Dive master, resort manager, author and marine conservationist Gay Morse is about to celebrate 30 years of living a dream, three decades as one of Cayman’s most celebrated dive personalities.
At Pirates Point Dive Resort on Little Cayman, she has many responsibilities, everything from book work to bartender to boat captain, but none of it she considers a burden.
She is the archetype of the old saying “find a job you love … and you never have to work a day in your life.”
Ms. Morse moved to Grand Cayman in 1985 to work for Don Foster’s Dive. A few years later, the owner of Pirates Point, Gladys Howard, offered Ms. Morse and her husband Ed a job as dive masters.
To the average repeat vacationer, not much has changed on Little Cayman in the last 30 years. It would be fair to say that the stagnant development is one of the reasons why so many visitors to the island are repeat customers: They don’t want change – the traffic-free roads and reefs are what they traveled thousands of miles for. Ms. Morse, however, said she had seen the changes – the growth has been unhurried, but for a resident very noticeable.
She recalls the days of three weekly flights, no grocery store and no power plant, and each dive resort was self-sufficient. Pirates Point, McCoys Lodge and the Southern Cross club all had their own generators, as did the few private homes on the island. At the time, rain was caught for water. Today the resort has a desalination plant that can pump out around 3,000 gallons of fresh water per day. Even with that, guests are reminded to conserve.
The entire staff at Pirates Point understands the importance of maintaining a healthy environment. Cataclysmic volcanic activity over 60 million years and an accident of nature helped create the rich dive environment of Little Cayman. Ms. Morse recalls that in the early years, many of the visiting divers had already tallied numerous dives – 500-plus was not uncommon – before their stay at the resort.
Now that Little Cayman is on the map, the resorts mainly cater to very experienced divers. The Cousteaus declared Little Cayman’s waters to be among the top three diving sites in the world.
“I believe it is up to the dive operators to educate our visitors on how precious this place is and try to make them better divers so there is the least amount of impact on the reef as possible,” said Ms. Morse. “Even homeowners who rent out their condos or houses on the island have a responsibility to educate their guests.
“So far, development has produced about a home or two a year and some condos. As long as big hotels stay away, I think the island can remain quaint and the reefs can continue to flourish,” she said.
One big challenge she and other dive professionals have faced in recent years is the potentially catastrophic invasion of lionfish on the local reefs.
“When the lionfish invasion started in 2008/2009, the invasive, destructive species started depleting our fish life rather quickly, so we put our heads together and set up a weekly cull,” she said. “Each dive operator donated a boat, meaning we have four dive operators donating their boat one week out of the month and we go out and hunt the nasty intruders down.
“The plan worked. We now have back a very healthy reef, with very few lionfish. We do this on our own time; I feel that is my way of giving back to the community that has been so much a part of my life.”
She described her 30 years on the island as a roller coaster, with many more ups than downs. In her book “So You Want to Live on an Island,” she sets the record straight for those dreamers who think that being a scuba instructor or dive master on a tropical island is the world’s most desirable job. She tells the real story, relating tales of a diver who tries to wear his toupee underwater, or the snorkeler who loses his dentures.
Ms. Morse concedes that the most impressive feats are accomplished by groups of people, not individuals. She knows that all the dive masters, chefs, housekeepers and maintenance crew and, of course, Ms. Howard, are the Pirates Point team, and that with a good team, even on a small far-flung island, you always have someone by your side.
She is not planning anything special for her 30th “on-the-island” fête, as her everyday challenges will go on as usual, and that’s celebration enough.