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May 2006 Vol. 32, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Kiribati, Yeah; Kri, Nay

important updates for dive travelers

from the May, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Who says there’s no exploration diving left in the Caribbean? In January, scientists dived a 40- by 25-mile bank near Saba and found more than 200 species of fish, some previously unknown, including a goby with underside pelvic fins fused to form suckers. The Atoll’s eastern edge lies only 5 km. southwest of Saba. According to the London Independent, the bank has not been subjected to pollution, but it has been affected “by intense fishing pressure.” Unpredictable currents and winds have protected the reef, though oil supertankers use the bank as a cheap anchorage. Conservation International says the bank has “unprecedented richness of marine life,” and its vulnerable coral beds need to be protected.

Clay McCardell, who operates the Caribbean Explorer in Saba waters, told Undercurrent that he discussed the sites with several people on the expedition and said that while the scientists were fascinated with the findings, the sites they dived may be marginal for sport divers. McCardell said, “That’s not to say that there isn’t some excellent diving out there, but it’s a huge unexplored area and identifying those sites would be time-consuming and expensive. Even if sites are found, they would require a long transit and the sea conditions would have to be optimal to make it a positive experience.” He said the only wall they discovered was below Nitrox depth and the new species identified were largely similar to those known.

“. . . A visit there is a real gamble
at this time”

This brings to mind the Chinchorro Banks, off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which divers had clamored to get to for years. When day boats started in the run in the late ‘90s, traveling divers learned there are nice coral gardens and a pleasant seascape, but fishermen have harvested the sizeable fish.

Spirit of Solomons: For several years, Americans stayed away from the Solomon Islands because of unrest, but life is back to normal and the diving remains superb. If considering a trip, keep in mind the Bilikiki’s sister ship, the Spirit of Solomons, which did not make it into the 2006 Chapbook. Peter J. Maerz (Hollywood, FL), who has more than a thousand dives under his belt, reports that in November he was “blown away by the amazing abundance, diversity and health of the corals, both hard and soft. It was common to come across veritable rivers of clown fish. Many encounters with dreamily hovering lionfish, bumphead ballets with dozens of the lumbering giants expelling huge clouds of fish poop, an amazing encounter with a small whale shark, white tip, grey, and black tip sharks made many appearances. Exotica abounded: a robust pipefish, scores of nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses . . . The ship has a roomy, covered dive-staging area; a large, covered dining area is delightful for eating or hanging out. Excellent, varied and abundant food . . . Most nights were spent anchored in flat, calm lagoons with spectacular island scenery. Only four lengthy steams, and only one somewhat rough. If you’re in the bow as I was, you may find it difficult to sleep in rough seas.” 7- 14 night trips run about $320/person/night.

Grand Turk Alternative: When I was there in October, I visited the handsome Bohio Hotel, a ten-minute walk north of town. It’s smack on a beautiful beach, with kayaks and Sunfish, and it has its own dive operation. I stayed there years ago when it was the run-down Guanahani, but now it’s a good alternative to staying on Front Street, especially now with the arrival of cruise ships. Chuck Jayson (Hartland, MI) reported on his March visit. “We had a room with a kitchenette. Not all rooms are oceanfront so you have to request one. The buildings are in very good condition. My wife and I had dinner all over the island. I guarantee you will not find better food anywhere! Executive chef Zev Beck will thrill you with his creations. One neat thing is that you just might find a staff member going on a dive with you. The executive chef loves diving as much as he loves to cook. Divemasters Sage, Craig, Kel and Sunny went to great lengths to make our experience a pleasant one.”

Kri Island, West Papua, Indonesia: While the diving can be sensational, divers have always had mixed experiences at this primitive resort on the Indonesian side of Papua New Guinea. Given the high cost and travel time, do serious homework before going, says subscriber Donald Gard (Bangkok). The owner, Max Amer, is developing a new resort down the beach and Gard says “he doesn’t have time to manage the resort himself and he is unable to hold on to any manager. A visit there is a real gamble at this time.” In November, Gard said the boat had engine difficulties so they mainly dived near the resort. When they did travel to better sites the manager insisted on exploratory dives and many weren’t up to par because of damaged reefs. “All these dives were by small settlements where we stopped between dives, which seemed to be the reason for these trips. The owner may have had his crew conduct business at these places.” See the full Undercurrent review in the September 2003 issue.

Kiribati: In the 2006 Chapbook, you’ll find a report about coral bleaching in Kiribati. However, this is a big country and Scott Johnson (Palm Springs, CA) reports great dives, as we have in the past. Air Pacific makes weekly three-hour flights from Hawaii, so it’s easier to reach than Palau. “Kim Anderson, the owner of Dive Kiribati, and his staff were great! In October, I was the only diver! The diving was very good and I compare everything with Palau. On many reefs I saw two to three times the number of tropical fish than I have seen in Palau. Surgeonfish, peacock flounders, nudibranchs, giant barracudas, spotted eagle rays, snappers, Moorish idols, trevallys, mantas, octopus, dolphins, occasional sharks and I did not get to see all the big stuff in the Poland area or Bay of Wrecks. We had a few windy days and got to the sites twice, but each time I got seasick and we turned back. Unfortunately the pelagic population has been decimated due to shark finning and spear fishing for sport, which is legal. The government should do something to stop this by imposing stiff fines and jail time. Being it is a socialist government, they do not care. At Captain Cook’s Hotel the food was great but the rooms leave a bit to be desired. Make sure your travel insurance Med Vac service includes the Coast Guard, because they are the only ones who will respond within a few hours.”

I guess the government listened to Scott, at least in part, because in April an area twice the size of Portugal was declared the world’s third largest marine reserve. Commercial fishing will be banned in the 74,000-square mile area, which is home to 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish. The new reserve will include the Phoenix Islands, the Gilbert Islands and Line Islands. Conservation International and the New England Aquarium are helping set up the reserve. The 100,000 islanders may continue subsistence fishing in the park.

Grand Cayman: Many of the once-great dive operations today treat experienced divers like kids, because it’s about making money. A good example comes from Charlotte Ware (Germantown, TN) who went out with Don Foster’s in November. “The restrictions and hand-holding ruined the dives. My husband, who has over 1700 dives, and I, an advanced diver, brought our log books to show our recent dive activity. We were treated as if we were on our very first dive, and held to an 80- foot depth limit and 40 minute dive time. The divemaster said that we had to follow him, and banged his tank at me at 29 minutes to start up. I was the last one on the boat, at exactly 40-minutes dive time. The second dive was with a different divemaster, and I got about 45-minutes dive time (50 feet max depth). We are experienced certified divers with computers. We are trained to dive beyond 80 feet, and to use our computers to monitor our dive safely. I was very disappointed.” This isn’t the only dive operation on the West End of Cayman that treats divers this way. Check the Chapbook before you go.

— Ben

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