Sea Turtles: Protecting the Beloved Symbol of the Cayman Islands

Nesting season highlights the need to protect sea turtles now and focuses the community’s attention on what needs to be done for the future 

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Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands (Oct 21, 2013) – An encounter with a sea turtle is always high on the wish list of every visiting diver to the Cayman Islands, and they are very rarely disappointed.  The sea creature recognized as the national symbol of the Cayman Islands almost always makes an appearance during a dive, sometimes more than once, fulfilling expectations like those set by Karina Erickson, a frequent guest at Sunset House and passionate sea turtle lover.

“A dive trip is not complete without a turtle on every dive, so when the divemasters ask what we want to see, my immediate reaction is turtles!” she says. “On my last trip to Grand Cayman I saw a turtle at every dive site.”

Two types of sea turtle live in Cayman waters year-round: hawksbill turtles and green turtles. Juvenile hawksbills live on the coral reefs and are often seen by scuba divers and snorkelers. Green turtles live on the seagrass beds of the lagoons inside the reef.  Divemasters say they can count on spotting at least one sea turtle per dive to keep guests happy, and sometimes, as many as four turtles swim by to check out the excited divers.

“Close encounters with turtles big, or small, always put a smile on our diver’s faces,” says Red Sail Sports’ Debbie Wragg.  “As divemasters we urge our divers to enjoy their turtle interactions passively – no chasing, and definitely no touching!”

Co-worker Sarah White adds that the rules of turtle protection are covered during dive briefings. “No touching, teasing or harassing – when the rules are briefed then there isn’t an issue,” she says. “Our main concern is divers wanting to touch the turtles, who are happy to hang around.”

“From young ones to old timers that weigh 400 pounds, there is nothing more special than diving with a turtle,” agrees Divetech’s Nancy Easterbrook, who has enjoyed plenty of them over the past 20 years. “They are not fussed about divers if we stay slow and calm, and let them carry out their business as usual.”

At sea, turtles play a critical role in keeping Cayman’s reefs in balance. As sponge-eaters, hawksbills keep sponges from overwhelming slow-growing hard corals. Green turtles also help the marine environment by grazing on seagrass beds. Divemasters share this tip with divers who want to see a turtle: find a Leathery Sponge (their favorite snack) and look for a circling Angel Fish, a turtle won’t be far away.

“The turtle eats the outside skin of the sponge and the Angel Fish eats the soft center of the sponge – a perfect partnership on the reef,” says Ocean Frontiers’ Steve Broadbelt. “My personal favorites are the Loggerheads which can grow to dinosaur proportions. When they loom out of the deep towards you, it takes a moment to comprehend what you are about to cross paths with.”

Since 2000 the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) has been capturing, tagging, and releasing turtles in Cayman waters to determine population size, migration patterns, growth rates, habitat use and diving behavior. Data collected with time depth recorders and acoustic tags shows that hawksbill and green turtles dive deeply on the Cayman wall, sometimes as deep as 300 ft. By using the turtles’ DNA as a kind of genetic bar-code, DOE has also discovered that young hawksbill turtles in Cayman hatched on beaches in Central America, Mexico, and the Eastern Caribbean. This means young turtles have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles by the time they reach Cayman, critical information in protecting the migrating sea turtles.

“We have discovered that Cayman hawksbills grow slowly and may live in Cayman waters for over 15 years, so they benefit from our protection during this vulnerable period in order to survive to adulthood,” says Dr. Janice Blumenthal, DOE Research Officer. “Juvenile hawksbills from across the Caribbean use our waters as a nursery habitat – but as they near maturity, they seem to leave, bound for faraway foraging grounds.”

Turtles are iconic in the Cayman Islands, and they have played a significant role in its history. During sea turtle nesting season, May – November, the local community’s focus turns to protecting the beloved creatures. DOE manages an effective turtle-nesting beach monitoring program that raises awareness and educates the public on what needs to be done to protect them.

Historically, four types of sea turtles were found in Cayman waters – green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback turtles. It is believed at one time millions of green turtles nested here, the largest number in the Atlantic. Christopher Columbus, who discovered the islands in 1503, called them “Las Tortugas” because of the abundant sea turtles. Commercial harvesting decimated Cayman’s turtle populations to the point of extinction, but they have gradually made a comeback. In 1998, the DOE began surveying beaches to identify turtle nests and document nesting trends.

“The first years of monitoring showed that leatherback nesting was locally extinct, and likely lost to us forever, but extremely small numbers of green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles persisted,” says Dr. Blumenthal. “Since that time, hawksbill nesting has continued to hover at the edge of extinction, but loggerhead and green turtle populations have begun to show signs of recovery – increasing from less than 30 nests when DOE monitoring began in 1998 to more than 300 nests this year.” Dr. Blumenthal says DOE was encouraged to document a number of hawksbill turtle nests this year, but they have yet to see leatherbacks make a return to Cayman’s beaches. While turtle populations on reefs are thriving and nesting sea turtles have made a comeback in Cayman, they still face many threats.

Dive operators and beachfront hotels are at the forefront of both land and sea conservation efforts.  On the beach, development threatens nesting turtles because light pollution disorients baby turtles – they often end up on dangerous roads instead of the sea. Many beachfront hotels and other developments turn off lights on the beach during the summer, and the DOE promotes the use of “turtle friendly lighting” designed to meet the needs of property owners without impacting nesting or hatching turtles. Because more properties are participating in protecting turtle nests and improving survival chances for the hatchlings, there are increased opportunities for low-season ecotourism. When nests start hatching, visitors lucky enough to witness the event cheer the hatchlings on as they begin their dangerous journey to the sea. Mysteriously, female turtles who survive into adulthood will someday return to nest on the same beach where they were born.

In the ocean, the biggest threat to turtles is trash – particularly entanglement in discarded fishing line. Dive operators play a key role in protecting turtles on reefs by regularly collecting fishing lines during dives and organizing reef cleanups. On Little Cayman, the Southern Cross Club organizes two island-wide beach clean-ups in advance of nesting season to help the turtles, and then they encourage resort staff, guests and residents to walk the beaches to find and monitor nests.

“With so many nests here on Little Cayman, we feel it is essential for the whole community to come together to support this project, and together, do all we can to protect our turtles,” says General Manager Jennifer Mills.

Dive operators have also participated in tracking turtles: “We’ve sponsored a satellite tracking device for a loggerhead sea turtle name Leonie, and more recently, supported the release of a farmed yearling green turtle named Sophie,” says Steve Broadbelt, General Manager of Ocean Frontiers. “We also report any unusual sightings, such as the rare one last year of leatherback turtles mating on the surface of the water – our dive staff spotted a female with two males fighting over her.”

Dr. Blumenthal says it is important to understand that sea turtles need protection everywhere.

“Because they are highly migratory, sea turtles face threats throughout their life-cycle – on the nesting beach (as eggs, hatchlings, and adults), in the open ocean, and on their feeding grounds here in the Cayman Islands,” she says. “Our management decisions in Cayman will affect turtle populations in other parts of the world – and our turtles are threatened by the actions of distant countries. To protect our turtles, we must remember that they are a shared Caribbean heritage.”

Karina Erickson can’t say why sea turtles are special to her, but she does love them, and this makes her want to protect them.  “Fish flit back and forth across the reef, but its almost as if the turtle decides to come and swim along with you,” she says. “Turtles are friends who come greet you at the door to the ocean.”

About Us

The Cayman Bottom Times is news collaboration by five leading dive operators to promote the superb diving of the Cayman Islands, and keep the diving public informed of important developments and events. Divetech, Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports and Sunset House in Grand Cayman, and the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman, all members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, represent more than 100 years of solid experience in a destination that is recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving. With a unique combination of deep wall and shallow reef diving, several wrecks, and world-famous Stingray City, the Cayman Islands has cemented its place as the top diving destination in the Caribbean.

Offering diverse and wide-ranging dive programs on both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, the members of this dive group represent the best Cayman has to offer; Divetech (www.divetech.com), Ocean Frontiers (www.oceanfrontiers.com), Red Sail Sports Grand Cayman (www.redsailcayman.com), Sunset House (www.sunsethouse.com) and the Southern Cross Club (www.southerncrossclub.com).

Web: www.cayman-bottom-time.com

Cayman’s Legends and Lions Weeklong Scuba Celebration Launched with a Resounding Start

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The birthplace of recreational diving in the Caribbean inaugurates an annual celebration of what makes the Cayman Islands special

Tanks, tuxedos and tasty lionfish were all hits at Cayman’s first annual Legends and Lions scuba celebration, which rolled out October 4 – 11, 2014 with great success thanks to teamwork, a good turnout and perfect weather. The celebration showcased Cayman’s superb diving, honored dive legends inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, fought invasive Lionfish and then served them up at a celebratory street party on the waterfront.

“Legends and Lions was a successful event for its first time,” says Red Sail Sports Operations Manager Rod McDowall, one of the participating dive operators. “ We hope to make it a yearly celebration that highlights the fantastic scuba diving of the Cayman Islands and the reasons we are one of the world’s leading dive destinations.”

“It went really well, I’m very pleased,” agreed Keith Sahm, General Manager for Sunset House, also one of the event dive operators. “It pulled together very nicely.”

Dive industry leaders teamed up with the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism to combine several existing scuba promotions during this traditionally slow time of year to take advantage of off-season rates. The dive deals offered by Red Sail Sports, Sunset House and Divetech attracted new divers to Cayman from as far away as Germany, and drew repeat divers from closer markets in the US back to a destination they know well and visit often.

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Some visitors started the week of diving aboard a Red Sail Sports dive boat with scuba pioneers Bill Acker, Dan Orr and Leslie Leaney. The three hall of famers spoke to the group about the history of diving and their experiences in the sport. The legends and divers then hit the water together to dive Cayman’s spectacular North Wall where they explored dive sites Creole Cliff and Pinnacle Reef. It was an experience Carolyn Larrivee and her husband George from Utah won’t forget.

“I loved it! It was great to be with people who love what they do and who want to share that passion with us,” she said. “I love the camaraderie – it reassures me as a diver who loves the sport.”

“They shared this wonderful dive experience with us,” said Dan Orr, who thoroughly enjoyed the meet and greet on board. “Diving is done as a community – we are a community.”

“This is the essence of diving, which is a non-competitive sport,” agreed Leslie Leaney, a dive historian. “It’s about sharing this fun activity as a community.”

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Also attending the festival were top performers from dive shops and booking agents participating in Cayman’s Tanks A Lot Rewards Program, courtesy of the Department of Tourism and Cayman’s dive industry.  A couple of the FAM attendees – Paula and Dean of The Dive Academy in Ontario – celebrated by getting engaged and then picking out a ring. The weeklong fun continued with topside events that Lionfish culling certifications and culling dives to remove the predators from Cayman’s reefs. The day’s catch was then cooked up and served during a street party sponsored by Aqua Lung.

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“I’ve never had Lionfish before and it’s tasty!” said a surprised and pleased Rich Peterson, visiting the island from Jacksonville, Florida.  The meal included Caribbean staples rice and peas, plantain and “cho cho” a tropical fruit.

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Legends and Lions also hosted a photo contest during the week that drew local, as well as visiting underwater photographers. The winners received prizes awarded by Scubapro, Guy Harvey and the Cathy Church Underwater Photo Centre.  Coordinator Keith Sahm says the images submitted for the event were astounding and the response to the collections has been great. Categories included; Unusual, Macro, and Turtles, Stingrays and Fish. Winners included local divers Charlie Reaney, Brittany Slade, Amanda Nicholls, Chase Darnell, Courtney Platt and Ellen Cuylaerts.

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“The response that we have received from our social medial site showing off the winners has been absolutely fabulous and it give us great pleasure showing off these talented photographers work,” he said.  “Next year, we will get started much earlier, now that we have a new format in place. We’ll have more prizes, more categories, the goal is to get more entries.”

The scuba week celebration was capped off with a formal, black tie International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame Induction Dinner hosted by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. These year’s inductees were Alese and Mort Pechter, Bill Acker, Chuck Nicklin, Dan Orr and Neal Watson.  Rod McDowall of Red Sail Sports was also honored for his contributions to Cayman’s dive industry through the years.

“The induction into the local Cayman Islands Scuba Hall of Fame is appreciated,” said McDowall. “It’s always nice to get recognition for just doing your job in a diving paradise.”

The dive legends inducted to the hall of fame had this to say:

Alese Pechter: “What a fantastic weekend we had! Thank you so much for making absolutely everything so perfect. Grand Cayman has always held a special place in our hearts and this weekend just solidified that feeling even more.”

Neal Watson: “Thanks a million for the hospitality extended to my friends, family and the ‘Dive God’.”

Dan Orr: “Keith, it was a wonderful week thanks largely to you and Karin. Having all of our family stay at Sunset House was the best decision – our family loved every bit of it.  The rooms, the staff, the food and the diving were all first rate.  We sincerely thank you and Karin for everything! “

Bill Acker: “Thank you so very much, for your help, hospitality and friendship during the past week in the Cayman Islands.  My entire family as well as our friends from Germany had a wonderful time at Sunset House.”

Chuck Nicklin: “Thanks to the Cayman Department of Tourism and to the hospitality of Karin and Keith Sahm of the Sunset House Dive Resort, Leslie Leaney, our eloquent MC and Co-founder of the Historical Diving Society, and to the many friends who attended. Congratulations to all inductees! It was a great event!”

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Everyone involved in Legends and Lions is anxious to get started on plans for 2015 since this first event was so successful – there are new ideas to discuss for next year.

“We want to put this event on every divers calendar – fantastic diving, great dive deals, diving with industry celebrities and a street party – the perfect Cayman Islands dive vacation!” said Rod McDowall.

About Us

The Cayman Bottom Times is news collaboration by five leading dive operators to promote the superb diving of the Cayman Islands, and keep the diving public informed of important developments and events. Divetech, Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports and Sunset House in Grand Cayman, and the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman, all members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, represent more than 100 years of solid experience in a destination that is recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving. With a unique combination of deep wall and shallow reef diving, several wrecks, and world-famous Stingray City, the Cayman Islands has cemented its place as the top diving destination in the Caribbean.

Offering diverse and wide-ranging dive programs on both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, the members of this dive group represent the best Cayman has to offer; Divetech (www.divetech.com), Ocean Frontiers (www.oceanfrontiers.com), Red Sail Sports Grand Cayman (www.redsailcayman.com), Sunset House (www.sunsethouse.com) and the Southern Cross Club (www.southerncrossclub.com).

Red Sail Sports offers an Unbeatable Dive Deal during Cayman’s “Legends and Lions” Celebration October 4 – 11

Taking advantage of off-season rates to offer travel deals, Cayman’s dive industry highlights things that make it a top dive destination: incredible diving, outstanding customer service and a conservation-minded community that honors dive legends 

A host of travel option are available for the “Legends and Lions,” celebration on Grand Cayman October 4 – 11, 2014, but discerning divers seeking an exceptional travel deal should take advantage of Red Sail Sports’ dive package with accommodations at the luxurious Westin Resort on Seven Mile Beach. It starts at an incredible US $975 per person (based on double occupancy) for a 7-night stay and it includes a daily 2-tank dive, plus the common elements being offered as part of the celebration.

The weeklong event brings together several existing scuba promotions during this slow time of year to take advantage of off-season rates. All “Legends and Lions” packages include; a daily 2-tank dive, a dive on the USS Kittiwake wreck, a Lionfish certification with a 1-tank Lionfish hunt dive, a street dance and tickets to the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, where guests can minge with the “legends” of diving. Cayman is host to the ISDHF and some of the biggest names in the dive industry will be honored: Alese and Mort Pechter, Bill Acker, Chuck Nicklin, Dan Orr and Neal Watson.

The “Lions” in the event name refers to Cayman’s continuing battle against invasive Lionfish, which threaten reefs, not only in the Cayman Islands, but also all across the Caribbean. Red Sail Sports and other participating operators plan all-out assault on the invasive Lionfish on Thursday, October 9 with a Lionfish culling certification followed by a 1-tank dive to remove the predators from local reefs. The day’s catch will be cooked up and enjoyed during a street party on the waterfront in George Town.

The Red Sail Sports and Westin Resort partnership gives dive travelers another reason to celebrate – enjoying the very best Cayman has to offer at bargain prices not available the rest of the year. The Westin Resort, with its elegant tropical atmosphere, is situated on the soft, white sands of Seven Mile Beach, ranked by US News Traveler as the #1 beach in the world. It features comfortable rooms, world-class restaurants, spa facilities and all the amenities needed to pamper guests. Red Sail Sports, known for excellent customer service and first-rate facilities, operates a watersports shop on the beach at the Westin. Guests enjoy convenient and easy boarding because Red Sail Sports’ customized, spacious dive boats pull up right up on the beach.

Red Sail Sports Operations Manager Rod McDowall:  “Lifestyle is a choice travelers make when booking their vacation, and our package gives them the opportunity to make the most of their time on the island. They can enjoy all the things that make Cayman special: warm clear water, incredible dive sites, great customer service, world-class accommodations and restaurants, and a stunning beach. When they are done diving for the day, guests may opt to enjoy the beach by relaxing seaside, in the pool or having fun with our watersports toys – it’s all here, and at fantastic rates they won’t get at any other time of the year.”

Red Sail Sports “Legends and Lions” Dive Package

October 4-11, 2014
$975 per person
Based on double occupancy

Package includes:

  • 7 Nights at the Westin (island view room)
  • 6 two-tank dives
  • Dinner Ticket for International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame
  • Sunset Sail
  • Tickets for the Lionfish Dinner & Street Party
  • 20% discount on Red Sail Sports watersports

To book e-mail: info@redsailcayman.com, call: 1-877-506-6368 or visit our website: www.redsailcayman.com/legends.

About Red Sail Sports

Red Sail Sports, a member of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association is a leading resort based dive and watersports operator. Since 1987 it has been setting the standard on Grand Cayman by providing the highest level of guest services. On Seven Mile Beach Red Sail Sports operates locations at the Westin Resort, the Marriott Resort, the Grand Cayman Beach Suites and the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman. At remote East End the company has a watersports shop at Morritt’s Tortuga Club, also offering dive and catamaran services to The Reef Resort. On North Side Red Sail Sports offers watersports activities at the Rum Point Club.  The company offers several dive packages through its affiliation with island hoteliers.

Cayman Islands to Honor Legends of Scuba Diving at DEMA 2014

Some of the biggest names in the industry to be on hand in the Cayman pavilion to greet the public and share love of diving

Cayman Islands, September 23, 2014 – The Cayman Islands pavilion at the annual Diving Equipment and Marketing Association’s (DEMA) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 19-22, 2014 will be welcoming and honoring dive industry legends who have been inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame (ISDHF), founded in Cayman 14 years ago. Making appearances at the ISDHF show booth will be some of the best known names in the dive industry worldwide: Leslie Leaney, Carl Roessler, Howard and Michelle Hall, Ron Stevens ‘Rogest’, Wyland, Joann and Armand Zighand, Bob Hollis, David Doubilet, Drew Richardson, Howard Rosenstein and Cayman’s own Ron Kipp and Cathy Church.  Also making appearances will be 2014 honorees.

To be inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame this year are:

Dan Orr – Most recently the President Emeritus of the Divers Alert Network Foundation and the former CEO, Orr has been involved in the diving industry for more than 40 years. Orr continues to promote dive safety as an author of books and contributor to magazines.

Neal Watson – Watson has enjoyed a varied career in commercial diving, stunt coordination for the films and TV, hotel management, and diving franchises. Watson holds several Guinness World Records and has worked taught several celebrities to dive. He has hand-fed sharks with Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Bill Acker – Acker is the owner of the first dive shop in Yap and has helped make the island a top international dive destination, bringing jobs and prosperity to the local community.

Chuck Nicklin – With an extensive background in underwater photography, Nicklin has had work published numerous catalogues, magazines, and movies, including ‘The Deep,’ ‘For Your Eyes Only,’ ‘The Abyss’ and ‘Never Say Never Again.’ He’s also been instrumental in building the San Diego dive scene, and is a contributor to the international dive community.

Alese and Morton Pechter – Underwater photographers Alese and her late husband Morton Pechter have documented the underwater world for a number of publications. They’ve been active in educating children about the marine environment and advocating for ocean conservation. The Pechters have been honored by the United Nations Environment Programme and recognized by the US Navy as Honorary Deep Sea Divers.

A set schedule of appearances by dive legends will be released at a later date. The Cayman pavilion will also include an ISDHF photo booth with life-size cutouts of early dive pioneers and a display of historic dive equipment. Because diving is intrinsic to Caymanian culture, the Cayman Islands’ Ministry of Tourism founded the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2000 to recognize individuals who have contributed to the industry making the sport better for all.

“It is logical that the ISDHOF is established in Cayman as it had the FIRST sport diving facility in the world, Bob Soto’s Diving established in 1957, and then Cayman became the leader in dive destinations in the 1980’s,” said Ron Kipp, a pioneer of Cayman’s dive industry and Hall of Fame 2012 inductee. “There is no greater honor than to be recognized by your peers.”

2012 inductee Leslie Leaney says it is vitally important to recognize history-makers now. “Some of the earliest participants are still with us. The first generation from the 1940s, are all gone. The second generation from the 1950’s to mid 60’s, are slowly leaving us. In 50 years the first five generations of divers who built the sport will all be gone. All that will be left is their history, provided it is accurately recorded now.”

“The history of diving is crucial to the future of diving,” adds Neal Watson. “You learn from history and try not to repeat those mistakes.  And diving is so young, it started in 1953 – from 50 years ago to where it is today – technology and evolution of training now make it possible for almost everyone to dive, and new divers love to hear the stories.”

The DEMA promotion is an extension of “Legends and Lions” a festival showcasing Cayman’s diving scheduled October 4 -11.  Teaming up with the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism to combine several dive promotions to take advantage of off-season rates, Red Sail SportsDivetech, Ocean Frontiers and Sunset House are offering value-packed dive deals. Participants will have the chance to dive with 2014’s honorees, and mingle with them during the induction dinner that is capping off the week’s activities.

“I have always loved the opportunity to interact with other divers regardless of their level of experience and training,” said Dan Orr being recognized for his contributions to dive safety. “The scuba week is a fantastic way of getting together with others who also love diving and provides a great opportunity to share experiences and learn from one another. I can hardly wait!”

For more on Legends and Lions visit http://www.caymanislands.ky/divecayman/consumer 

About Us

The Cayman Bottom Times is news collaboration by five leading dive operators to promote the superb diving of the Cayman Islands, and keep the diving public informed of important developments and events. Divetech, Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports and Sunset House in Grand Cayman, and the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman, all members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, represent more than 100 years of solid experience in a destination that is recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving. With a unique combination of deep wall and shallow reef diving, several wrecks, and world-famous Stingray City, the Cayman Islands has cemented its place as the top diving destination in the Caribbean.

Offering diverse and wide-ranging dive programs on both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, the members of this dive group represent the best Cayman has to offer; Divetech (www.divetech.com), Ocean Frontiers (www.oceanfrontiers.com), Red Sail Sports Grand Cayman (www.redsailcayman.com), Sunset House (www.sunsethouse.com) and the Southern Cross Club (www.southerncrossclub.com).

Web: www.cayman-bottom-times.com

New Underwater Themed Rooms at Sunset House Feature Photographs by Some of the Dive Industry’s Best

Four rooms available now, 22 by the end of 2015 – the goal is to enhance the visitor’s dive vacation experience by showing them the underwater world through the eyes of experts

Sunset House, the hotel for divers by divers, has completed four of what will ultimately be 22 themed guest rooms decorated with the work of some of the dive industry’s elite underwater photographers. The design upgrade is part of a continuing makeover plan by the popular dive resort, to enhance the dive experience for guests who travel here to enjoy Cayman’s famed underwater world. Customers can now book one of these signature oceanfront rooms, or suites, and walk into the beauty of the undersea world as seen through the lenses of photographers Courtney Platt, Ellen Cuylaerts, Cathy Church and Jim Hellemn.

 

“I’m very honoured to be included in the Sunset House Signature rooms,” says Cuylaerts, who began diving when she moved to Cayman in 2009 and only took up underwater photography in 2011. She has just been named World Champion Underwater Photographer 2013 in an international photo contest for her diverse and stunning photos.

“As a newby to be able to show my work to divers from around the world makes me very proud,” she said. “The selection of canvasses was difficult, but I chose mostly images taken in Cayman. Every encounter in the water brings something new, and I hope my work inspires people to keep looking with an open mind, every time. Beauty is everywhere.”

Cuylearts is displaying her work in Room 411 at Sunset House, including captivating images of the silversides the visit Devil’s Grotto and numerous sites around Grand Cayman each summer. She hopes her photographs will inspire divers to take a closer look.

“The highlights are not on wall dives, but on the subject, the beauty of every creature big or small. I hope people seeing my work will revisit some signature dive sites and look at them with a different focus, maybe by seeing my work they discover things or details they never noticed before, for example how beautiful light enters grottoes, what excellent reflections stingrays get at the surface.”

Digital imaging and underwater specialist Jim Hellemn, based in California, hopes his photos in room 407 encourage people become concerned about ocean conservation.

“Seeing the natural beauty that’s here allows us to see what’s in the ocean that we need to protect, especially when you see all of the reef life in one area, you really get a sense of what you’re trying to protect in the ocean. I think that’s very important for every diver and every person on land to understand.”

“We gave the photographers free reign to decorate their signature room in the way they want to display photos from anywhere in the world to share their vision of the underwater world – each artist is completely different with their own style,” said General Manager Keith Sahm, who came up with the idea for themed rooms that extend the dive experience topside.

Consistent ideal conditions and a variety of dive experiences have made the Cayman Islands a mecca for underwater photographers, both pro and novice. Sunset House, with its in-house Cathy Church Photo Centre and partnership with the well-known photo pro, cultivates the underwater photography culture and caters to all.

“We’re the capitol of underwater photography here: great visibility, exciting marine life and reefs, and Sunset House has easy shore diving so photographers can just go out and indulge in their sport,” said Keith Sahm.  “With advances in technology and digital photography more and more divers are doing underwater photography so we have photographers here every day.  It only makes sense to take their dive vacation experience to the next level.”

It has taken a year to complete the four signature rooms, and Sahm hopes to get all 22 rooms done by the end of 2015.  Other well-known industry photographers who will have their own signature room include: Alex Mustard, Marty Snyderman, Stephen Frink, David Doubilet, Geri Murphy and Greg Piper, among others.

The partnership between Sunset House and the photographers has benefits for all involved. Prominent Cayman photographer Courtney Platt, who has done several assignments for National Geographic Magazine and has a thriving photo business on Grand Cayman, says the exposure to guests from all over the world is already providing business leads.

“It makes the visit for the diver coming to Cayman more exciting and the rooms become a point of interest for them and their friends who want to see the photos in the various rooms,” he said.

Sahm agrees saying the signature rooms have become social meeting places for guests after a great day of diving.

“The whole idea of this project is to extend the underwater experience for our guests as much as possible, and add more fun to their vacation here at Sunset House.”

About Sunset House
Sunset House/Sunset Divers has been welcoming divers to the Cayman Islands for more than 55 years. It is the only resort in the Cayman Islands, designed by divers, operated by divers, for divers. It’s also the only resort on Grand Cayman that has its own coral reef, with modern and ancient shipwrecks in shallow water right off shore. Underwater visibility on Sunset House’s reef can exceed 200 feet, and a remarkable variety of marine life to be seen there. Our own spectacular 9’ bronze sculpture of the mermaid Amphitrite is one of the most popular shore dive sites in the world.  The resort features 52 guest rooms, including 16 deluxe Oceanview rooms, 2 spacious suites and 2 apartments with full kitchenettes. All rooms are air-conditioned, with phones and private baths. Free Hi-Speed Wireless Internet can be accessed throughout the property and a convenient computer station is located in the lobby. SeaHarvest Restaurant offers full menus for some of the healthiest breakfasts, lunch and dinners around and is famous for its East Indian menu. My Bar a popular hangout for both locals and visitors, has been voted “Best in the Caribbean” by Caribbean Travel and Life and the Best of Cayman.  Sunset House also features an inviting seaside fresh water swimming pool.