Plea to allow diving again 

Dear Governor’s Office and Cayman Islands government,

I want to start by thanking you for your bold and decisive actions taken early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. Like myself, many – if not most – people in the Cayman community supported your precautions.

Obviously, as these measures started to drag on, a certain wear and tear, a numbness, a feeling of desperation has sneaked in. Increasingly, milestones got stretched in stark contrast to the successes booked in the fight against the community spread of COVID-19.

Since there is plenty of scientific research and advice published by organisations throughout the world who have a deep understanding of diving physics, logistics, operations and medical aspects, let us skip that part.

The matter of fact is that (in non-COVID times) a significant portion of stayover tourists fly to these islands because of the beautiful diving it offers. 

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Running a diving operation in Cayman is very expensive for the owners. The dive staff – contrary to what some may think – earn a modest income for long days of exhausting labour. Dive staff do not choose this job to become rich; they do so because they have a love and dedication to the oceans, the environment, to sharing their passion with and helping others. Due to the high cost to run their dive operations, many – if not all – dive operations are on the verge of bankruptcy. Some have already announced they will never reopen, period.

This has the potential to become a snowball effect as a large portion of stayover tourists would – when Cayman’s borders reopen someday – prefer to go elsewhere instead of their beloved Cayman Islands. This vast group of loyal returning customers come for diving, and diving alone.

All of the above has the potential to eradicate Cayman’s diving industry altogether which, in turn, could substantially affect the number of annual stayover tourists in Cayman for years to come.

Diving also has a therapeutic effect, a very welcome stress relief after the long lockdown and curfews people have gone through – and are still going through. 

So often the panel of the press conferences stresses mental health, yet the most obvious cure for many locals on island lies right in front of everyone: the ocean.

Early on, the government favoured the local fishing community and allowed them even to go out on boats the whole day long, at first only with two persons, now with up to six persons. These scenarios are far more susceptible to transmitting SARS-CoV2 than SCUBA diving.

Divers, especially Cayman’s local divers, are very procedural and assess risk mitigation at key points of their dive, pre- and post-diving included. Odd as it may seem, divers tend to avoid socialising during their activity. Seldom will you see divers congregate in large groups.

Underwater they are social distancing. Not that it would matter as there is a general global acceptance that SARS-CoV2 cannot survive in salt water.

Just like the many businesses opening up again, the Cayman dive industry needs the revenue from the local community urgently, now more than ever.

In the spirit of the explanation the honourable premier gave the public on ‘why no diving’, it doesn’t make sense to allow snorkelling as that involves even more saliva and the air breathed is ambient, unlike the clean and isolated personal air from a SCUBA tank.

As such, this reasoning is unfounded, which can easily be proven by scientists in the know (like the Divers Alert Network).

Prohibiting diving in the context of the current relaxations is not only counterproductive; it is also discriminatory to a large group of people/professionals contributing to the revenues of the Cayman Islands, both directly and indirectly. 

Even though the chief medical officer made a sincere attempt to clarify the reasoning, the team might not have been informed correctly. 

Dive operators are still not allowed to open up for kerbside pickup of dive tanks for local divers having their own gear. Instead, government asks for – in theory – another three weeks of patience, though this additional delay could potentially be the make-or-break for some dive operations. 

They also didn’t confirm when the next change in regulations will happen, leaving many in doubt because a partial opening up of the dive industry might get delayed beyond these three weeks.

It is certainly very demotivating to a vast loyal part of the Cayman community. 

Enjoying the oceans is very soothing for the mind and improves the physical condition of the body, be it by boating, fishing, swimming, snorkelling or diving.

All these activities should be exercised with caution and common sense during these strange times. Excluding one or the other, especially lacking any valid scientific reason why, might be considered as a provocation to that excluded community which could result in unfortunate and unintentional long-term consequences.

Full disclosure: 

I am an extreme wildlife cinematographer, filming mostly on the Arctic and underwater. I am a highly trained professional diver knowing the ins and outs of many aspects of diving.

In my nearly 12 years of being a full-time resident of the Cayman Islands, I have never had any local business nor commercial interests. I only contributed to the wellbeing of the Cayman community. As such, my plea to open up SCUBA diving is not a personal favour but a call for justness and a solidarity support of one of the most important pillars of Cayman’s stayover tourism.

At this point in the Cayman Islands, diving can be done in a proper way, mitigating the risk of SARS-CoV2 transmission, especially since most local divers have their personal dive gear.

Respectfully, and Happy World Oceans Day.

Michael Maes

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  1. I have been diving on Cayman for about 25 years with about 2,000 of my 4,100-plus dives on Cayman. This letter hits it right on the head. Cayman brings in over $70 million from scuba tourism. I assume that does not include the millions we spend on condos. There is NO rational reason why I can go fishing on a boat with 6 people I do not know or sit at a table and eat with 6 people I do not know, but I can’t dive all by myself under the water, safe from virus and disease.