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Diving with…Mike Harterink, Scubaqua Dive Center, St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean

Caribbean DTA Team

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In this ongoing series, we speak to 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?

Mike Harterink

What is the name of your business?

Scubaqua Dive Center

What is your role within the business?

Co-owner

How long has the business operated for?

Since 1997

How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?

25 years, PADI Course Director

What is your favorite type of diving?

I love to dive off the beaten track.

If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?

The reefs surrounding St. Eustatius are flourishing in a protected marine park. Underwater you will experience what much of the Caribbean must have looked like many years ago.  Add some historical dive sites and more recently sunk wrecks to the mix and you’ve got yourself a divers paradise! And we dive how we want to dive ourselves on our vacations; small groups (6:1) and unlimited dive time.

What is your favorite dive in your location and why?

Blue bead hole is a dive site between the old harbor bay and the color full reefs, under the volcano, in the south of the island. Here you find a mix of coral heads, sandy patches, sea grass and if you are lucky: blue beads. Actually, according to the legend, the beads find you, not the other way around. Even without being found there is a fair chance you encounter some amazing critters. Pike, and sailfin blennies, juvenile angelfish and the blue beads guardians: flying gurnards.

What types of diving are available in your location?

Statia offers a huge variety in environments packed in a nutshell. Deep dives, coral gardens, historical dives, wreck, and muck dives are all in 10 to 15 minute reach.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

We have four owners here which allows me and my partners to dive with our guests on a daily basis.

What is your favorite underwater creature?

Hard to choose but one of my favorites are the turtles. We encounter both Green, and Hawksbill regularly.

As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?

Although Statia wasn’t damaged too much by last year hurricanes Irma and Maria, we stil feel the negative aftermath due to cancellations.

Is your center involved in any environmental work?

We are! All of our staff keeps a special garbage bag in their BCD in case they find some (plastic) garbage. But we do more to preserve our environment:

We collect and store rainwater to use for our rinse buckets, our toilets and showers at the dive center. The amount of water we collect covers about 80% of our needs. We installed drinking water fountains. We provide free fresh water to customers at the dive center and to divers on our boats in an effort to reduce the use of plastic bottles. We also use cups and straws made from recycled cardboard instead of plastic. We have two separate garbage bins for recycling.

We continually try to educate our divers about responsible behavior (including good buoyancy control) to protect our fragile coral reefs (no anchoring allowed, one boat per dive site, etc.).

We offer low guest-to-guide ratio (max 6:1). This gives us more control over behavior which could damage the underwater environment. We also make sure that the divers respect the established marine park rules.

How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?

Owning (or working in) a Dive Center is a labor of love. It’s crazy that for instance a Open Water certification worldwide is priced for around 400 US$. For a lot of dive centers it’s hard to keep afloat.

What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?

The moment you arrive in St. Eustatius, locally known as ‘Statia’, you immediately get that typically Statia feeling. There are no big crowds at the airport. Actually you don’t find big crowds anywhere on Statia. St. Eustatius is untouched by the big development companies. You don’t find casinos, shopping malls or worldwide fast food restaurants. What you do find is a safe and friendly island where time stood still. You can enjoy cosy restaurants and bars in Oranjestad, St. Eustatius’ one and only town. This is the place to unwind, read that book you always wanted to read, and to dive the beautiful Statia waters.

Where can our visitors find out more about your business? 

www.scubaqua.com

www.instagram.com/scubaqua_dive_center

www.facebook.com/Scubaqua-Dive-Center-STATIA-167974488162

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Jeff chats to… Dr Katey Lesneski from Coral Vita, winners of the Earthshot Prize (Watch Video)

Jeff Goodman

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Dr. Katey Lesneski, Director of Restoration Science at Coral Vita, about the future of coral reefs.

Coral Vita are the winners of the £1million Revive Our Oceans Earthshot Prize. You can read our story on this HERE.

While often mistaken as being from lower latitudes, Katey is a true New England native at heart. Escaping the winter at opportune times, Katey has volunteered, studied, and worked in Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Belize, and the Florida Keys. Her time in these communities before college, studying abroad while at Brown, and during her PhD at Boston University led her to appreciate the importance of community involvement, which she gained a deeper understanding of as a 2018 Switzer Environmental Fellow. Katey has enjoyed weaving her knowledge of coral reef conservation and management into lesson plans for when she was a middle school science teacher, a graduate Teaching Fellow, and a divemaster and assistant scuba instructor.

Katey currently works as the Director of Restoration Science at Coral Vita, where she applies her background of marine ecology and genetics to reef restoration projects. Now that she is done with her PhD she is rediscovering “free” time, and enjoys freshwater fish husbandry, plant cultivation, reading sci-fi novels, and just about any watersport. She lives with her adopted potcake pup Dogtor Pepí in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

Find out more about the work of Coral Vita at www.coralvita.co


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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The Scuba Genies head to Bonaire! Part 2 of 2

The Scuba Genies

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In the second of this two-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from the Come Dive with Us hosted trip to Bonaire in September 2021. Missed Part One? Read it here!

There is another dive we just must share with you and one that we can confidently call a ‘Dive of a Lifetime’. There were 12 of us in our group, and collectively we have logged in excess of 8000 dives in some very special places around the world. And every one of us was totally blown away by this dive! A fellow diver, by way of the Girls that Scuba FB group mentioned that if the timing was right, an ostracod dive was one not to miss. A link to an online article noted that 2 to 5 days after a full moon and 45 minutes after sunset, was the best time to observe the mating ritual of these tiny creatures. And only if they have not been exposed to light of any kind. That meant no streetlights and no torches. NO TORCHES!

We lucked out and were in Bonaire during a full moon and planned our Ostracod dive carefully. One the fifth night after the full moon we headed south to Red Beryl, a site we had previously been to and knew the terrain. We were in awe of the soft coral forest at the site, and this was the perfect environment for the ostracods. As the ‘show’ only lasts about 20 minutes, we entered the water while it was still light and left a beacon on the shore to help guide us after the dive. We gently finned out over the sand and hovered above the soft coral at around 8 metres as the dark crept in. Little sparks of light started to appear in ones and twos, and then just as we had hoped, chains of these tiny creature were all around us, in hundreds and then thousands! Everywhere you looked, the ostracods were rising to the surface, like underwater fireflies linked together flashing their bioluminescence one after the other, giving us nature’s most amazing firework show! The only way I can explain it is seeing thousands of Tinkerbells all at once! 20 minutes later, it was all over so we turned on our torches and headed slowly back to the shallows, happy to find a sleeping turtle, scorpion fish, more octopus and lots of little creatures.

As our holiday inevitably came to an end, we chose a site within minutes of Buddy’s called The Invisibles. A highly recommended dive site, we parked up alongside the beach, kitted up and walked down the rock beach and into the water. 95 minutes later, we walked back up the beach with memories of green turtles feeding, free-swimming moray, immense sponges and a plethora of anemones with their tenant critters – shrimp, crabs, and all things fascinating. And back in the sandy shallows we didn’t know where to look! A golden spotted snake eel, juvenile angel fish and a box crab that scuttled across the seabed before vanishing into the sand in a finger-click.

In summary, the diving here was very special – it truly lives up to its reputation of being one of the best destinations to visit, and in fact, over-delivered when it came to our expectations from the Caribbean. To mix it up, in addition to shore diving we also scheduled 4 days of boat diving right from the dock at Buddy’s. We were able to explore all around Klein Bonaire and reach some of the more difficult shore-entry sites including Karpata and 1,000 Steps. We would recommend this highly if only to get away from a daily dose of sand in your boots!

Buddy’s is a full-service dive operation, offering quality accommodation, good food, and the dive centre is as slick an operation as we have ever seen or experienced. The drive-thru tank station is genius for shore diving, the house reef is easily accessed, and the boat diving from the dock on one of their 5 purpose-built dive boats is organised perfectly. Catering for newbies all the way through to technical and rebreather divers, Buddy’s delivers it all, and very well. The staff are fun, highly professional, and the whole set-up is geared to making a dive trip work without any fuss. Even the shop is very well stocked with kit, spares, forgotten stuff and replacements for broken things!

Importantly, Buddy’s is also a supporter and enforcer of the Marine Park protection rules – the whole of the island is surrounded by a protected marine reserve, so no touching, no gloves, no pointy-sticks. Turtle nesting and coral regeneration programmes are evident, and given the fantastic health of the reefs, the protection initiatives and regulations work.

Would we go back? Without any hesitation, and repeatedly!

Bonaire delivered the goods. Great diving, great accommodation and freedom to dive wherever and whenever you want – especially with the tanks on the house reef available 24/7. A perfect destination for dive clubs and groups as the 3–bedroom apartments really work.

Bonaire is exceptional value for money. There are very few places on this planet where you can dive so much for so little in a great marine environment.

Key Facts:

  • Getting there: Flights with KLM to Bonaire depart from any major UK airport via Amsterdam. From London Heathrow it was a 12-hour total flight time. An extra 23kg bag also costs less than £90 return if booked in advance.
  • Air temperature: Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 31’, reasonable rainfall (passes quickly) and the sea breezes are most welcome!
  • Water temperature: 28-30°C. A 1-3mm full suit is recommended to protect from scratches and stings and to keep the sand out.
  • Visa requirement: No tourist visa was required, but under COVID there are protocols in place. See https://www.bonairecrisis.com/en/travel-to-bonaire/ for the current requirements.
  • Currency: US Dollar with ATMs easily found, and all major credit cards are accepted.
  • Electricity: 120V with American 3- and 2-pin plugs. Our US/UK converters worked without issue

Accommodation: You mention Bonaire and Buddy Dive Resort is the first place people mention. Only 10 minutes from the airport makes for a super simple transfer. Multiple room types, all with kitted out kitchens and air-conditioned bedrooms. Two pools, two restaurants, full-service dive shop and staff always around to answer questions or lend a hand.

Diving: With both world class shore and boat diving available, warm and clear water, abundant marine life, coral and sponges like you’ve never seen, what more could you ask for?

Price Guide: Expect from £1500 per person based on two sharing for 7 nights with bed and breakfast. Unlimited shore and house reef diving, Nitrox and car rental all included. Return flights and transfers also included.

Additional costs:

  • STINAPA Marine Park passes: $45 per calendar year. We purchased ours online prior to departure and carried a copy in the vehicle when shore diving.
  • Buddy Dive Vehicle Insurance: $19 per day of vehicle rental for one named driver for the duration of your stay. For an extra $5 you can name another driver for a day. This was added to the room bill, and we split the cost with the rest of our apartment.

Our Advice: Stay longer…. 10 days would be the perfect amount of time in our opinion to get the most out of the shore and boat diving. And with numerous flights during the week to choose from, any duration can easily be arranged.


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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