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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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PADI meets with Maldivian Ministry to confirm protection of sharks

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Over recent weeks, there has been speculation about the possibility of the Maldivian government lifting the ban on shark fishing in the country’s waters. PADI®, and the dive industry at large, were instrumental in establishing these protections over a decade ago.

With concern for the continued protection of sharks in the Maldives, the PADI organisation and Project AWARE®, along with 200 concerned local and international stakeholders opposing the lifting of the shark fishing ban, called on the government to continue to enforce the legal protections of sharks. PADI staff met with Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture Zaha Waheed to reinforce the position of the dive community and critical role sharks play in dive tourism.

In those meetings, Minister Waheed assured PADI that the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture has no intentions to lift the ban on shark fishing. She affirmed that they remain committed to sustainable and responsible management of fisheries and marine resources in the Maldives. On 20 April 2021, the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture released a statement asserting that “the Maldives does not intend to permit a targeted shark fishery in the Maldives.”

“Sharks are a dominant force in dive tourism in the Maldives. We congratulate the Maldives’s commitment to their ongoing protection,” says Drew Richardson, President and CEO of PADI Worldwide. “The Maldives continues to lead by example, among the most progressive countries on this critical issue.”

There are currently 17 shark sanctuaries in the world; the first established in Palau in 2009 and others in popular dive destinations including French Polynesia, Honduras, The Bahamas and several others in the Caribbean. The Maldives shark sanctuary was established in 2010 and covers 916,000 km2 (353,000 square miles).

Tourism accounts for an estimated 25 percent of Maldives’ GDP (according to 2014 figures), with diving and snorkeling being the most popular tourism activity. Prior to the formation of the Maldivian sanctuary, shark fishing was worth US$0.7 million to the Maldives’ economy, compared to US$2.3 million from shark tourism. In 2018, the shark sanctuary increased dive-trip demand in the Maldives by 15 percent, raising an additional US$6 million. Consumer research indicates that any re-opening of a Maldives shark fishery could potentially decrease dive tourism demand by over 50 percent, which could result in a loss of US$24 million.

Sharks are some of the most endangered species in the ocean, with recent research showing that the global number of oceanic sharks has declined by 71 percent. Over a third of shark and ray species are threatened, facing an increased threat of extinction, primarily due to overfishing.  There are an estimated 600,000 shark watchers globally spending $314 million per year and directly supporting 10,000 jobs. Research indicates these figures are expected to rise as global tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels.

As part of its commitment to ocean conservation, PADI will continue to stand up for sharks and advocate for their protection. For more information on responsible shark tourism, read Project AWARE’s Guide to Best Practices. To learn more about PADI’s efforts and how you can join the community of PADI Torchbearers working to save the ocean, visit padi.com/conservation.

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Miscellaneous Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Rosemary Lunn

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Ian and Gemma chat among themselves and are also are joined by well-known Dive Industry Professional Rosemary Lunn.

We talk about dive fitness and entering the CrossFit 2021 open games and being members of our local CrossFit Box. You can also listen to our new member of the team – Rosemary Lunn – answer some scuba diving questions.

Find out more about Rosemary at www.tumc.co.uk.


Find more podcast episodes and information at the new www.thebigscuba.com  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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