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February 2020    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 46, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Belize, Little Cayman, the Conflict Islands

bedbugs, tiny bunks, and an unknown gem

from the February, 2020 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Perhaps the last thing a traveling diver ever thinks about is bedbugs, so you can imagine Laurie McNeill's (Longmont, CO) surprise when which she discovered that the critters infested three cabins aboard the Komodo Aggressor in December. She is now on a three-month diving trip traveling throughout Asia, and says she "can't get rid of them." Not a trip souvenir we'd like to bring home. Anyhow, she said the crew, the food, and the diving were great.

If you're looking for a Caribbean land-based operation with good diving, consider Blackbird Caye Resort on Belize's Turneffe atoll. Our readers have always sung its praises, and S.D. Jackson (Orem, UT), who was there in December, reports "It is under new management, which is investing in new cabanas, equipment, etc., and have assembled an impressive team, all experienced, skilled, and with a friendly attitude." And, he liked the diving. "We saw large eagle rays on most every dive. Stingrays and rough tail rays were common. Large white spotted file fish, hogfish, and parrot fish were plentiful. The stars were the spotted toadfish, bur-fish, and mating squid. At two dives at Lighthouse Reef, we had some of the best diving in this hemisphere: exceptional, pristine coral reefs with plenty of wildlife including large, inquisitive gray reef sharks.

We wrote about the small Belize resort, Itza Lodge, on Long Caye, an hour-and-a-half's boat ride from Belize City, in April 2016. The 20-room lodge is off the radar for most divers, but Eric Williamson (Bozeman, MT) visited in January -- for a repeat visit -- and says "It definitely has location in its favor. It is only a 10-minute boat ride to Half Moon Caye National Park, though our dives there were not any better than the excellent dives on West side of Long Caye. Elvis is the lodge manager, gear buyer, divemaster, fishing guide. His personality is a lot of bluster and baloney, but he is a capable, attentive divemaster. The rental gear seems good, although the weight in my wife's integrated BCD fell out at 60 feet; Elvis got to her as she began to rise and held on to her for the rest of the dive. The dive boats are fine, with good ladders. As a result of divers spearing lionfish, Elvis has discovered that thumping his spear against coral calls in sharks. I was thrilled but a bit uneasy when they kept coming straight at us, only swerving at about eight feet! We saw many species of grouper -- some close to 300 pounds -- snapper, and jacks, lots of barracuda, a fair number of lobsters, and green and spotted morays. Reef health seems to be good by present Caribbean standards."

One doesn't have to stay at a hotel to enjoy Little Cayman diving. Marc Pothier, with his wife Sabine, has for nearly two decades been competently running Paradise Villas and still is, even after the properties changed hands three years ago. For John C. Daly (McLean, VA), it offered an excellent respite from Virginia's January weather. " Paradise Villas is six duplex villas on the sea, each with a kitchenette. The Hungry Iguana restaurant is on site, as is Little Cayman Divers (formerly Conch Club Divers). The operation became part of the Dart Group (a developer on Grand Cayman) three years ago, and the pool has been replaced, the restaurant upgraded, the villa kitchens and baths renovated, and the grounds improved.";

Not all of our readers want dedicated dive resorts, preferring all-inclusive resorts where div-ing is just one of many activities John Kirkenir (Cranbury, NJ) chose Sandals Grande St. Lucian in Saint Lucia for a December trip "We've done three Sandals trips and dove as many times as we could on all the trips Overall, Sandals' diving is a great experience " But, one troubling aspect of his trip to St Lucia was "the presence of fish traps on several dives, in areas that were full of dive and snorkel boats One trap obviously hadn't been attended in days, with lots of dead fish including a large green moray and a small nurse shark It was heartbreak-ing to see These traps were dumped right on top of coral with no regard to the reef I won't go back to dive St Lucia until I hear they've come up with a better plan so that fishermen and divers have their areas respected and outlined " Truth is, St Lucia has several marine sanctuaries, while regulated, locals may fish in many And just because there is regulation, doesn't mean there is much enforce-ment.

Our reporter aboard the Quino de Guardian in the Sea of Cortes (January 2020) had a tough time sleeping in the tiny bunks and estimated them to be but 21" wide; the boat's marketing representative wrote to say they are actually 27" inches. Regardless of the exact size, our writer says "the issue is comfort. A male diver told me he could only sleep on his side; otherwise, his shoulder hung way over the edge. The guys from NY were big and often slept in the salon. I sleep on my back, but if I wanted to roll on my side, I had to be careful not to roll out." In the U.S., the standard bunk bed size is 39" by 75," while 36" is considered a narrow bunk bed, and according to many sources, that is "Small, for one child; a good selection for pre-teens." Twenty-seven-inch bunks just don't make it for mature adults.

We rarely run material from a diving business, so we must have a special reason. We do: the Conflict Islands in Papua New Guinea. So far as I can remember, no subscriber to Undercurrent has ever mentioned them. But subscriber Terry Smith of Docklands, Australia, who runs Pelagic Dive Travel, took a visit on his own dime in support of the turtle sanctuary there and then decided to run a few trips there to help the islands gain a little attention, ostensibly to preserve the unspoiled environment -- and since they are so difficult to get to, only divers hell-bent on finding a new destination will give it a go. Here is his report.

"Located in the pristine waters of the Coral Sea, 21 islands comprise the Conflict Islands, which boast some of the most extensive coral reef biodiversity in the world. They're home to everything from the tiny ghost pipefish to huge manta rays and tiger sharks. Irai Island was found to have 'second-best coral in the world.'

"The steppingstone to the Conflict Islands is Alotau, a 1.15-hour flight from Port Moresby, then a 19-hour steam aboard the Underwater Explorer. On Panasesa Island, I met the managers, avid scuba divers. The resort is well-appointed, with waterfront bungalows and its own dive shop. During two weeks, I visited many spectacular sites, with never any "bad" diving, with visibility over 100-feet (one was 50-feet) and the water a mild 26C (79F). At Nicky's Fan Club, we drifted into the lagoon between Panaboal Island and Ginara Island, with a maximum depth of 85-feet, past enormous and colorful swaying gorgonian sea fans. Beluga, off Irai Island, had a ledge at eight meters, then sloped down into the depths with fish and colourful soft corals. I swam up through cracks and around large boulders covered in corals and sea grapes. Tuna and turtles visited us. The clownfish and other life in the shallow reefs were abundant. A site off Panasesa Island had tuna and barracuda in the depths; on the ledge, the coral covering looked like lawns -- soft corals, hard corals all healthy and thriving. Turtles swim past (some fly past as they are not used to divers) with green and hawksbill the most common. They lay their eggs from November to late February."

There is the Conflict Island Turtle Conservation Initiative (CICI) to help the turtles Local rangers go out at night to keep an eye on the nesting turtles (turtle is still eaten in these islands). |

And with that, we wish you well on your next diving trip, wherever it will take you. And, as my mother used to say, "good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite."

- Ben Davison

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