Ask any scuba diver in the Cayman Islands why they do it, and expect a faraway look as they struggle to find words for their otherworldly underwater experiences.
But ask our diving community for help – whether it be to protect their aquatic havens or assist a fellow diver – and they won’t miss a single beat or skip a single breath. For issues large and small, when trouble happens under water, our local divers jump right in to help.
Most recently, scuba divers scouted out and helped clear debris from the USS Kittiwake dive site, which was damaged during its impromptu “relocation” by Hurricane Nate.
Earlier this year, when a vacationing diver lost her wedding ring at the Kittiwake, dive staff did some sleuthing and were able to find and recover the ring. (We’ve all heard of the “needle in a haystack,” but a “wedding ring in a submarine rescue vessel”?)
United by a common passion, Cayman’s divers don’t waste time finger pointing or hand wringing; they don’t complicate problems by convening blue-ribbon panels or constructing elaborate hierarchies of committees and subcommittees. They don’t even ask for much by way of resources. They contribute what they can – be it boats, tanks, time or expertise.
They self-organize to clean trash and fishing line from the reefs they treasure. They turn do-gooding into a sport, holding lionfish culls that attract dozens of divers and help protect our ecosystem from these voracious predators. Photos of smiling divers showcasing their catch are clear evidence that the groups know how to have a good time, even as they perform good works that benefit us all.
And in more serious circumstances – on those rare but grave occasions when a swimmer, snorkeler or fellow diver goes missing – volunteer divers spread the word on social media. Those who are able to head straight for the shoreline, suit up and join the search.
Seemingly no project is too big for divers to tackle: In 2014, after a cruise ship mistakenly dropped its anchor in an unauthorized zone, crushing the pristine reef in front of Don Foster’s Dive Cayman, divers flocked to remediate the damage. Together, forming the Magic Reef Recovery Project with sustained support from the Department of Environment, divers spent more than a thousand hours underwater, painstakingly removing tons of debris from the site and rebuilding it over the course of more than a year.
With so much focus nowadays on “high-end luxury tourism,” it can be easy to forget how important the diving community has been to Cayman.
After World War II, scuba pioneers on our islands helped conceive the recreational diving industry. Today, Cayman is well-represented on lists of the world’s top places to dive, thanks to our crystalline waters, abundant natural wonders and highly respected dive operators.
Even for locals, Cayman’s diving resources are practically inexhaustible. The country has 365 named dive sites – as tourism officials like to point out – one for every day of the year.
The way that Cayman’s transient but tight-knit dive community works together to steward our underwater environment presents a model of civic responsibility and self-reliance that, among the broader general public, is worthy of admiration – and emulation.