Archive for April, 2013

My name is Alex. I’m a biologist. I’ve wanted to be a diver since I was 8 years old when I was rummaging in the basement one day and uncovered a mildewy copy of a book by Hans Hass. Hans Hass is famous as a pioneer of under water colour photography. Sharks, stingrays, morays and giant mussels filled every page, and from that moment I was hooked!

One of the books that captured my imagination

One of the books that captured my imagination

So when people now ask me, “Why Carriacou?”, my answer is the same – from the first dive, I just loved this place – like that 8 year old back then, I was hooked! You see, I’m a dive guide and instructor now – after years of half-hearted office careers, I have finally come full circle, and I’m that person now that I wanted to be when I was a child. I love Carriacou – it’s homely and cozy and quiet – and I love sharing its treasures with people. Carriacou is like what the Caribbean used to be like years and years ago, both above and below the surface.

Above the surface you will find relaxed life, small shops and bars, a few hotels and restaurants, nothing of the overblown scale on some other Caribbean islands. Carriacou doesn’t go in for tourism or glitziness big style – fewer than a couple of thousand tourists find their way here each year, and only a fraction of them are divers. There are no cattle boats here. Don’t let that mislead you though – under water is pandemonium!

These small fish are a regular sight on the reef

These small fish are a regular sight on the reef

As you drop below the surface, aquatic life proliferates everywhere you look. A thousand creole wrasse make their way busily along the reef – a ribbon of blue purple fish swimming three abreast. I’m guiding the dive, so I stop to let them past. As we’re in their element I feel that they have right of way here. The adult creole wrasse are followed by a disordered school of pale blue juveniles, all mixed up with some hundred or so brown chromis that have decided to come along for the ride. These guys are what I call the usual suspects – they are everywhere on the reef, like a huge flock of small greyish brown birds, busying themselves picking minuscule fragments out of the water.

Then there are the tomtates and the smallmouth grunts bunching together, and, as a school of redfin parrotfish passes, it makes such a beautiful picture, I turn to my guest divers, with a gesture that says, “Look – look all around you! Isn’t that beautiful!” It’s hard to signal something like this – I settle for a sweeping gesture, which leaves me hovering, arms wide, but I think my meaning must have got through, because both my divers stop, look and nod enthusiastically.

The chain moray is one of the most beautiful of the moray eels!

The chain moray is one of the most beautiful of the moray eels!

As we carry on along the reef wall, one of the divers stops, then bangs on her tank. She has found a chain moray – it’s black with yellow chain-like markings – one of the most beautiful of the moray eels! As we approach it withdraws into its hole in the reef, but as we wait patiently the head reappears, mouth opening and closing. This is not a sign of aggression, but simply the way the eel breathes.

As I look around, I see that the eel shares its portion of the reef with others: a cleaning goby perches on one side of the eel’s retreat, and I can see two red banded coral shrimp and a tiny tiny Pederson shrimp nearby – a macro village. A little bit further on I spot the waving antennae of a lobster. I bang my tank to get my divers’ attention and waggle two fingers above my forehead. As we come closer we realise that we have found a lobster family – we count one, two, three… eight lobsters, all different sizes, from a giant granddaddy to a juvenile less that 4 inches long. We pass on from the lobsters and I see a flash of blue – there it is again… a queen triggerfish, turning and posing. These beautiful fish look like they are the work of an artist.

At this point, I feel a tug on my fin. One of my divers has reached half a tank – it’s time to turn around and make our way back to the boat. I lead the turn and ascend to a shallower depth.

At 10 meters (33 feet) we are near the reef top now, and new vistas open up: ferns, dotted here and there with flamingo tongues, small princess and stoplight parrotfish.

The distinctive shape of the tail of the nurse shark means that they can be easy to spot!

The distinctive shape of the tail of the nurse shark means that they can be easy to spot!

Visibility is good today, and some way away I can see a large porcupine fish rapidly retreating. I turn back and scan the reef beneath me – now, here is a familiar shape!

Before the thought has fully formed in my mind, I’m already banging on my tank: the shape that has caught my attention is the tail of a nurse shark, asleep in a crevice in the reef. Nurse sharks can grow up to 10 feet long, and this one’s a big guy – no worries though, because these sharks don’t have any teeth – their diet consists mostly of crustaceans. I can tell everybody is really excited by the shark – lots of bubbles are swirling away above us!
At this point I check my divers’ air one last time – 60 bar, not bad. I see a familiar expanse of finger coral stretching away like rolling hills and I know we’re not far from the mooring. I look up to the surface and see the reassuring shape of our boat. I turn to my divers and signal for a safety stop – I see a moment of resignation on their eyes, but hey, even the best dives have to end! We have been in the water for 55 minutes averaging around 15 meters (50 feet) in depth.

Finger coral stretching away like rolling hills

Finger coral stretching away like rolling hills

As we come up everybody is really excited.

“Did you see the shark?”

“How many lobsters??!”

“Oh my God, that was awesome!!!”

Everyone goes a little bit quiet at this point, as if only just realising that this was the last dive, and tomorrow afternoon they will be flying home. Still, by the time we get back to the dive centre, plans are already being made to come back, and we say “See you next year!” when we say goodbye. After they’ve left I sit down to log my dive, looking out at the sunlight glinting on the sparkling blue sea, and I think just how much I love my job!

I ♥ diving!

I ♥ diving!


If you want to find out more about diving on Carriacou, you can visit our website at
www.deeferdiving.com

Or if you are interested in becoming a dive guide and instructor yourself, you can find more information at www.deeferdiving.com/padipro.html

Its April the 1st, and I’m sitting on the beach reflecting on the day that’s just past.  This is no April fool, but it has been a great Monday.

Snow in the UK on April 1st 2013

Snow in the UK on April 1st 2013

The first thing that I reflect upon, being that I am originally from the UK, is that on this April 1st there is widespread snow at home.  Temperatures are sub-zero and all of my friends are asking ‘when is winter going to end?’.   In Carriacou, by contrast, the day had clear blue skies and a calm turquoise blue sea.  The temperature was a good 28 degrees centigrade and there was a cooling breeze blowing in from the North.  A typical day on this tiny Caribbean Island, and pretty damn perfect (if you ask me).

Although it was a public holiday today, we opened the dive shop as usual at 8am and started to prepare for today’s dives.  We had a booking from a small group of first year veterinary students from St George’s University in Grenada. The group was a mixture of fairly experienced Advanced Open Water divers and a couple of newly certified’s with only 4 dives to their names.  So this Monday morning started like many other Monday mornings….

With the boat loaded with tanks, equipment and divers we headed out.  Did I mention that the sea was calm and blue?  It was a short trip out of Hillsborough to one of my favourite dive sites – ‘Whirlpool’.  Now I didn’t name the dive site, else I would never have called it ‘Whirlpool’, but its one of my favourites because its like 4 dives in 1, and consistently very good.  As we moored up I gave the briefing and let our little group in for what we had planned….

John D Wacka @ Whirlpool

The dive commenced with a gentle decent onto the coral  garden and then dropping down the wall to 18 meters (60ft).  The wall was alive with marine life, lobsters, shrimps, schools of chub and chromis, creole wrasse and trumpet fish.  The soft coral swayed slowly in the current.  Its a pretty wall, vibrant with colours and protected from the strong northerly currents by Mabouya island.  The fish love it, which means the divers love it.

After a few minutes, from out of the blue, a gloomy shape starts to form.  At first just a dark flirtation, before it draws in more substance and structure.  As we get closer the shape morphs into one of the wrecks that lie off our shores.  The wreck here is the John D Wacka, a small tugboat which was deliberately sunk a an artificial reef in 1998.  It was badly beaten up by Hurricane Lennie in 1999 and now lies at 24m (75ft).  Its a great nursery for Sargeant Majors, small mouth grunts and tomtates, and is a wonderful experience for the newly certified divers (as we hover above it at 18m).

We leave the wreck and head back to the wall, making our way  swiftly to a shallower depth.  We continue to marvel in nature’s structures as we look at tall and broad hard coral towers, mini cities to a myriad of marine creatures.  Ahead there is a small sandy channel which I lead the group into.  I turn to see the look of amazement in the divers faces as we move into a large patch of volcanic bubbles.  These bubbles are what gives ‘whirlpool’ its name and change this dive from a nice one, to a great one!  The bubbles are a vent from the nearby Kick-em Jenny volcano, and give us the impression of diving through a champagne glass.  The sulphur rich bubbles attract Jacks and Mackerels which swim around us in a frenetic pattern, darting this way and that around us.

220px-Spotted_Eagle_Ray_(Aetobatus_narinari)2

Spotted Eagle Ray @ Mabouya

With air getting low, we made the turn and started to head back towards the boat.  The return was quite a simple affair, keeping close to the huge boulders which make up the ‘Boulder Garden’ and skirting the sand channels.  We saw a lobster colony with perhaps 8 or 9 small lobsters crowding under a single rocky crag, trunk fish and a huge porcupine fish (staring at us as though in shocked bewilderment).  As we crested the final rise before hitting the mooring we witnessed the most beautiful sight of the morning.  Ahead, no more than 2m away, was a fully grown spotted eagle ray, gliding effortlessly down the channel.  It saw us approach and instead of fleeing into the blue it completed a hard banking maneuver to the left and wheeled around to pass us again.  Checking out the curious group with the bubbles.

Excitedly we returned to the boat with many ‘wow’s’ and ‘did you see’s?’ and a group of very enthralled divers.  Seeing the sights of the dive, but more importantly seeing the faces of the divers at the end is what makes this job the best one in the world and reminds me that I love my Monday mornings in this office!

If you’re interested in diving with us, or would like to learn to dive, come and check out our diving options at http://www.deeferdiving.com/carriacoudiving.html