I have been really lucky to be able to do a few dive trips this year to the seamounts (deep reef formed by underwater mountain ranges) called Roatan Banks, which is located halfway between Roatan and Cayos Cochinos (a group of islands located between Roatan and the mainland of Honduras). This is a relatively unexplored area and you are basically guaranteed a fantastic dive, with loads of fish, current, and amazing, healthy, vibrant coral. We’ve been lucky enough to spot sharks and massive eagle rays, as well as large schools of creole wrasse, southern sennet and horse-eye jack.
(Huge thanks to my talented friends Kieran at West Bay Divers [photos watermarked ‘Scuba Kieran’] and Martin at Sun Divers [photos watermarked ‘Sun Divers’] for the photos! I’m sure I’ll get an underwater camera again eventually…)
It sounds fabulous right?
So why don’t I want to tell you about it?
Reef protection and conservation is very important for divers. When scuba divers take their first certification course, among a lot of other information, they learn about sensitive reef environments and what a diver’s responsibility is in those environments. We teach our students “no touch, no take, if you have to stand – stand on sand” until they are probably sick of hearing it. We hone their buoyancy skills so they are not kicking the coral with their fins. We remind photographers that it’s not okay to put even one finger down to get a shot – if you can’t get it without touching the reef, you can’t get it. We tell all our certified divers before we take them out diving about the Roatan Marine Park rules and regulations, and if they continually break the rules we do not take them diving any more.
I don’t want to tell you about the seamounts because even in the few years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen what diver pressure (the volume of divers on a reef, plus diver contact with the reef) can do to a coral reef environment. Roatan and Utila do not look the same underwater as they did 5, 10 or 20 years ago. It’s incredibly sad to talk to some of the local divemasters who have been working here for 20+ years as they wistfully describe what the reef used to look like before we were dumping hundreds and hundreds of divers EVERY DAY on it.
I don’t want to tell you about the seamounts because there’s always a dive guide who doesn’t care what his divers are doing or is only looking for a tip. They won’t reprimand divers who are kicking coral or chasing/touching a turtle to get a Facebook profile photo. I recently saw a dive guide from a large resort here as our groups crossed underwater. His diver was trying to get a photo of a turtle, and as the guide was watching the diver got closer and closer to a barrel sponge until he eventually kicked a 400+ year old barrel sponge to shreds. I shot over as I saw what was happening but I couldn’t reach him in time (his divemaster could have). I gave the divemaster the universal WHAT THE FUCK!? sign underwater and he just shrugged, turned around, and kept on leading his dive. My divers were horrified.
I don’t want to tell you about the seamounts because there’s too many divers who think they are way better underwater than they actually are. I can’t tell you about the number of times I have had the discussion with divers about not touching or kicking the reef over and over again and they won’t acknowledge it and then continue to do it – either out of their complete lack of spatial awareness or poor eyesight or not wanting to take the time and money for a buoyancy course.
I don’t want to tell you about the seamounts because they are stunning. And I’ve seen far too many things here get ruined by those looking to make an extra buck. This year we’ve seen an explosion of trips to the seamounts and so far it’s just been Roatan dive instructors getting together and chartering boats to make the trip and I would like to think that with our marine park training and our thousands of dives on our reefs, that we have been extremely careful visitors. However, when we all get home and post these incredible photos of our trips, naturally others want to go and dive shops are picking up on this. I doubt it will be long before this is a regularly offered trip at shops.
Here’s what I’m asking of you if you go to the seamounts:
Please, please, please – HONESTLY assess your diving skills, or better yet, ask your divemaster if they think you’re up to snuff. There are no mooring lines for ascents and descents at the seamounts, and no sandy patches to get yourself sorted out in before you start your dive. It’s not for beginner divers. (Sorry, it’s just not.) If you can’t dive without kicking the coral or putting your hand down, do the reef a favor and don’t go until you’ve got the skills. I strongly believe the onus should be put on the dive shops to only take competent divers, and not just whoever has the $100 to go, but divers should also be realistic about their diving abilities.
Do not support dive shops or dive guides who allow their divers to break marine park rules at any time on a dive. Please don’t take away a dive guide’s tip for him enforcing the rules – he’s doing his job and doing it right. (This is especially important for local divemasters, many of whom feel pressured to let customers do what they want as they often feel at a disadvantage socioeconomically, so are nervous to reprimand them.) Don’t tell the divemaster you’ll give him ‘a little something extra’ if he lets you pet a shark, or stupid shit like that. Be a responsible diver and encourage other divers in your group to do the same.
Make sure you go out with a well-maintained boat that has an experienced captain, a working GPS that the captain and divemaster both know how to use, emergency equipment on board in good condition (the seamounts are a very long way from help), a working marine radio (cell phone reception is spotty), a divemaster who knows that particular seamount well and ensure your personal equipment is in good working order – double check weight systems to make sure you don’t drop any weights.
If you go, please treat the area with the respect it deserves. It’s one of the last ones we have around here like it so let’s keep it that way.
Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter … there’s lots of extras posted there that don’t make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I’m on Bloglovin’, so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there’s that.