeeze their bodies through the tiniest holes and are very clever!

As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?

Our biggest problem is the country’s reputation. When people hear about Jamaica they think that it is an unsafe country with mediocre diving. Well, both of them are absolutely not true! Just as in every other country, we have some areas that are best to be avoided here but overall the country is very safe. The locals are very friendly and helpful. Tourism is a big income for the country so they will not do anything to jeopardize that. Jamaica’s tourism means mainly all inclusive resorts which can provide you with tours around the island as well.

The diving is absolutely amazing here. As I told before, we have a big variety of reefs and walls suitable for every level of diver, diverse marine life which includes multiple types of rays, barracuda, turtles, and lots of smaller marine life, with all kinds of reef fish, nudibranch, eels, crab and lobster. You can never predict what you will see here. Occasionally we see dolphins during our dives or a hiding shy nurse shark. We hope by promoting our diving we can show the world how beautiful our reefs are!

Is your center involved in any environmental work?

Our company ScubaCaribe is closely involved with PADI and Project AWARE. On a daily basis we explain to all our divers the importance of our reefs and the importance of being environmentally friendly. Reducing plastic, picking up garbage if we find it during our dives, the use of biodegradable sunscreen etc. All our staff participate in coral conservation lectures and presentations about our marine life and coral reefs to make everyone more aware and give the good example and spread the word! AWARE week takes place in September and every ScubaCaribe base holds an event for their specific base during this week. Montego Base held a reef and beach clean up together with staff and divers. We followed this with a talk about our marine life and the importance of our reefs.

What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?

If you are a non-diver or an advanced diver, we have something to offer to you. Our cristal clear, blue ocean with great visibility and warm temperature year round makes it a perfect way to start your diving adventure or to explore our reefs and walls. We have a big variety of dive sites and a great range of marine life to be found. Our ScubaPro equipment is in excellent condition and safety is our main priority. We keep our groups small, and all dives are guided by PADI professionals. Our staff are helpful, friendly and always in for a chat! Come check us out!

Where can our visitors find out more about your business?

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Northern Red Sea Reefs and Wrecks Trip Report, Part 2: Wall to Wall Wrecks

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red sea

Jake Davies boards Ghazala Explorer for an unforgettable Red Sea diving experience…

The second day’s diving was a day full of wreck diving at Abu Nuhas, which included the Chrisoula K, Carnatic, and Ghiannis D. The first dive of the day was onto the Chrisoula K, also known as the wreck of tiles. The 98m vessel remains largely intact where she was loaded with tiles which can be seen throughout the hold. The stern sits at 26m and the bow just below the surface. One of the highlights of the wreck is heading inside and seeing the workroom where the machinery used for cutting the tiles are perfectly intact. The bow provided some relaxing scenery as the bright sunlight highlighted the colours of the soft coral reef and the many reef fish.

red sea

Following breakfast, we then headed to the next wreck, which was the Carnatic. The Carnatic is an 89.9m sail steamer vessel that was built in Britain back in 1862. She ran aground on the reef back in 1869 and remains at 27m. At the time, she was carrying a range of items, including 40,000 sterling in gold. An impressive wreck where much of the superstructure remains, and the two large masts lay on the seafloor. The wooden ribs of the hull provide structures for lots of soft corals, and into the stern section, the light beams through, bouncing off the large shoals of glass fish that can be found using the structure as shelter from the larger predators that are found outside of the wreck.

red sea

The final wreck at Abu Nuhas was the Ghiannis D, originally called ‘Shoyo Maru,’ which was 99.5m long and built in Japan back in 1969 before becoming a Greek-registered cargo ship in 1980. The ship then ran aground on the reef on April 19th, 1983, and now sits at the bottom at a depth of 27m. Heading down the line, the stern of the ship remains in good condition compared to the rest of the hull. The highlight of the wreck, though, is heading into the stern section and down the flights of stairs to enter the engine room, which remains in good condition and is definitely worth exploring. After exploring the interior section of the ship, we then headed over to see the rest of the superstructure, where it’s particularly interesting to see the large table corals that have grown at the bow relatively quickly considering the date the ship sank. After surfacing and enjoying some afternoon snacks, we made sure everything was strapped down and secured as we would be heading north and crossing the Gulf of Suez, where the winds were still creating plenty of chop.

red sea

The next morning, it was a short hop to Ras Mohammed Nature Reserve for the next couple of days of diving. The 6am wake-up call came along with the briefing for the first site we would be diving, which was Shark & Yolanda. The low current conditions allowed us to start the dive at Anemone City, where we would drift along the steep, coral-filled wall. These dives involved drifts, as mooring in Ras Mohammed wasn’t allowed to protect the reefs. As a dive site, Shark & Yolanda is well-known and historically had a lot of sharks, but unfortunately not so many in recent years, especially not so early in the season. However, there was always a chance when looking out into the blue.

red sea

The gentle drift took us along the steep walls of the site, with plenty of anemone fish to be seen and a huge variety of corals. It wasn’t long into the dive before we were accompanied by a hawksbill turtle, who drifted with us between the two atolls before parting ways. Between the two reefs, the shallow patch with parts of coral heads surrounded by sand provided the chance to see a few blue-spotted stingrays that were mainly resting underneath the corals and are always a pleasure to see. With this being the morning dive, the early sunlight lit up the walls, providing tranquil moments. Looking out into the blue, there was very little to be seen, but a small shoal of batfish shimmering underneath the sunlight was a moment to capture as we watched them swim by as they watched us.

red sea

Towards the end of the dive, we stopped at the wreck of the Jolanda where the seafloor was scattered with toilets from the containers it was carrying. This provided a unique site to make a safety stop, which was also accompanied by a large barracuda slowly swimming by, along with a hawksbill turtle calmly swimming over the reef as the sun rays danced in the distance.

For the next dive, we headed north to the Strait of Tiran to explore the reefs situated between Tiran Island and Sharm El Sheik, which were named after the British divers who had found them. We started on Jackson before heading to Gordons Reef, where we also did the night dive. All the atolls at these sites provided stunning, bustling coral reefs close to the surface and steep walls to swim along, which always provided the opportunity to keep an eye out for some of the larger species that can be seen in the blue. Midwater around Jackson Reef was filled with red-toothed triggerfish and shoals of banner fish, which at times were so dense that you couldn’t see into the blue. Moments went by peacefully as we enjoyed the slow drift above the reef, watching these shoals swim around under the mid-afternoon sun.

red sea

The night dive at Gordon’s Reef was mainly among the stacks of corals surrounded by sand, which was great to explore under the darkness. After some time circling the corals, we came across what we were really hoping to find, and that was an octopus hunting on the reef. We spent the majority of the dive just watching it crawl among the reef, blending into its changing surroundings through changes in colour and skin texture. It’s always so fascinating and captivating to watch these incredibly intelligent animals, in awe of their ability to carry out these physical changes to perfectly blend into the reef. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the boat to enjoy a well-deserved tasty dinner prepared by the talented chefs onboard.

Check in for the 3rd and final part of this series from Jake tomorrow!

To find out more about the Northern Red Sea reef and wrecks itineraries aboard Ghazala Explorer, or to book, contact Scuba Travel now:

Email: dive@scubatravel.com

Tel: +44 (0)1483 411590

www.scubatravel.com

Photos: Jake Davies / Avalon.Red

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Marine Life & Conservation

Double Bubble for Basking Sharks

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The Shark Trust is excited to announce that, for two more days only, all donations, large or small, will be doubled in the Big Give Green Match Fund!

Donate to Basking in Nature: Sighting Giants

The Shark Trust is hoping to raise £10k which will be doubled to £20k. This will go towards Basking in Nature: Sighting Giants. And they need YOUR help to reach they’re goal.

The Shark Trust’s citizen science project is to monitor and assess basking sharks through sightings; encouraging data collection, community engagement, and promoting nature accessibility. This initiative aims to enhance health and wellbeing by fostering a deeper connection with British Sharks.

Campaign Aims

  • Increase citizen science reporting of Basking Sharks and other shark sightings to help inform shark and ray conservation.
  • Provide educational talks about the diverse range of sharks and rays in British waters and accessible identification guides!
  • Create engaging and fun information panels on how to ID the amazing sharks and rays we have on our doorstep! These can be used on coastal paths around the Southwest. With activities and information on how you can make a difference for sharks and rays!
  • Promote mental wellbeing through increasing time in nature and discovering the wonders beneath the waves!

Donate, and double your impact. Click Here

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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: www.scubatravel.com/BellaEriny or call 01483 411590 More Less

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