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Halfway Through Expedition Hope: Do Offshore Seamounts Mean Good News for Cayman’s Coral Reefs?

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CCMI

As we near the half-way point of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s (CCMI) Expedition Hope to characterise the biodiversity of two offshore seamounts in the Cayman Islands, CCMI would like to reflect on the exciting exploration and substantial achievements made through the project so far.

Funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Plus Programme, CCMI and project partners, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, have collected a wide range of data to describe the benthos and biodiversity of the previously unexplored seamount, 12-Mile Bank. This valuable information will support improved management of ecologically significant and poorly understood seamount habitats in Cayman, providing evidence into the Cayman Islands Government Biodiversity Action Plan.

In August 2023, 12 miles west of Grand Cayman at 12-Mile Bank, CCMI’s technical scientific divers, in collaboration with the University of Delaware, Harbour Branch Oceanographic Institute, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, explored uncharted waters and documented the biodiversity on the seamount up to depths of 50 meters.

During the research expedition, the team completed twice the initial number of proposed fish surveys and 20% more benthic photo-mosaics, in addition to collecting samples for eDNA and genetic connectivity assessments and producing a bathymetric map of 12-Mile Bank.

CCMI have also produced a three-part docuseries, Expedition Hope, that follows the team’s journey to explore and document these never-before-seen reefs, including the challenges they encountered and the hope these ecosystems may provide for coral reefs. This gripping tale of female-led ocean exploration premieres on CCMI’s YouTube channel at 12pm on Friday 15th December.

Part 1: https://youtu.be/aIxIgvvVr4E

Part 2: https://youtu.be/NjAFh9-mhpU

Part 3: https://youtu.be/mssrMIpFWqc

As shown in the Expedition Hope series, there is a reason these seamounts remain largely unexplored, as weather conditions are rarely conducive with research expeditions. The initial efforts to reach the second seamount, Pickle Bank, were curtailed by bad weather, but the team will not be deterred that easily. In spring/summer 2024, CCMI’s researchers and project partners will focus their efforts on characterising Pickle Bank, a seamount 45-miles offshore, north of Little Cayman.

Both Pickle Bank and 12-Mile Bank are classified as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems under international criteria and are thought to be home to rich biodiversity with fewer impacts from human activity due to the remote location. The first expedition indicated that 12-Mile Bank seamount harbours productive environments with high levels of coral on the south, and larger numbers and sizes of fish on the north side.

Dr Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, CCMI’s expedition leader, said:

‘With this docuseries, we’re not only showing you what we did to document the fish, coral and biodiversity that live on the seamounts, but you get a deep glimpse into the operations that go into expeditions like this. It’s not easy to go offshore and dive to 50 meters, and sometimes things don’t go as you expect. CCMI is thrilled to show viewers behind the scenes and how science happens in this exciting expedition to 12-Mile Bank.’

CCMI’s data analysis will provide even more insight into the details of these cryptic habitats, including estimates of biodiversity at the population scale using eDNA, and environmental information on the driving forces that influence the marine habitats and organisms.

This collaborative effort across international research and conservation organisations will produce open access data for future conservation action and data-driven decision-making and management of these seamounts.

Once these valuable ecosystems are more understood as a result of this project, they can be better protected and conserved to ensure their health for future generations. The data from this project will be incorporated into a new section of the Cayman Islands’ Government Biodiversity Action Plan and will be used to underpin discussions for future marine spatial planning legislation.

These unexplored and poorly understood seamount ecosystems could provide a glimmer of hope for the future of Cayman’s coral reefs, potentially providing refuge, larvae sources and resilience from the impacts of climate change. As such, it is essential that they are understood in order to be protected.

With Pickle Bank even further away from land and human impacts, CCMI are excited to explore this unknown ecosystem in spring 2024 and share the findings of these unique and unrevealed habitats with both local and international communities and scientists.

If you want to find out more about CCMI’s seamount exploration project, visit CCMI’s webpage here.

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Solo Travelling and Scuba Diving

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solo scuba diving

Solo traveling elicits strong reactions, with some relishing the freedom it brings, while others shy away from the idea. The dichotomy lies between the autonomy of solo journeys and the comfort of companionship. Scuba diving group trips for solo travellers emerge as the perfect synthesis, offering a unique blend of freedom and camaraderie.

Embarking on a solo scuba diving adventure is a thrilling journey into unparalleled freedom, new discovery and self-discovery beneath the waves. However, solo travellers should be mindful of considerations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, especially those diving abroad, taking precautions before leaving their home country is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey.

solo scuba diver

“I started travelling solo by chance”- my wife recalls- “I joined a group from the diving club planning to travel to Tobago, people pulled out at the last minute and I decided to go ahead alone. I did enjoy the freedom: I could travel at the times I wanted, to the destinations I wanted, no need to negotiate when and where to eat and the air conditioning temperature. Diving is a social sport anyway, and the divers one meets are by definition like-minded people. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, often from different nationalities. I’ve gained so much in self confidence and interpersonal skills, way more than on corporate training courses J. However, as a woman solo traveller, I’ve always had to be mindful of personal safety in circumstances where one simply doesn’t know what to expect. I remember the apprehension I felt on the boat ride alone from Batanga to Puerto Galera in the evening. Also the same feeling whilst waiting in Dubai for someone to pick me up and drive me 2 hours to Musandam. This someone is now a dearest friend. The best thing for me is always to book through someone that has made the same journey, lived the experience directly and has close personal links at destinations.”

In essence, scuba diving trips for solo travellers offer a harmonious blend of autonomy and companionship. These journeys transcend traditional group travel challenges by uniting solo adventurers with a common passion.

The first question and one of the most important, as the answer usually determines your location is Liveaboard or Shore based, and there are Pros and Cons to both:

Liveaboard

solo scuba diver

Pros

Immersive Dive Experience: Liveaboards provide uninterrupted access to dive sites, maximizing your time beneath the waves.

Varied Destinations: Journey to remote and pristine locations, exploring a range of dive spots during a single trip. Usually these site are only accessible by Liveaboard

Community Experience: Forge close bonds with fellow divers on board, fostering a sense of camaraderie.

Cons

Limited Amenities: Space constraints on liveaboards might limit facilities compared to resorts.

Community Experience: Liveaboards forge a close-knit community of divers and individuals, which may not be conducive to everyone’s character, particularly for people who enjoy some time alone to charge the batteries, or those not keen on negotiating group dynamics in a somewhat confined environment.

Shore based

solo scuba diving solo scuba diving

Pros

Comfort and Amenities: Resorts offer a comfortable stay with various amenities, including spas, swimming pools and restaurants.

Flexibility: Choose daily dives or explore at your pace, enjoying the freedom to create a personalized itinerary.

Onshore Exploration: Besides diving, resorts often provide opportunities to explore local culture and attractions.

Cons

Fixed Locations: While convenient, resorts limit you to specific dive sites accessible from shore.

Time Constraints: Day trips or tight schedules may impose time restrictions on your underwater adventures.

Flexibility: Unless you are certified as a solo diver then you have to dive with a buddy or with a private guide, which could be a costly option.

Considerations

Personal Preferences: Evaluate your preferences for accommodation, community engagement, and the overall pace of your dive experience.

Destination Exploration: Assess whether you seek the thrill of exploring multiple dive destinations on a liveaboard or prefer the convenience of a single resort location.

Choosing between liveaboard trips and dive resorts hinges on your desired balance of adventure, comfort, and community. Whether you opt for the dynamic exploration of liveaboards or the leisurely pace of resorts, each option promises a unique and unforgettable underwater journey.

solo scuba diving

Dive Destination – Research and Planning

Conducting thorough research on dive destinations is crucial. Understand its culture, local customs, and any travel advisories. Always check government advice, BUT also consider joining Facebook or similar groups and get some real-world advice from like-minded divers.

It’s essential to opt for reputable dive operators with a strong safety record. Sea to Sky, a trusted name in the industry, places a high priority on guest safety, offering comprehensive services, advice, and recommendations.

Ensure you are aware of any health risks or vaccinations required for your destination. Carry a basic first aid kit, if weight allows and any necessary medications. We would advise not to take any over the counter medications aboard, as most are readily available and in a lot of cases cheaper. If you are prescribed medications, please ensure that your country of entry allows your medication, and in all cases please take a doctor’s letter/prescription.

Solo divers should be mindful of diving in secluded or challenging dive locations.  Opting for familiar, well-monitored locations where assistance is readily available if needed. Sea to Sky takes a personalized approach, considering guests’ experience and certification levels to suggest optimal dive locations within their limits.

Being cautious about equipment is paramount for solo divers. Rigorous gear checks to ensure everything is in optimal condition are essential. For those renting equipment, Sea to Sky ensures that the dive centre or liveaboard operator’s gear is regularly serviced and up to date. Please self-check all equipment, we are happy to advise on what to and how to check any equipment.

Safety and Security

Invest in comprehensive travel insurance and Dive Insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and potential diving-related incidents. Keep a digital and physical copy of your insurance details. Secure important documents like your passport, travel insurance, and diving certifications in a waterproof pouch. Consider making digital copies that you can access online.  Share your itinerary and emergency contact information with a trusted friend or family member. Keep them informed about your whereabouts and any changes to your plans. We personally use Nord Locker to store all relevant information, including copies of passport, accessible via the cloud (No affiliation, it’s just what we use).

solo scuba diving

Financial Preparedness

Inform your bank about your travel dates to avoid any issues with your credit/debit cards. Carry a mix of local currency and cards. We can advise country by country what cash to take, as in some destinations Euros or Dollars are the better option.  Be cautious when using ATMs and choose secure locations (inside banks for example). Keep a small amount of emergency cash separate from your main funds. This can be invaluable in situations where card payments may not be accepted.

Communication and Connectivity

Consider getting a local SIM card to stay connected. Check the network coverage in your destination and inform your loved ones about your contact number. We also use an ESim called Airolo (Again no affiliation) but some of the charges can be quite high especially in Egypt, but for peace of mind it’s great.  Carry a portable charger for your electronic devices, including your phone and any underwater cameras. Also check with the country you are travelling to ascertain what plug is compatible.

solo scuba diving

Cultural Sensitivity

Familiarise yourself with the local culture and customs to show respect. This includes appropriate clothing, gestures, and behaviour, both on land and underwater.

What sets Sea to Sky apart is the personal relationships developed with its suppliers and its commitment to providing 24-hour telephone contact for guests, offering reassurance and assistance around the clock. Solo travellers can dive with confidence, knowing that expert guidance and support are just a call away.

In essence, while solo scuba diving opens doors to incredible underwater experiences, travellers must exercise caution, conduct diligent research, choose reputable operators, and prioritise safety.

For any information or assistance you require please feel free to contact the team at hello@myseatosky.co.uk.

Join Sea to Sky and embark on new diving adventures! Visit www.myseatosky.co.uk for more information.

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The BiG Scuba Podcast Episode 172: Dr. Joseph Dituri

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Joseph Dituri

Gemma and Ian chat to Dr. Joseph Dituri. Dr. Jospeh Dituri lived undersea for 100 Days in a mission combining education, ocean conservation research, and the study of the physiological and psychological effects of compression on the human body.  

Dituri enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1985. He served continuously on active service upon various ships and shore stations where he was involved in every aspect of diving and special operations work from saturation diving and deep submergence to submersible design and clearance diving. Now that he is retired from 28 years of active service to the United States, he is the president of the International Board of Undersea Medicine. He also volunteers his time as the CEO of the Association for Marine Exploration. He is an invited speaker on motivational, sea and space related topics.

Fuelled by his passion for exploration, discovery, adventure, and making the greatest possible positive contribution to the world, he is fighting for change in a big way and with great enthusiasm.

You can listen to Episode 172 of the BiG Scuba Podcast here.

www.drdeepsea.com

We hope you have enjoyed this episode of The BiG Scuba Podcast.  Please give us ★★★★★, leave a review, and tell your friends about us as each share and like makes a difference.   Contact Gemma and Ian with your messages, ideas and feedback via The BiG Scuba Bat Phone    +44 7810 005924   or use our social media platforms.   To keep up to date with the latest news, follow us:

We are on Instagram                     @thebigscuba  

We are on Facebook                      @thebigscuba  

We are in LinkedIn                          https://www.linkedin.com/in/ian%F0%9F%A6%88-last-325b101b7/

The BiG Scuba Website                  www.thebigscuba.com

Amazon Store :                                https://www.amazon.co.uk/shop/thebigscuba

Visit   https://www.patreon.com/thebigscubapodcast and subscribe – Super quick and easy to do and it makes a massive difference. Thank you.

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