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June 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 31, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Turks and Caicos Explorer II

great boat, great food, but degraded reefs

from the June, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Last year, I enjoyed a trip aboard the T&C Explorer II enough to return; the boat was very comfortable, and though the food was pretty bad, it was clearly a quality operation. The vessel is 124 feet long, with two king bed VIP cabins on the upper deck, five doubles with comfortable beds on the main deck, and three bunk bed cabins below for a total of 20 divers. Every type of late model TV and video is in the main salon. On last year's trip, sponsored by REEF, we explored the virtually uninhabited Bahamas islands of Lesser and Greater Inagua. The reefs I saw there were pristine, and I wanted to see a more conventional itinerary starting to the northwest, in Providenciales (Provo).

I came away still impressed with the boat, but with misgivings about the health of the reefs. Most dives featured a couple reef sharks, sometimes half-a-dozen. I don't know about you, but I am never bored when there's a shark in the water. But having dived here some 30 years ago, I was aware that things had changed. Maybe it's not fair to compare places so many years apart; after all, people who haven't seen "the old Caribbean" are often happy divers in these waters, as most aboard this trip were.

I learned to dive off Provo in the mid-1980s, and it was lush and pristine. The diving I've seen in and around Provo since then has declined, based on at least fifteen trips between the 1980s and 2005. Grace Bay was rapidly transformed into a series of high-rise hotels, whose construction and sewage runoff killed the reefs. So when I booked this trip, I looked forward to seeing better reefs the farther we got from Grace Bay. However, when I saw algae often covering the patchy reefs far beyond Grace Bay, I did some research.

Turks and Caicos IslandsAccording to a recent study published by Alan Logan and Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, "The Reefs of the Turks and Caicos Islands" (www.academia.edu), both human and global climate problems are undermining reef health. The Turks and Caicos Islands use reverse osmosis to produce enough fresh water to develop the islands, but the subsequent sewage runoff (solid waste treatment is a problem) encourages the growth of algae that cover the reefs and kill the coral. The authors report a surprisingly low live coral coverage around all the islands of the Turks and Caicos, 10%-20% overall (and I can report, about zero in Grace Bay). Bleaching events in 1987 and 1990 and Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Ike (2008) destroyed areas of coral; and dredging and cruise ship props stirring up the bottom kill corals. Invasive lionfish gobbling up juvenile fish just make it worse....


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