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Ocean Frontiers: 20 Years of Conservation on Grand Cayman’s Pristine East End

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Ocean Frontiers has a proud history focused on ocean conservation, highlighted by the establishment of Grand Cayman’s first and largest coral nursery

Ocean FrontiersOcean Frontiers, located at the Compass Point Dive Resort in Grand Cayman’s East End, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary as a dive operator this year. Co-owner Steve Broadbelt says there is no better way to mark the occasion than to announce the establishment of their long-anticipated coral nursery, a valuable tool for replenishing reefs at East End. Ocean Frontiers has a long history of conservation and environmental projects, and when the Cayman Islands Department of Environment called for proposals, Broadbelt submitted an ambitious plan. The timing was perfect because the coral trees were planted as the world celebrated Earth Day.

“We were thrilled to announce the installation of Grand Cayman’s biggest coral nursery during Earth Day celebrations because our project has been in the planning process for more than a year. To announce it at a time when we focus on the environment made the occasion even more memorable,” said Mr. Broadbelt. “The goal of our coral nursery is to grow coral fragments of the endangered Staghorn and Elkhorn corals and then out-plant the corals to designated reefs that have shown signs of coral loss or damage.”

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With a coral restoration program in mind, Broadbelt brought Lois Hatcher on board a few years ago. With considerable experience and training in coral restoration, plus the passion to see it through, Hatcher was the perfect choice to manage it.

“I’m elated that it has finally happened!” says Ms. Hatcher. “The site is five minutes from the dock and I personally will go out whenever I can. I’m training most of the Ocean Frontiers staff on how to maintain the nursery. It is very much my baby, and I’m anxious about it working, like a mother hen fussing over her chicks.”

Broadbelt, Hatcher, and others, including two Caymanian students, spent the spring months doing prep work to set up its nursery. The work involved selecting strong donor coral colonies and monitoring them for potential problems – the goal is to install strong corals in the nursery to increase chances of survival. Materials needed to build the trees had to be collected, and structures assembled. Broadbelt himself installed all the anchors for the trees.

“The hope is that by out-planting the strong fingerlings grown in our coral nursery they’ll have a better chance of becoming established on the reef,” said Ms. Hatcher. “So far so good. We will be doing weekly maintenance on the site and reporting to the Department of Environment. The fragments will be monitored for disease, photographed and measured. They already show visible growth after only two weeks.

And the coral fragments are already attracting marine life. Ocean Frontiers is starting with 10 coral trees but expanding to 60 in time. Managing the largest coral nursery in Grand Cayman reflects Ocean Frontiers’ commitment to being a good steward of Cayman’s marine environment, from the first day it opened for business in February 1996. Broadbelt and co-owner Maurice “Mo” Fitzgerald always observe and promote ocean conservation, garnering recognition through the years.

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Eco Milestones for Ocean Frontiers and Compass Point Resort

  • Green Globe Certification for Compass Point in 2010
  • Project AWARE’s Environmental Achievement Award in 2004 and 2010
  • Governor’s Environmental Award for Tourism in 2014 for Compass Point
  • PADI Green Star Dive Center Award for Ocean Frontiers
  • Green Leader Recognition by TripAdvisor travel dive site

Current Ocean Frontiers Conservation Projects

  • Invasive Lionfish Culling
  • Coral Bleaching Monitoring & Temperature Data Collection Project
  • Turtle Release Program Sponsor
  • Teens4Oceans & Ocean Classrooms Sponsor
  • Cayman Sea Sense – Shark Conservation and Tagging Project
  • Green Shorts Challenge – program aimed at distributing diver load evenly at East End
  • Coral Spawning – Ongoing documentation and data collection on annual event

“Before we began operating the great dive sites of East End were largely unavailable to divers staying in the Seven Mile Beach area, so we saw an opportunity to attract people by offering a free shuttle to our dive site. Demand skyrocketed and Ocean Frontiers launched into its successful first year.”

The founders focused on customer service and the industry’s leading edge. Ocean Frontiers was among the first Cayman operators to use nitrox. Because of a busy dive schedule, nitrox was introduced as a safety measure for dive staff. With time, Nitrox was accepted industry-wide, and customer demand went up. Ocean Frontiers became one of the few dive operations on Grand Cayman that offered Nitrox to customers. Customer satisfaction led to Ocean Frontiers being voted ‘World’s Best Dive Operator’ by the readers of Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine in their 1998 Readers’ Choice Awards.

“This was significant and it boosted our reputation and attracted more business to Ocean Frontiers,” said Steve Broadbelt.

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Other milestones in the company’s growth:

  • Grand Opening: A new state of the art dive facility with boat dock, retail shop, dive school and training pool, opened in 2000 not far from the original site where Ocean Frontiers began doing business in 1996. This introduced a new standard in luxury for divers and was a strong departure from dive shacks around East End that divers had been accustomed to.
  • Shark Diving Program: In 2001 Ocean Frontiers introduced Cayman’s first and only Shark diving program with a classroom session on shark biology and conservation and a dive where divers experience as many as 8 to 16 Reef sharks up close. At the same time research was conducted with science partners such as the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory, but despite an immaculate safety record and a well-run program, the local government decided to ban shark diving in Cayman.
  • Coral Spawning Dive: In 2002, Dr. Alex Mustard and Steve Broadbelt successfully observed and documented the annual coral spawning for the first time on record in the Cayman Islands. For the last 13 years Ocean Frontiers has been sharing this discovery and formula for calculating the spawning events every September and bringing this rare event in to the eyes of anyone that can dive and is not afraid of the dark.
  • Public Moorings: Ocean Frontiers has helped the Cayman Islands Department of Environment increase public moorings from 10 to 40+ to open pristine dive sites in the East End.
  • Eagle Rays Bar & Grill: Much anticipated by customers and staff, the dockside bar & grill opened for business in 2013 offering lunch, dinner and bar service. Eagle Rays features themed nights during the week, such as a ‘Divers Night’ every Tuesday with an island buffet and dive movies and photos of the week.

“Looking back over the last 20 years, there has been a common theme to our success – what is good for the environment is good for our business,” says Steve Broadbelt. “We started out as a very small dive shop with one boat, very few staff and big dreams. Even though we have grown little by little, we will always be a ‘first name basis’ place that retains a personal touch with outstanding service. 20 years later the picture is complete as a dedicated dive resort offering ‘roll out of bed and on to the dive boat’ convenience.”

To find out more about ocean Frontiers, visit www.oceanfrontiers.com.

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Introducing two new Colours of OBLU resorts in the Maldives

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COLOURS OF OBLU, a brand by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts, has opened two exciting new resorts in Male Atoll in the Maldives this year.

OBLU XPERIENCE Ailafushi opened in June. Translating from the Maldivian dialect of Dhivehi, ‘Aila’ means family and ‘Fushi’ means island, in essence, the Family Island. A 15-minute speedboat ride from Velana International Airport brings guests to this beautiful tropical island.

The four-star resort’s 268 villas and rooms are designed to experience nature at its best. A striking fleet of water villas shaped like dhonis are lined up along the jetty – a perfect spot for snapping some selfies. From the moment of arrival, a carefree and relaxed holiday unfolds with the generous Fushi Plan™. Dining, activities, a multi-level kids club with a pool and food corner, overwater gym, and live entertainment are all blended within the stay for a hassle-free holiday.

Sumptuous all-day dining options are available at the Element X Restaurant which serves modern Western, Central Asian, and Far Eastern cuisines. X360 Bar features a 1000 sqm infinity pool – one of the largest in the Maldives. Guests can enjoy unlimited orders of refreshing spirits, wines, and beer from the grab and go bar counter. Evenings come alive with enthralling music and party vibes at the bar’s dance floor. The Copper Pot Food Truck parked on the beach is perfect for an open-air dinner of choicest fresh seafood and meat grills that can be relished on the soft sandy beach beneath the starry sky.

Walk up to La Promenade located beside a channel that meanders across Ailafushi island. This picturesque walkway has cosy seating corners along with a wine boutique, souvenir shop, and café. There is so much to do here — lounge at the scenic overwater deck, sip a cup of coffee, and socialise with like-minded travellers. Experiential highlights also include The Dome, a futuristic 15-meter theatre and entertainment centre.

Sister resort OBLU SELECT Lobigili is an adults only property that opened in March. In the Maldivian language of Dhivehi, ‘Lobi’ means love and ‘Gili’ means island. Lobigili is, in essence, the island of love.

Blessed with verdant foliage, this five-star resort features 68 contemporary beach and water villas – all assuring gorgeous views of the turquoise-blue lagoon. With the resort’s exclusive Lobi PlanTM guests can immerse in a blissfully carefree stay. This generous plan includes specialty fine-dining, unlimited beverages, spa services, Indian Ocean excursions, a selection of non-motorised watersports as well as a fully stocked minibar replenished daily.

OBLU SELECT Lobigili continues with the brand’s tradition of exceptional fine dining, elevating the mealtime experience with playful and fun touches. At Ylang-Ylang, the All-Day Dining Restaurant, delectable world cuisine with intimate nooks for couples and a unique book corner are unmissable. The Swing Bar with itschilled out beachside vibe features chic hammocks, swings and a stunning infinity pool that is one of the largest in the Maldives. Evenings come alive with handcrafted, aromatised cocktails and hypnotic DJ and Live Band performances.

That is not all. There is Gaadiya 17 Food Truck serving grab-and-go game meat grills to be relished in a fun, open-air setting on the beach under starry skies. And an exotic ONLY BLU Underwater Restaurant, one of the largest underwater restaurants in the country, where guests can experience impeccable modern gourmet cuisine.

A standout experience is ELE | NA The Spa – designed exclusively for couples and adults – featuring locally inspired spa treatments including  Lobi Dhooni (Love Bird) Hithun Hithath (Heart To Heart) and Dhekanbalun (You & Me).

Scuba Diving from both resorts is with OBLU’s partner dive centre, TGI Maldives, one of the best-known in the country. The dive centre teaches a variety of PADI and SSI courses. The island’s house reef is perfect for relaxed dives, snorkeling and training, whilst many of North Male Atoll’s best dive sites are just a short boat ride away. In particular, the atoll is well-known for its manta ray sightings from May to October.

Discover more at www.coloursofoblu.com

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SSI releases new Explorers program for kids

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SSI has announced the release of the SSI Explorers Program, where kids aged 6-11 years old can get a taste of the many ways to explore the aquatic world around them. This exciting program makes diving for kids stress-free, guiding them in engaging underwater adventures where they can scuba dive, act like a real mermaid, and go underwater on a single breath with freediving. SSI has invested much time and energy into re-vamping this child-centered experience program.

Formerly known as Scuba Rangers, the new SSI Explorers Program is today’s most extensive aquatic experience program for kids in the dive industry. Children who have not yet reached the minimum age for scuba diving will not only gain a solid foundation in ocean conservation, but they will have the opportunity to experience four main aquatic adventures and many specialties.

Your young aquatic explorer will join Emma and Nico on exciting underwater adventures with their marine friends, Star the starfish, Shelly the sea turtle, and Spike the shark. The comprehensive children’s manual is very engaging, with colourful cartoon drawings and authentic ocean images for this young audience. Emma and Nico guide children throughout the manual’s educational content in a fun and engaging way, using Spike as their equipment expert and Shelly as the ocean environment advocate.

The SSI Explorers materials start by introducing children to the importance of protecting and preserving our oceans by becoming a Blue Oceans Explorer. After learning why our oceans are important, about the world’s five oceans, and what they can do to help protect our oceans, students earn the SSI Blue Oceans Explorer recognition rating. They can then move on to learn all there is to know about snorkel equipment and snorkelling in a confined water environment to earn their Snorkel Explorer rating.

After completing these two initial experiences, SSI Explorers can choose from one of three aquatic adventures and either become a Scuba Explorer, Mermaid Explorer, or Freediving Explorer. Better yet, they can continue on to earn all three ratings!

SSI Mermaid Explorers get to swim around like real mermaids while improving their swimming skills. SSI Freediving Explorers will go underwater and dive deeper by holding their breath longer in an encouraging, relaxed environment.  Explorers who have not met the minimum age for scuba diving can try it out within the safety of a pool or confined water and become an SSI Scuba Explorer.

The fun doesn’t stop there, however! SSI Explorers can go on even more underwater adventures to earn 22 different Specialty Explorer ratings. They can improve their explorer skills with exciting specialties like Underwater Model Explorer, Rescue Explorer, Shark Ecology Explorer, and Search & Rescue Explorer, just to name a few. Your child can earn the Specialty Explorer recognition rating by completing two Explorer specialties. When they complete four specialties, they will become Advanced Explorers, and after completing the Rescue Explorer specialty, they can become a Master Explorer. SSI Explorers will even be able to earn real C-Cards just like their parents to show off their hard-earned recognition ratings.

To look back on their explorer fun, SSI has included a logbook section toward the back of the colourfully engaging SSI Explorers manual. The Explorer Logbook is where students can record details of their underwater adventures as they work through these exciting experiences. Near the logbook, SSI has also included an area for the Explorer Instructor to place an SSI recognition sticker specific to each completed explorer activity. Children will be excited to work toward earning them all!

The SSI Explorers program is now available as a book or digitally in four languages: German, English, Spanish, and Italian, with more languages hopefully coming soon.

Training the next generation of ocean lovers and aquatic enthusiasts is very important to SSI and all SSI Training Centres and Pros. The SSI Explorers Program is an excellent way to promote ocean conservation and aquatic safety in our younger population and prepare them for future open water certification opportunities once they reach the minimum age for scuba diving.

Look for an SSI Explorers Program at an SSI Training Centre near you. To find your nearest SSI Training Centre, check out the SSI Centre Locator here.

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