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October 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Are Hurricanes Damaging Your Dive Plans?

consecutive storms wreck Caribbean infrastructure

from the October, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Where do sharks go during hurricanes? Despite fake news and cleverly Photoshopped pictures of sharks swimming along flooded highways in Houston after hurricane Harvey, at times of low barometric pressure, sharks and other marine life tend to frequent deeper water to avoid the rough surface conditions.

It is more likely that air-breathing mammals are affected, and in fact, JoJo, the famous human-friendly dolphin local to Providenciales in Turks & Caicos, was originally rescued after being trapped in residual flood-waters after a tropical storm back in 1981.

This year, manatees were stranded north of Sarasota, FL, after hurricane Irma sucked up the water from waterways and bays. Nadia Gordon, a marine mammal biologist, said, "Manatees are accustomed to being tidally stranded at times and females can beach themselves during mating season to get a break [from the activities of males]." Regardless, some volunteers dragged one back to deep water.

The Immense Power Is Localized

The power of a hurricane is immense. Underwater, shallow reefs get smashed, and well-loved shipwrecks get tossed around like toys. This happened to the wreck of the Bianca C in Grenada during Ivan in 2004, and even the wreck of the 888-foot aircraft carrier, the USS. Oriskany, in the Gulf of Mexico, was moved by the storm surge of hurricane Ida in 2009.

If you'd like to know what happens under a hurricane, go to

The wind effects of hurricanes can be very localized. Grand Cayman was hit hard by Ivan in 2004, yet those at the northwest tip of the island (Cobalt Coast) hardly had a roof shingle rattled. On the other hand, the enormous storm surge can have repercussions far and wide.

Irma, Jose, and Maria

As we all know by now, some Caribbean islands like Dominica were spared by Irma but reeled under Maria, and people have been killed or left homeless on many islands. From a diver's point of view, until all the news is out, this is no time to make a dive trip to much of Florida, St. Kitts and Nevis, St.Maarten, St. Barts, Anguilla, Tortola (BVI), Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. John, the southern Bahamas Islands, Turks and Caicos, and the north coast of Cuba. It will take a while to know what damage has been done to dive sites or such icons as the wreck of the SS Rhone.

Stuart Cove on New Providence (Nassau), ever media savvy, was quick to post a video on social networks on September 10th, expressing his relief that hurricane Irma had narrowly passed them by. All his boats were safe, and the dive resort had escaped damage -- so business as usual! Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center also reported that it fared well during the storm.

Beth Watson, Director of Bimini Big Game Club Resort and Marina said, "While our thoughts continue to be with those affected by Irma, we feel fortunate to have weathered the storm."

Other Bahamas islands farther south were less lucky. On Long Island, people witnessed the coastal ocean disappear before their eyes as the water was sucked up into the storm. The same thing happened around Key Largo, Pensacola and both coasts of Florida.

Leroy French wrote on his Facebook page, "In 1983 I started my baby Ocean Explorers. It had an impressive list of clientele from Hollywood [celebrities], prime ministers, kings, musicians, photographers and so much more. I sold the shop in 2007 to concentrate on special projects. It had survived four major hurricanes and other maladies. Now, thanks to Irma, it's gone! Despite nature at its worst, I am sure, in time, it will proudly resurface."

From Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos, Big Blue Unlimited emailed: "What a storm, what a night, what a 24 hours. Insane. Intense. Otherworldly. But we survived. A new dawn revealed much damage here on Provo, some worse than others, much worse . . . The full force of Irma's 185 mph winds passed just south of us, thank God. Her 20-foot surge probably found it easier to move around the Caicos Bank rather than over it, which saved us from an undoubted major flooding catastrophe."

A group of divers from Riviera Beach, FL, trapped in Dominica during hurricane Maria, were evacuated more than four days later. One, Candace Woods, said "A gust of wind, almost like a tornado, picked up my husband Mike carrying two 50-pound suitcases -- and he's about 200 pounds himself and about 6'3" -- and slammed him straight into a railing. His foot got caught underneath the railing." Mike was transferred to Florida with a suspected broken leg.

New Mexican Stephanie Graf, working as a diving instructor on Tortola, was evacuated after Irma struck. She reported that boats were left on top of other boats or even inside businesses. She hopes to go back in a few months. She isn't sure it will happen and is assuming the dive operation might be a lot smaller after these storm disasters.

The hurricane does not differentiate between the rich and the rest of us. Virgin billionaire Richard Branson's Necker Island home in BVI was turned to rubble, and it's believed he was present, sheltering in his wine cellar when it happened.

Hurricanes Are An Ongoing Problem

Don't make the mistake of thinking this a "once-in-a-lifetime" event. Hugo smashed most of St. Croix (USVI) way back in 1989 and those there had to rebuild, and again after hurricane Marilyn in 1995. The problem was exacerbated by the insurance companies of dive operators, loath to give repeat cover after the first storm loss.

Climate change is making hurricanes more powerful for longer periods of time. And, the season is not over until November.

Endless stories of courage, fortitude, resilience, and even foolhardiness have emerged. As Irma barrelled its way into Florida proper, consider the plight of charter boat captain Steve Davis, who made the wrong decision to ride out the storm in his vessel in the Intracoastal Waterway. His boat fell apart around him, and he only made it to shore by using scuba gear -- and then needed the brave help of two plucky Riviera Beach condo owners who saw him unable to get out of the turbulent water and threw him a line. The video went viral. Meanwhile, the remains of his vessel and his main source of income were discovered north of Blue Heron Bridge.

How are Your Future Dive Travel Plans Affected?

Business owners are resilient, and they usually rebuild quickly. Often boats can be repaired. Liveaboards usually have the option to relocate out of the hurricane's path, and the Aggressor Fleet posted online that none of its vessels was affected.

However, you may find that your booked trip is no longer possible. Even so, your travel insurance provider may not look favorably on a claim despite your being unable to pursue your scuba trip, especially if you didn't prepay and cover scuba. The hotel may still be habitable.

You can ask your hotel and dive operator to defer your booking while they rebuild; however, recognize that some will need clients despite the conditions not being optimal. Some may say they are fully recovered when they are not. And, certainly, their island may be a mess. Six months after hurricane Ivan passed in 2004, Grand Cayman was still piled high with wrecked cars and other scrap, vegetation dead from exposure to the storm surge, the majority of private houses nothing more than rubble, reefs scoured of life and a shortage of hotel rooms.

Reliable information about reef damage may be slow to come by. However, Horizon Divers in Key Largo wrote on Facebook that several dive businesses had been out to survey the damage, and wrecks such as the Spiegel Grove, Duane and Bibb appear to have survived unscathed. Even the shallow reefs such as Horseshoe, Molasses, French, and Elbow may look a little different but are intact. Some shops are already taking out divers.

DEMA will issue press releases once a business is up and running again. For the latest information, visit

"The devastation in the US territory of Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years," said Jennifer Gonzalez, the island's non-voting representative in Congress. The island is running short on food, fuel, and access to clean water and there's limited communications. Even the National Weather Services Doppler weather radar station on the island has been destroyed. That's the radar that helps meteorologist see where thunderstorms and other weather systems are moving in real time.

Residents of many Caribbean islands lost their homes and don't even have food or drinking water. Candace Woods said that on Dominica people were drinking water from rivers with straws since the supply was so low.

So, rather than pursuing a vacation with an unsatisfactory result, why not direct your tourist dollars to relief aid?

If you wish to donate money to help our friends in the diving industry and others affected by these hurricanes, go to


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