Great Diving Is Caicos' Reality Show

For Northeast Dive News

Wreck-diving reality TV buffs are in for a triple treat off Caicos.
The third treat is seeing the teeming life on the wreck of
television's first reality show.

Thunder Dome, launched in 1970s by a French TV station,
filmed contestants living in grass huts on this island in paradise.
They needed special pearls as currency to get basic necessities,
and a few extra if they wanted to have fun. To get to the pearls,
contestants had to freedive to 15 feet to a tiny hole atop a big
round iron cage. The gems were hidden in the sandy floor at 40
feet. Contestants could extend their searches by flirting with
scantily clad mermaids for breaths of scuba air. Breathing
compressed air at depth and ascending isn't a good mix. The plug
was pulled quickly after the second air embolism.

Iron, seawater and time mix well for divers. Waves and tidal
forces have collapsed the TV film stage. The reality show now is
the interaction of Thunder Dome's denizens and can be seen only
on scuba. Dense schools of yellow-tail snappers, groupers, eels,
spiny lobsters and crabs are the easy critters to see. Tiny cleaner
shrimp will emerge to manicure fingers of divers with the
patience to extend them on the sand for a few minutes. It's
shallow enough that even air hogs on 80-cubic-foot tanks can
relax and take their time.

The nearby Coral Stairway is at the other end of the Caicos
diving spectrum. Plunging hundreds of feet, the wall hosts
shrubs of black coral, plate coral, sea fans and is studded with
nooks where spiny lobsters thrive. Nassau groupers look like
SUVs at car wash as they line up to be cleaned by wrasses.
Nearby three-spot damselfish fearlessly peck at divers hundreds
of times their size as they defend their turf. A seemingly dead
zone of sand atop the wall comes alive with yellow-headed
jawfish for divers who hover a while.

Hole in the Wall reef features a chimney that can be entered at
about 45 feet to descend another 35 feet to an opening in the
wall. Claustrophobic divers can opt to descend the wall without
passing through the hole, but they'll miss its lining of anemones
and tiny shrimp whose eyes gleam as tiny red dots in the beam of
a flashlight. Swim through schools of snappers and grunts en
route to a colony of pillar corals and corkscrew anemones that
thrive atop the wall.

The Crack hits the spot for crab lovers. Its most prominent
feature is a deep channel in the wall that is lined with sea crabs.
A colony of decorator crabs at the bottom exit of the channel
amuses divers with the tufts of sponges and plants they affix to
their shells.

A favored reef for second shallower dives of the morning is the
Pinnacles. A series of parallel furrows about 25 feet deep are cut
into the rocky substrate of the reef. Walls are covered with soft
corals. A few bigger holes provide swim-throughs and homes for
a variety of fish. Nurse sharks like to laze on the sandy bottom as
they have for millennia and red lionfish stake claims to crevices
newly discovered by this Indo-Pacific invader.

No visit is complete without a night dive at the Aquarium, which
lives up to its name with its variety of plants and animals.
Three-spot damselfish hide amid staghorn coral. Gobies,
snappers and spadefish might call it a night, but spiny lobsters
come out of their cave to dance in the moonlight. That's prime
time programming for divers to see.
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Turks and Caicos consist of 40 islands, eight of which are inhabited. They're about 550 miles southeast of Miami, Fla.
Major airlines offer direct flights to Providenciales or Grand Turk international airports from gateway hubs in the U.S.
and Canada.

Yankees will feel at home at this British Crown Colony. English is the official language, the U.S. dollar is the official
currency and appliances work fine on the 110-volt, 60-cycle current. Northeast residents won't even have to reset
watches, since the islands are in the Eastern Standard Time zone and switch to daylight savings during the summer.

Topside temperatures reach the low-90s F from June to October, but hover in the mid-80s F during winter months. Lows
can dip into the low-70s F after sunset, so pack a light jacket. The dress is casual, although some finer restaurants may
expect men to wear collared shirts and women to wear dress slacks or skirts at dinner.

Water temperatures are in the mid-80s F in summer and mid-70s in winter. For some, that may be warm enough for a
3-millimeter shorty. However, local pros and divers who are making multiple dives over several days tend to wear 5- or
7-mil full-body suits, often with hoods.

The islands are only 21 degrees north of the equator, so pack lots of sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat for
protection. Water is derived from the islands' limited rainfall and desalinated seawater. It's generally safe, but not to be
wasted. If in doubt, drink bottled water.

Accommodations range from small hotels to all-inclusive resorts. A favored spot for singles and couples without kids is
Club Med Providenciales, where divers and other tourists from Europe and the Americas meet over fine French foods
and wines.

Canadian Firm Launches Eco Adventure
A drive to protect the world's most fragile coral reefs –
those in warm waters – was launched at Caicos last
summer by a company based in much nippier Canada.

Montreal's Beautiful Oceans rolled out its Coral Reef
Adventures program at Club Med Providenciales with a
goal of giving divers the tools they need to become true
ambassadors of the seas around the world.

Participants get explanations about sites and how its
denizens work together by a local pro with scientific
training. Briefings are with an annotated, accurate to
scale site map, not some scrawling on a chalkboard. You
know what's on the reef and where before you dive,
handy insider info for photogs who have to set up gear
before jumping in the water.

Stephan Becker, Beautiful Oceans president, said the
Caicos rollout was so well received that his company
plans to expand its Coral Reef Adventures program to
Saint Lucia and Florida Keys in 2009 having successfully
established it at San Salvador, Bahamas as well as at
Providenciales Island, Turks & Caicos.

For information, visit
Thunder Dome Wreck
Bob In Dome / B. Krooss photo
Thimble Nudibranchs / B Krooss photo
Mat Blows Off a Dive
Lionfish B.Krooss photo
Stephan Becker / Beautiful Oceans