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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.

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 4

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 4 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

We are all back to the house reef today; the weather is lovely, the sea calm, the tide will soon be slack, so a great day’s diving in store.

A few yards away from the beach dive centre, on the Roots’ beach is their day time restaurant. It is where we take lunch when diving, and there is a continual supply of tea, coffee and soft drinks, and some marvellous lunches.  There are also male and female toilets and a fully accessible toilet for those using wheelchairs.

A few thoughts around working with amputees and those who have paraplegia. Firstly amputees – the part of the limb remaining is known as the ‘stump’, and we have worked with a substantial number of bilateral leg amputees (both legs), single leg amputees and single arm amputees.  The level of amputation can be above or below the knee or elbow, or through the knee. In one case the amputation was transpelvic and in another through the shoulder.  Some like Chris Middleton have one leg amputated above the knee and one below the knee.  This is rare, but each type of amputation offers a different challenge.

Many people think the amputation is clean and the skin neatly tidied up after surgery. Although that occurs in a few cases, in most the stump is rather rugged.  Elasticity of the skin around the stump is often exceptionally poor and can easily be damaged.  Some of our beneficiaries, as they were injured as young men, suffered from heterotopic ossification – this is where the bone tries to grow after amputation and often penetrates the skin, resulting in further surgery being required to cut back the bone and of course the stump needs to be restitched.  Very often stumps are sealed with skin from elsewhere on the body.

Swars kitting up

Few divers have never experienced a graze or cut underwater but such an experience for those with amputations can have serious consequences.  Stumps are more likely to get cut or grazed as the skin is so tight. We all know that there are lots of infections in seawater and if infected the cut or graze can cause very serious problems for the amputee.  Tailored wetsuits are one preventative measure, as are daily stump checks, making sure there is no damage and if there is, applying medication and or protecting the stump.

Those with paraplegia provide an additional challenge, not being able to feel their lower limbs they can easily damage them, so cuts, abrasions, and even sunburn can go unnoticed.  Donning a full-length wetsuit can be a challenge as toes can easily be broken and hairs pulled out of legs.  On the Deptherapy Education Professionals’ Course we show how to fit a wetsuit properly.

In recent discussions between our dive medicine advisor Mark Downs and our VP Richard Castle, who is a consultant psychologist, we have been looking at areas for further medical research in terms of diving for those with disabilities.  One area of suggested study is thermoregulation. The theory is that those with amputations and those with paraplegia suffer more with the cold as their body is unable to regulate heat. Certainly, in Corey’s case, he feels the cold more quickly than those diving with him. Chris Middleton can feel the cold more quickly than others with amputations but that may well be that Chris is muscle and bone where, to put it nicely, others have a more substantial covering.

Some AMEDs and Dive Referees will not sign off amputees as being fit to dive. That is their professional opinion and although we can show that even triple amputees are more than capable divers, capable of progressing to Rescue Diver standard even, they still refuse to sign them off. Last year Oli and Mark invited us to speak at the UK Annual Hyperbaric Medicine Conference in London where Josh Boggi, the world’s first triple amputee Rescue Diver and a Deptherapy beneficiary spoke about how amputees can become safe and successful divers.

Corey, Swars and Michael

For Corey, he wears full leg coverings and diving boots in the water; as he cannot use his legs there is no purpose in wearing fins.

Another point around amputations is that most of the general population make an assumption that a leg amputation is the result of a traumatic incident.  That is incorrect; by far the majority of leg amputations in the UK are the result of diabetes. Those whose legs are amputated as a result as diabetes are more likely to have poor healing of the stumps.  This also presents an issue of comorbidity that may well result in an AMED or Dive Referee declining to sign them off as ‘fit to dive’.  If signed off you would need to be very aware of the health of a stump; I certainly would not take someone with an open wound diving and the fact that they will be on medication for the diabetes.  You also have to be aware that they may well be on other medication to manage pain etc.

You need to be very clear with those who have paraplegia and other conditions that they must let you know if they start to feel cold.

Managing air – diving just using your arms for propulsion can, for many, be very tiring and a considerable amount of effort is required.  This, plus other factors, may result in enhanced air consumption by the diver.  This may increase if a current is encountered, even one which most divers who have use of their legs and dive with fins would not cause the least concern.

Within Deptherapy we very much work on the ‘rule of thirds’ – a third of your air to get you down and to see what you want to see, a third to get you back to the surface and a third in reserve.  This in most circumstances will ensure no ‘low on air’ or ‘out of air’ situations.

Say if we have 210 bar in a cylinder that means 70 bar out, so turn on 140 bar, 70 bar to return and to the surface so we should have 70 bar reserve at the surface.

We also work our students through SAC rates and looking at the air consumption of others in their team.

Checking the team’s air frequently during a dive is stressed to all our Pro team.

Keiron became very engaged with this concept as the result of the online RAID study for his Master Rescue Diver.

On expeditions we normally dive in small teams, a DM/TDM with three programme members.  They work as a team and understand each other’s air consumption. Of course, they also dive as buddy pairs.

Today offered perfect conditions for diving, and Keiron, Moudi, and this time TDM Oatsie were kitted up and in the water within minutes.

Pause for thought… those with paraplegia will have different toileting arrangements to those who do not have the condition. This also applies to some who have suffered traumatic limb loss.  They may use catheters for urination, some may have Stoma bags etc.  This all has to be planned into your dive schedule to ensure the safety and comfort of your student.  For young people talking about these very personal arrangements may be very difficult.  Those with Stoma bags may be embarrassed by people seeing them.  This is another part of seeing beyond the injury or condition – it is the person inside that you are dealing with.

Corey on the Roots House Reef

So, Corey, Michael and myself were joined by Swars.  Swars, although he joined the DM programme at the same time as the other guys, because of work commitments was unable to join us in September 2019 at Roots where we ran a DM introductory programme alongside the crossover of our Pro Team to RAID.  Swars has become a really good mate; he is a great diver, with an engaging personality.

Michael and Oatsie were a known quantity to me as they had been on the September 2019 programme and both have travelled to my home dive centre Divecrew in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to work on courses, pre-COVID.  During COVID Michael and I, plus a few of the guys from Divecrew, have dived at Wraysbury together.

Just as Roots is our base in Egypt, Divecrew is our base in the UK, and through this relationship, Martin (who owns Divecrew with his wife Sue) is one of our trustees. Together they have established a centre where pretty much 100% of the Pros are Deptherapy Education trained.

I asked Swars straight away to brief a dive for Corey. I gave him the briefing slate, a few tips and then ten minutes later he came back with a perfect briefing… and I mean perfect.  So, a great briefing under his belt; now to watch him work with Corey in open water. He looked the Pro, he knew what he should be doing, he understood his role. We assigned Michael as Corey’s buddy and said he would lead the dive. I was there to assess the TDMs and supervise very closely Corey’s skill demonstrations.

Again, it comes as no surprise that many beneficiaries in Deptherapy can move straight into dive management, as several were NCOs, as was Swars, and they are used to briefing individuals and teams.

We had decided that we would mix up the dives required to complete Corey’s OW 20 RAID dives with some general diving as trim and swimming arm action are all important. We also needed to concentrate on spatial awareness.

We agreed a signal for horizontal trim and Swars reinforced the swim stroke that Corey needed to do to get propulsion.  Every time Corey moved out of horizontal trim Swars was there reminding him about trim and reminding him of his swim stroke.

The Roots’ House Reef is amazing – at a metre you encounter a shoal of black Damselfish, at 3 metres a shoal of Unicornfish, there are Butterflyfish and all manner of other fishes in great profusion.  The coral is in great condition. It really is a place of beauty and tranquillity.

Oatsie and Swars relaxing by the Roots pool after a long day

Although we had problems getting Corey underwater again, once we got him in skill demonstration mode his anxieties disappeared.  We then took him diving. Steve Rattle, the owner of Roots joined us and was taking photos that provide a great record of the week’s diving.  Steve commented on the quality of Swars and Michael’s supervision and control underwater of Corey and gave them feedback on how impressed he was.

Meanwhile on the RAID Master Rescue Course, Oatsie who was in the same Regiment, same Platoon and Section as Keiron in Afghanistan was more than willing to be a very uncooperative victim for his brother-in-arms.  I think Keiron gave Oatsie some feedback about this!

For me this was a hard week, combining running the RAID OW 20 for Corey but also the assessment of our three TDMs.  A week underwater but no opportunity to dive for myself.  People often think Deptherapy Expeditions are holidays for the Dive Team; they are not, it is hard work and I mean hard work.

Tomorrow is Day 4 in the water Day 5 of our trip. We are on the House Reef again, and things are starting to come together. Join us back here on Monday 26th October…

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Competitions

WIN an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask!!!

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Yes, XDEEP have now officially called their excellent frameless mask the ‘Radical’, and in this week’s competition, we’ve got another one to give away in our latest competition!

The XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask is a large single lens dive mask with a soft silicone skirt and traditional strap. The frameless design brings the lens closer to your face so you get a wider FOV and less internal volume that you have to equalise and clear. The larger nose pocket makes the mask more comfortable and easier to equalise, even with thick gloves.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:

In a recent post on Scubaverse.com (which you can find here), we reported that you can join Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world. But when can you join Reef-Word’s Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020?

Is it:

  • A) 3pm BST on Friday 23rd October 2020
  • B) 3pm BST on Saturday 24th October 2020
  • C) 3pm BST on Sunday 25th October 2020

Answer, A, B or C to the question above:

Nautilus Diving XDEEP Frameless Mask October 2020

Competition
  • Enter the country you live in
  • Terms and Conditions: This competition is open to all visitors to www.scubaverse.com except for members of the Scubaverse team and their families, employees of Nautilus Diving and their families, or XDEEP and their families. A valid answer to the competition’s question must be entered. If no valid answer to the competition’s question is entered, your entry will be invalid. Only one competition entry per entrant permitted (multiple entries will lead to disqualification). Only one prize per winner. All prizes are non-transferable, and no cash alternative will be offered. In the event that the prize cannot be supplied, no liability will be attached to www.scubaverse.com. When prizes are supplied by third parties, www.scubaverse.com is acting as their agents and as such we exclude all liability for loss or damage you may suffer as a result of this competition. This competition closes on 02/11/20. The winner will be notified by email. The Editor-in-Chief’s decision is final.

  • The following fields are optional, however if you fill them in it will help us to determine what prizes to source in the future.

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