In this ongoing series, we speak with the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…
What is your name?
Ignacio Muñoz Avalos
What is the name of your business?
Pro Dive International – Mexico & Dominican Republic
What is your role within the business?
Base Leader at Pro Dive International at Allegro Cozumel
How long has the business operated for?
How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?
10 years as a dive professional, but it’s been almost 30 years since the first time I dove. I’m a MSDT.
What is your favorite type of diving?
I like drift diving, but also photography.
If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?
We are located in the middle of the Cozumel National Park. This premium location allows us to enjoy the best sites that Cozumel has to offer with very short boat rides. All our guides are MSDT’s so they are prepared to help both, beginner as well as very experienced divers. We group our divers depending on experience, and we maximize bottom times so that everyone that has enough air can do a long nice dive. Also we provide NITROX for free.
What is your favorite dive in your location and why?
That’s a very hard question. There are so many nice dives here. To see life and experience fast drifts I love diving in Cedral Wall. To see spectacular coral formations Palancar Caves or Bricks are a must. And of course if I want to go for a deep dive Punta Sur is amazing, especially during Eagle Ray season when lots of the congregate on that spot.
What types of diving are available in your location?
All the dives in Cozumel are drift dives. Some slow, some fast. Amount and diversity of marine life is one of the best in the Caribbean, both for small and big life. And the big coral formations of the Palancar are unique and breath-taking. We also have one nice wreck in the Park, a minesweeper from WWII.
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
The chance of meeting divers from all around the world and introduce them to one of the best diving destinations that the Caribbean has to offer. But what I really love is teaching new divers. Being able to see their smiles after their first dives is priceless.
What is your favorite underwater creature?
Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?
I wouldn’t say change, but I see there are more and more initiatives from the National park and other NGOs with research studies and other campaigns that aim to make everybody realize that we need to be more careful with how we deal and treat our oceans. Especially divers.
As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?
Having to compete with other operations that offer lower prices but whose standards are really lacking in safety for the divers. Several times we have to help divers from other dive shops that are left adrift on their own and have no clue of even the name of the boat they are diving with. Not to mention occasions in which we have to jump in with our emergency oxygen kits to help divers from other operations because their shops don’t carry O2 to save themselves a couple of extra bucks.
Is your center involved in any environmental work?
We are pushing for a plastic free dive center so we are trying to get rid of as many as possible plastic products.
How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?
I think there’s a need for more companies that put safety on top of everything else. In far too many places there aren’t enough regulations to ensure everybody follows good practices.
It’s a growing industry for sure, but more efforts are needed as an industry to protect and preserve the oceans and its ecosystems.
What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?
Cozumel is one of the best diving destinations. That’s not a discovery. But we at Pro Dive International aim to help you discover the best places, the best sites that our island has to offer. I’ve dived all over the world and there aren’t many places where you can see so much life in one dive. My record is 16 turtles between Green see, Hawksbill and Loggerhead in just one dive! And the night dives here in Cozumel are just so cool with lots of octopus, eels, snakes, huge lobsters and king crabs.
At Allegro Cozumel, we also feature the “Ultimate Dive Experience” – a VIP-Stay & Dive concept unique in the Caribbean, adopted to the specific needs of our divers.
Where can our visitors find out more about your business?
Caribbean Shark Coalition launched
Caribbean Shark Coalition launched to promote training, impact, and collaboration around shark protections in the Greater Caribbean Region
The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and Beneath the Waves (BTW) have launched the Caribbean Shark Coalition (CSC), an innovative, new platform to bring key stakeholders, researchers, governments and funders together to better collaborate and scale the impacts of science and policy within the entire Greater Caribbean region.
Represented are over 45 new members from NGOs, governments, and local businesses from 24 countries, which have formally joined the CSC to build capacity around research, policy, and education efforts for these threatened species in the region.
The Caribbean plays a key role in advancing the global target of protecting 30% of the worlds’ ocean by 2030. Under this vision, the CSC has three primary goals, which will be carried out through collaborative work and CSC-member projects. Firstly, the CSC will foster collaboration in shark and ray research, policy, and capacity building for conservation among stakeholders, and provide opportunities for knowledge transfer and data synthesis. The CSC will also seek to explore ways in which transboundary protections can be made to better safeguard the long-term health of shark and ray populations. Finally, the CSC aims to promote a sustainable future for these species as well as the human livelihoods who depend on them, by engaging local businesses, stakeholders, and private sector corporations.
“This is a historic moment for marine conservation efforts in the Caribbean,” says Tadzio Bervoets, Director of DNCA and a founding team member at the CSC. “We have been calling for transboundary marine protections in these waters, as we know that these apex predators are connecting ecosystems, reefs, fisheries, and nutrients across Exclusive Economic Zones. The CSC will help us to find and address critical knowledge gaps around sharks and rays in the region, and support collaborative research projects.”
Dr. Austin Gallagher, Chief Scientist of Beneath the Waves, shares, “Over the years we’ve had so many stakeholders from throughout the region express their interest in getting engaged in basic research or education around sharks, but a lack of resources or technical or operational expertise limited them from taking action.
He adds, “We hope The Coalition can play a role in creating that friendly, open, and supportive community those voices have been looking for.”
CSC members represent a collection of experts from NGOs, local communities, intergovernmental organizations and governments, academia, and policy institutes, and local businesses, working together to advance the study and conservation of sharks and rays found in the waters of the Greater Caribbean. The CSC will provide cross-disciplinary training, region-wide assessments, and will issue grants to CSC-member projects. The CSC will represent the interests and goals of members and, more broadly, sharks and ray species of the Caribbean at the UN (UNEP-CEP and the Regional Activity Center for the SPAW Protocols of the Cartagena Convention), IUCN-Caribbean, CITES, CMS, CBD, and other international gatherings.
For information visit www.caribbeansharks.co
Photo credit: Sami Kattan (all rights reserved)
Ground-breaking Shark Research conducted in St. Maarten waters
In April 2021 members from the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), and Beneath the Waves conducted multiple ‘scientific firsts’ as part of the “Shark Shakedown” project. The research expedition was a part of a wider research project into tiger sharks in the region funded by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-NL) through the Biodiversity Funds and the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. The researchers tagged eleven sharks, including for the first time a female pregnant tiger and endangered Caribbean reef shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The data will provide vital information for conservation strategies not only in St. Maarten, but for the wider Caribbean.
The expedition lasted five days in which three species of sharks were tagged, including tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi), and nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) all ranging from sub-adults to adults.
Participants received hands-on training with experts from Beneath the Waves in preparation for the upcoming expedition to the Saba Bank in August 2021. The goal of this upcoming expedition is to determine whether the Saba Bank is a breeding area for tiger sharks in the Eastern Caribbean. The high-definition ultrasound technology the team used was created by E. I. Medical Imaging and pioneered by collaborator Dr. James Sulikowski, of Arizona State University. This technology has successfully been used to identify maturity state and the stage of pregnancy in various shark species, a first for shark science in the region.
The scientists successfully confirmed early pregnancy stage in a large female tiger shark, as well as placed a satellite tag on the shark during the workup process. Using satellite tracking over the next few months, the scientists hope to confirm evidence of Sint Maarten being a breeding location for these globally threatened animals. In another shark tagging ‘first’, Beneath the Waves’ Chief Scientist, Dr. Austin Gallagher, placed the first camera tag on a tiger shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The team successfully recovered the camera package during the expedition, and the animal has already shown promising results regarding shark behavior in the region.
Both the satellite tag and camera tag have shown that these tiger sharks prefer to travel in the area between St. Maarten and St. Barths; however, these are only the first detections. No assumptions can be made yet regarding the movement of these animals.
The information gained from this research will provide a better understanding of the importance of both the status of sharks in Sint Maarten’s territorial waters and in the Yarari Sanctuary and the role these ecosystems play in the life-cycle of tiger sharks in the wider Caribbean region. Tiger sharks are currently categorized as Near-Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature while Caribbean reef sharks have very recently been upgraded to Endangered. Sharks play key roles in maintaining the balance within local and regional marine ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity and therefore their protection is crucial.
Follow the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance’s Facebook, Instagram (dcnanature) or DCNA’s website (https://dcnanature.org/news/) to learn more about the shark expedition and other nature news from the Dutch Caribbean.
Photo credit: © Sami Kattan/Beneath the Waves (all rights reserved)