Blog Old

Why is Reef Safe Sunscreen so Important?

Reef Safe Sunscreen or Bust!

By now, we all know that global climate change has endangered our coral reefs due to rising ocean temperatures, as the stress of warm water causes corals to bleach. But did you know that scientists are now saying chemically based sunscreen can induce the same bleaching response in coral?!
a close up of a coral
Bleached Coral vs. Healthy Coral

When corals absorb these toxic chemicals found in our common sunscreens, it creates a similar reaction to that of warmer water temperatures created by global warming: bleaching.On top of that, the presence of these chemicals allows viruses to thrive, subjecting corals to catch infections leading to bleaching and ultimate death.

In fact, scientist are estimating up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen are introduced into the ocean each year! That is something absurd like 60 million bottles of sunscreen a year… UMM WOW

It is metrics like this that recently prompted Hawaii to place a ban on all sunscreen containing Oxybenzone and Octinoxate (the two most commonly harmful chemicals), taking effect in 2021. While this is a great start, we still have a lot more work to do… and here at Coconut Tree Divers Roatan we are committed to keeping our reef as healthy as possible!

What makes a sunscreen reef safe?

There are two types of sunscreen:

Chemical based. (the bad guy) These include two major ingredients used to block UV rays: Oxybenzone and Octinoxate (the same chemicals banned in Hawaii). Many of your major brands will have these ingredients included and are very harmful to the coral reefs you have traveled so far to see! *Beware that while these are the two most common harmful chemicals, they are not the only harmful chemicals used in sunscreen… more on this below!*

Mineral based. (The good guy) Also known as physical sunscreens, these products use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and are considered “safe” for coral reefs. *It is important to use mineral sunscreens that are “non-nano” in size because any mineral sunblocks having a partical size below 100 nanometers can be consumed by corals*

Unfortunately, the term’s “reef safe” or “reef friendly” are not regulated… meaning you may not always be able to trust a product advertising this label.

It is important to read the active ingredients found in your mineral sunscreen to check for the absence of harmful ingredients found on the HEL list (a list of chemicals that are known pollutants in many different environments). Below are the most common HEL list ingredients that you do NOT want to find in your mineral based reef safe sunscreen…

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” it is most likely nano-sized and a no go)
  • Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”
Gregory and the Hawk et al. posing for the camera
Coconut Tree Instructors Tina and Cruz lathering up on their reef safe sunscreen! (aren’t they cute…)

SO.. What can I do to help protect our coral reefs?

Most people want to know what they can do to help protect the very thing they came on vacation to enjoy. The good news is there is plenty you can do to make a difference…

Use less sunscreen

Okay this sounds terrifying… especially if you tend to turn into a lobster like me! Protecting your skin from UV rays is 100% crucial and should not be compromised. However, sunscreen is not your only option. Wearing items to minimize your sunscreen use can drastically reduce the amount of sunscreen introduced into the ocean. Think hats, wet suits, rash guards and even simply putting on a T-shirt while snorkeling!

Apply sunscreen 10-15 minutes before entering the water

This allows for the sunscreen to sink in, dry and therefore a less chance of washing straight into the ocean.

Choose the correct reef safe sunscreen

Be active in reading the back of your sunscreen. Look for ‘reef safe’ labels as well as ensuring none of the harmful ingredients listed above are used in the making of your sunscreen. This may sound labor intensive but cute little guys like this Sargassum Trigger Fish pictures below need us to do our part so they can continue to have a healthy home….!

A Sargassum Trigger Fish hiding in the healthy reefs of Roatan, Honduras!

To help you out, here is a great article with not only more information but an awesome list of reef safe sunscreen options.

Spread the word

Educate your friends, family and fellow scuba divers about the importance of protecting our coral reef. Luckily here in Roatan, we have some of the healthiest reef around and we intend to keep it that way!

So find the perfect time to come join us at Coconut Tree Divers and make sure to bring your reef safe sunscreen!! If you forget to pick up a bottle at home, our friend Andrea makes a line of all natural sunscreen and skincare products right here on the island called Aegis All Natural, a great option to keep our reef healthy!

a sandy beach next to a body of water
Sunny Roatan from right outside our dive shop! We would love to have you come dive with us!

We would love to have you come dive with us!

For more info on Coconut Tree Divers, schedules, courses, and pricing head to our homepage HERE!
To make a reservation head to our online reservation page HERE!
Want to keep up with all things Coconuts?! Make sure to follow us!
Instagram : @coconuttreedivers

Picture credit : 1, 2  All other photos by our very own Alex Harper-Graham

We would love to have you come dive with us!
For more info on Coconut Tree Divers, schedules, courses, and pricing head to our homepage HERE!
To make a reservation head to our online reservation page HERE!

Report Cards Are In

Christian Pander, Josh Rose standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera
Healthy Reef Heroes!

We were never fans of report cards growing up. A percentage or a letter used as a representation of who we are as people and what we might be capable of was largely useless. Whether our report cards brought us praise or groundings we found they weren’t really useful for telling our story, what we did right, what we did wrong and how could we could improve.

When the Healthy Reefs Initiative began the Mesoamerican Reef Health Report Cards 10 years ago, they wanted to create an understanding of the management of an ecosystem that sustains our culture, fisheries, coastal protection, and tourism.  The HRI completes these surveys to create accurate, science based knowledge to inform dialogue and collective management in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR). Unlike our school grades that gave us meaningless percentages and letters based on performance, this report card teaches us where we are going wrong and how we can change for the better.

Ian Drysdale (Representative for Honduras in the HRI) and his team made our boat Pot Licker their ‘home’ for a week as they completed this years reef health investigation in Roatan. To the inexperienced eye it looked as though they had an obsession with PVC, slates, and rubber bands but we knew that although that may be true, it was their love for the reef that had those volunteers jumping 4-5 times a day to survey over 25 sites in Roatan alone. The heroes involved this year were a mix of students from mainland and local conservationists who gave their time, energy, and expertise to successfully complete this years survey. Each volunteer was trained through a program called AGRRA (Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment) who have developed a standardized assessment with the ability to be applied to many different reef types.

diagram, venn diagram

Extremely simplified explanation of survey methods

Ouch, that’s a lot of yellow.

In understanding and comparing changes in benthic, coral, and fish indicators using this AGGRA method, the Report Card has been able to collect and compare data giving us a real long-term picture of what has been happening in our waters.

The chart to the left was taken from the 2018 MAR Report Card and represents the surveys conducted by the team to quantify our reef health. Honduras was given a 3.3/5 in the Reef Health Index and was one of the few areas surveyed to experience decline since 2015.

The majority of the volunteers had helped complete the surveys previous and were pretty well informed with the issues in Roatan. The week of the survey was sympathetically rain filled and added a lot of ambience to the disappointed faces, but this crew was much more interested in the positive aspects. On one of the last days we were huddled under the shelter of Potlicker, sharing sips of warm tea, to discuss just why we were experiencing a decline.

First off, they said, Roatan was doing a lot of things right.

Amazingly our coral coverage was some of the best in the Caribbean and that part seems to have held. The reason? Our Marine Park. The Roatan Marine Park (RMP) has been doing a heck of a lot more than putting in your mooring balls. They are patrolling, educating tourists, developing our communities and changing the way we use plastics. They do this through the continued support of sponsors, visitors, and community. Reasons to support them, in whatever way we can, whether it’s through donation or active participation is being proven by these studies, and it’s awesome.

a group of people standing in front of a building
The RMP work with local youth encouraging engagement with the ocean environment
master diver trainer
Survey work on the far north side of Roatan near Pristine Bay

What is not so awesome is that Roatan has too much macroalgae.

According the report card, this is our number one ‘Calls to Action’. It’s one of corals biggest competitors here, and it’s growing and spreading at a very serious rate.

Fleshy macroalgae in Roatan is blanketing areas of the reef, completely taking over the environment. In small quantities the aptly named ‘fleshy’ algae provides food and oxygen exchange, but human intervention has tipped the balance invariably in it’s favour. Wonderfully, their data, doesn’t just prove we have too much algae, it also tells us why.

a close up of a coral
Too much algae, near AKR

Turns out, it’s shit. Not shit the expletive, shit the excrement. West End is the only area that adheres to fecal health standards in all of Roatan. Even the main city of Coxen Hole is only about 10% connected to it’s treatment facility. This doesn’t mean that there are little turds floating around everywhere else, but we as humans happen to excrete nutrients and those nutrients are changing the environment around our island.  With cruise ship traffic, tourism, and immigration increasing, the volume of defecation on our reef is also increasing. This provides the perfect conditions for macroalgae to grow.

In Half-moon Bay, they said they have seen and confirmed the improvement to reef health since the establishment of a wastewater system and all the houses aren’t even connected (although, that’s the goal!) . Only 15% of blackwater in the Caribbean is currently being treated, so it’s pretty cool that our little island is a part of that. If we can do it through the efforts of our community members, we hope that our grassroots example will spread and our island can be a role model in effective solutions.

Once the algae has been sorted to insure the non offending critters are returned to the water, it can even be used as fertilizer! HAWAII’S DIVISION OF AQUATIC RESOURCES

To deal with the algae we already have they offered the possible solution of using reef weeders or underwater vacuums. These ‘super-suckers’ will allow us to fully remove the algae leaving space for new coral to form and suffocating coral to flourish. Hawaii has already been implementing these vacuums to increase reef health in their own areas and are open to sharing their knowledge in an effort to improve ocean environments around the world.

You can’t tell because of the lights but this bad boy was caught on a night dive here in Roatan by one of our regular guests!

The next step that is still being explored, is the re-introduction of our pointy little friends; the Long Spined Urchin. Our sneakiest and spikiest algae eaters were wiped out by disease in 1983 have seen very still seen very little comeback in our area. The team was very enthusiastic for re-intro as an option. Herbivorous fish numbers like parrot fish and blue tangs are up, but without our urchins feeding in the hard to reach spots, it’s unlikely the natural balance can be restored.

It was amazing to get involved with this years Report Card. Not only did we get to see some of the most enchanting dive sites in the MAR, we got to hang out with the important and amazing individuals who are working everyday to ensure the future of our reef. Although these solutions are simple, we know that implementing them is going to be a lot hard work. We look forward to helping these guys out as these projects move forward, channeling our love and knowledge into this world that we call home!

We just want to say a big thank you to everyone who is doing their part. When it comes to the environment and trying to save it, we get it, some of us weren’t born to be the heroes of epics but we all fight our own daily battle to improve the world around us and that is amazing. Each person has their own impact and we thank you for yours. We also want to thank all the organizations working with our communities planting coral, working with our governments and cleaning up garbage. It’s important and you are important.

Thanks Again, to Ian and his team for keeping the world up to date with our reef. This information will allow our guests and divers to engage with our island as they enjoy the beauty that we have been afforded through the efforts of many, and understand the work that they are doing. Thank you for showing us a world with solutions and a world with hope.

logo, company name

A list of sponsors who all contributed to the 2018 Report Card!

So long and thanks for all the fish!

If you want to learn more about ways you can help you can always contact us at [email protected] and we would be happy to answer questions about how you can get involved on your holiday. If you just want to come down and see some of the healthiest reefs in the world, check out our websites for package options. Our shop is located in Halfmoon Bay and we offer several conservation courses and complete regular Dive Against Debris course and volunteer dives. As always my source information is included in the page with links to the relevant sections.

Rachael Sorochan

We would love to have you come dive with us!
For more info on Coconut Tree Divers, schedules, courses, and pricing head to our homepage HERE!
To make a reservation head to our online reservation page HERE!

Your First Beer is Your Last Dive

a bottle of wine on a table
All these gorgeous flavours are available at the Roatan Wine Room , which we will be plugging relentlessly as this article was partially inspired by the owner!

Diving to drink…

Drinking and diving is a pretty serious no no, for obvious reasons. This blog post is not going to cover that today. What we’re doing today is more along the lines of diving for the sake of drinking. For those of you who have spent time around Coconut Tree you may know of a time-honoured tec tradition of leaving behind a bottle of wine on your final deep dive. The idea came from a couple of guests that had come down to us from Spain that had said where they dive, it was common for staff to deposit bottles of wine underwater on the ocean floor, the purpose being, to improve the taste. Now the honest truth, we did absolutely no research into these claims initially, but the idea sounded cool so we decided to make it our thing too.

This is the Josie J of Roatan. It unfortunately didn’t have any champagne aboard, but it’s still pretty cool


The reason we followed the suggestions of these divers has some obvious inspirations. Discovering shipwrecked champagne and pirate rum are the things of adult day dreams. A bottle of Heidsieck 1907 sold for 275 000 USD at auction, and was one amongst over 2000 varieties discovered on a single shipwreck in the Gulf of Finland. Apparently some of them even tasted pretty good. A British ship sunk in the 1760’s is thought to be filled with bronze canons and gold coins, but it’s the thousands of litres of possibly undrinkable rum that has a lot of collectors vying for it’s recovery.

We know our bottles aren’t going to hold the same sort of history as that of a sunken ship, but the idea of it spending time stored in a place where few in the world are qualified to travel has its own set of mysteries. It’s cool of course but, was it actually as the Spanish divers said? Does it improve the taste?

A promotional photo of Vina Maris, not sure how they got that fireworm there…

Underwater Wine Storage

One of the OG winemakers to experiment with this process was also from Spain, Raúl Pérez. He started by sinking bottles for up to 60 days in the bay near his vineyards which now sell for up to 138 USD a bottle. His company however, has reduced the amount of product put in the ocean after a huge amount of them spoiled in the sea (something we have certainly had happen to us, but more on that later).

Viña Maris another winery in Spain has dedicated themselves entirely to underwater wine storage claiming the the “salinity has mineral nuances”. You can even book wine tours that begin with SCUBA excursions to see the underwater cellars. A Napa Valley wine company, Mira has bottles selling for 500 USD a bottle, the same bottle aged on land; 50 USD. The reason? It is said to mature the wine, turning “a 2009 into a 2007”.

So what is the science behind the oceanic benefits?

Wine is ideally stored at 12.8C (55F), as it allows the wine to ‘mature’ at the correct rate, anything warmer can cause it to ferment too quickly and spoil it. The ocean tends to be cold and relatively temperature controlled depending on the locations and depths. Light is another big bad that can increase the rate of aging making the darkness of the ocean a bonus for wine storage.

The final effect is oxygen, too much or too little can cause the wine to taste different levels of bad, 6ppm ( that’s parts per million for us non science folks) being the ideal amount. This appropriate oxygenation during the aging process is controlled by the cork (synthetic or natural), allowing only tiny amounts to pass through. The ocean has relatively low levels of oxygen so less should be diffusing into the liquid.

It’s good to know that we weren’t crazy to follow this initial advice. We have experimented with varying degrees of success usually leaning towards the failing side. Most recently, on Valentine’s Day of last year Monty and Alex dropped a bottle at their favourite spot upon Alex’s completion of her Tec course. This romantic story contributes to the idea that in the end it isn’t just about aging a perfect wine, but about what it can mean to us and our relationship with the ocean.

It did get slightly less romantic when we brought it up and the wine tasted like ass.

Ignore Cruz’s convict style hair cut

Why were we failing?

Originally we assumed it was the sea water leeching into the bottles so we tried a mixture of duct tape and candle wax and the result; still the flavour of ass.

This is when we decided to embark on this research, if duct tape can’t fix it, what can?

We did have a suspicion that our water temperature might be a little warm for wine storage so we looked for examples closer to home. A Shipwreck from 1864 off the coast of Bermuda, the Mary-Celestial was the closest we could find. The bottles recovered apparently looked super cool but the taste was not so nice.

Master Sommelier, Paul Roberts was quoted saying;

“When we decanted it, the cork pretty much crumbled and you immediately knew the vast majority was now ocean water.”

This picture was just so classy/nasty it needed to be included

The tasting notes apparently included words like ‘crabwater’ and ‘gasoline’. In fancy sommelier language, this was exactly what our wine was tasting like! Turns out, the water here, just as in Bermuda is too warm.

Local wine expert and technical diver Lauren Schneidewind said;

“The wine would have cooked at 83F (28C), wine really does need to be stored at a much cooler 55F (12.8C).  Rum however, is made at hotter temperatures and has roots from hotter climates and can withstand heat better than wine”


Now, there was a thought. Flor De Cana is aged at the base of a volcano in Nicaragua so we imagine she was right about the heat. Lauren said she didn’t think that the rum would necessarily improve, but at least it wouldn’t spoil.

Camper English creator of the website Alcademics summarized a seminar held at the Tales of Cocktail event about how liquor and spirits age over time. He confirmed what Lauren had said that the rum would not begin to be effected negatively by temperature until about 37.8C (100F) but is ideally stored at 4.44C (40F). That, and the darkness at depth make our Roatan waters not necessarily the best, but definitely not the worst. For rum oxygenation in the bottle can cause an undesirable vinegar like aroma, so as long as we insured the bottle retained the manufacturer seal, all points to the bottle at the very least, remaining the same.

a man standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera
The Zacapa Crew!

It may not be as exciting knowing that our unique storage method hasn’t created some sort of liquor revolution but that won’t take away from our tradition.

It’s good to know now how these bottles will not just hold a little bit of our own history, but an enjoyable and drinkable beverage. It’s also not a bad excuse to buy a fancy bottle of rum in the name of diving. If our calm warm water is not perfect for wine storage for diving at least, it’s unbeatable.

This little photo bomber got Lauren on her way down to place her Zacapa bottle, maybe he was mad she didn’t share. Alexandra HG Photography

To learn more about courses or discovery experiences check out our website. For more updates, photos, and videos from the gang you can follow us on our Facebook and Instagram.

Bonus Story

At the time of our initial experiments wine options were few and far between on Roatan, instead we decided to try Tree’s homemade mango ‘wine’. We took the clear moonshine-like Mango beverage and gave it a shot. The bottle had a plastic cork, it was stored at 18m (60ft) and was left there for 6 months. This would have been a lot easier back then as it was less likely to be discovered by other divers, that being the main reason that it’s our tec divers who have upheld it since then. Monty recalls the liquid going from clear to almost lemonade type turbidity. It also, significantly improved the taste.

We aren’t sure why it worked, mostly because we aren’t really sure what the chemical make up of Tree’s concoction was, but it did certainly inspire us to keep up with the tradition.

All sources used are linked in the section that is applicable. Thanks Again to Lauren of Roatan Wine Room for answering all my questions and the crew at the shop for arguing all the science with me. Alexandra HG, a big thanks for providing me with photo and fodder for these posts. As always thanks to those who I abuse for editing, I have an over use of comma problems. If you have any questions or ideas for posts you would like to see, don’t hesitate to contact us through our Facebook!

We would love to have you come dive with us!
For more info on Coconut Tree Divers, schedules, courses, and pricing head to our homepage HERE!
To make a reservation head to our online reservation page HERE!

So You Think You Can Dive Master?

Dive Master Internship

The decision to pursue a Dive Master Internship can arise in different people for many different reasons. For some it’s a bucket list thing, a way to prove something to themselves. Others it’s merely educational, or a great way to spend summer between semesters. For many this is a professional path, for those hoping to make a career of their passion.
a group of people riding on the back of a motorcycle
DMTs have fun on their days off too!

Weary of giving a Dive Master Internship a go?

Whatever the reason for choosing to pursue their Dive Master, few will say they regretted the decision. You rack up on dives, learn a tonne, and get to experience the world of diving from a whole new perspective.

So why are there still people out there waiting to give it a shot? Time, work, and feeling unqualified are just a few of the excuses we hear.

Instructor Rachael arrived back in 2016 with 17 dives and a huge case of imposter syndrome. “I remember receiving my PADI Dive Master Crew Pack the day before my orientation. I pulled out all the books and papers and spread them out on the bed in my dorm and thought to myself-How in the hell am I going to learn all of this in six weeks?”

Two years later she is a full-time instructor, with multiple specialties, and a whole lot of dives under her belt.

Look how happy they are!

It’s not to say it isn’t hard work…

Because it definitely is. However, challenges bring rewards and that is what these internship programs are all about. We decided to interview a couple of our previous Trainees on what getting certified meant to them. To ask what their motivations were, what their experience meant to them, and where are they now. Our hope is that in reading the experiences of these bad ass individuals it will inspire you to look at these sorts of challenges, whether that be within the world of diving or just in the realm of adventure living as something you not only can do, but something you deserve to do.

Barra O’Briain

A physician from Canada, definitely sticks in our mind as one of our keener DMTs. Barra first learned of Coconut Tree through his sons friend Taylor, who was completing his own dive master at the time. Barra was impressed with the skills and experience that Taylor was receiving and it didn’t take much to sell him on the idea.

Barra-cuda on his Birthday

Barra said “I arrived feeling pretty confident in my skills, but quickly found how much I had to learn when it came to assisting other divers and the diving skills necessary for the task.”

His mentor was roughly the same age as his sons but Barra took it in absolute stride, humbly absorbing, listening, and learning from his Instructors and his peers. He added a wonderful dynamic to the group.

When we asked Barra what he thought he got out of the experience he said,

“Now I assist and work as a DM on weekends on a boat off the coast of British Columbia.  I am more confident in reading divers, assisting them, anticipating problems and dealing with them when they arise.  I’ve also become a much better diver and confident in new and varied settings.”

Barra has been back to Roatan since and hopes to complete his full Tec Course at Roatan Tec Centre the next time he is back.

Meilin Mansilla

An architect originally from Guatemala, found Coconut Tree through a friend and came for the first time only to fun dive. When we asked her to tell her story, she answered so well that we think we’ll let her tell it herself.

a person swimming in a body of water

Meilin is also the wonderful woman who designed our new front deck. m[email protected] to find out more about her architecty work.

“It has always been rewarding for me putting my heart and soul to make happen what I put my mind to. I’ve always had big dreams and have worked hard to make them come true which, is a strength but also a weakness. Setting my mind to achieve working for the best architect in my country was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, but it also made me a workaholic.

I came diving one time to Roatan and that’s when it hit me, I wasn’t fully living my life. I was successful living my life by my vocation as an architect, but what about my passion? Diving fills my heart and makes it literally explode with happiness and decided I wanted that on a regular basis, not one or twice a year

So, I quit my perfect job, I moved to the island and started my Dive Master to fill that emptiness of passion in my heart, that thirst of feeling alive and free; weightless. I have two jobs now, I’m a dive instructor and an architect and I’ve never felt more alive. Don’t get me wrong, balancing it is hard but nothing that is worth it is easy, it takes self discipline but I’m telling you: it can be done. ‘Balance it out’ I say, don’t forget to fill your heart with what passions you on regular basis and don’t forget to put into practice what other things you’re good at.”

Dive Master Internship
Phil also does this crazy shit.

Philip Zaki

Phil from Germany will always be remembered as the guy who always wore shoes. To put him in perspective he’s the kind of guy that says international finance is ‘fun’. His long-term goal behind doing his dive master is to become a technical diver and has said that before embarking on the journey he really wanted to increase his dive experience. He believes firmly that there is no better way to learn something than to teach and share it with others

Secondly, he said “a DM internship brings me in a completely new work environment. Working in a b2b (business to business) environment in an office job myself, a b2c (business to customer) environment is a totally new experience for me and widens my view on such jobs. Let it be sizing people for their suits, estimating weights, or mopping the floor, there’s nothing healthier than some down to earth experiences if you’re coming from a place like I do” (he works in a big fancy office)

Lastly, he said he really enjoyed the camaraderie and being part of team. As a repeat solo traveler he says it’s a much less lonely way to do it.

a person standing next to a body of water
Pokin’ Fish and Clean’n Reefs

Jina Gaechter

Originally from Switzerland, currently from wherever she desires, came to us to do her Dive Master for possibly the coolest reason ever. Her and her family live aboard their sail boat traveling all over the Caribbean, literally letting the wind take them.

Jina said, “First of all diving has become my passion the moment I started almost 15 years ago but, I decided to do my DM as soon as I changed my life style, which means living on a boat. I am surrounded by water everyday so why not learn more about what’s in it, and be part of it.

It’s like fireworks every time I go back down. With my DM I feel so much safer and more  knowledgeable, I see so many things and I am able to help people more. On boat life I have the opportunity to jump in everyday and it’s never the same because we move from one place to the other.”

Her facebook and instagram are quite literally #wanderlust. Not everyone has the energy or patience to live life on a sail boat, but we certainly enjoy keeping up with her adventures.

Roatan IDC Training
Look at Ivan diving in freezing cold water, in Roatan you would need all that wetsuit

Our Dive Master Internship is for everyone!

As you can see that the reasons behind the decision to do a Dive Master Internship are varied. These stories are only a small sample of those that we have heard in our shop. We have people come and do it during the summer in college and people who do it as a semester for credit in university. People do it in small bursts so that they can balance it with time off for work schedules and some people quit their jobs and leave everything behind. We have had trainees aged 18 to nearly 70.

Whatever your reason is, don’t let your fears hold you back. It’s not really any one ‘type’ that choose to come down and have this experience. It’s the desire for adventure and for knowledge that brings these people together. When we asked Ivan Liaw, a DM from Singapore (Now working and living in the U.S.) we think he said it best.

“It’s our dedication to the underwater world and those we interact with that defines us”

So quit making excuses and take the plunge (see what we did there?). For more information on how to get started contact us at [email protected] or have a look on our website!

Here is just a couple of photo’s of our trainees up to shenanigans…

a woman wearing underwear posing for a picture
Dakota pressure washing the deck-she volunteered
a group of people posing for a picture
Marine Park Birthday Fundraiser
a group of people posing for a photo
Hockey tournament for the Sol Foundation
a group of people posing for the camera
Phil and Mil came to do their DM as a part of their Uni courses, genius
We would love to have you come dive with us!
For more info on Coconut Tree Divers, schedules, courses, and pricing head to our homepage HERE!
To make a reservation head to our online reservation page HERE!

Do I Smell A Rat?

The diving community is diverse. We meet people from different parts of the world with different kinds of jobs and who have totally different reasons for why they started diving. What we all have in common is that we like to dive. It’s really cool to see how one common interest can bring everyone together. It’s down right touchy feely
a tree covered in snow
This is where Rachael is from, it’s beautiful. It’s also cold as shit. This picture was taken in September

Some of us at the shop grew up in places that were not so conducive to diving. Arguably some of the most landlocked places in the world. In fact, we’d say it was lucky we ended up as divers at all.

If you’ve only just been certified or were looking to begin, choosing dive destinations and organizing trips can be intimidating. If you don’t already have a buddy or someone to try it with, it can also be a bit lonely. Of course you will always be able to meet great friends wherever you end up, but sometimes it’s nice to have some help along the way. Whether it’s in your community or on your social media there are tons of places to meet up with other divers. One such group we have come to know and love are the Dive Rats of Tulsa.

The Dive Rats- self-named- formed back in 2001 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The original crew Mike, Gary, Brian, and John were just coworkers looking for people to dive with. Being based in Tulsa, there were dive schools, but it wasn’t exactly the destination they were looking for.

Brian is the quiet one, as an ex-water ski champion he had always loved the water. Diving was a natural thing for him to try and in college in 1993 he became certified Naui. He continued making trips when he could with his friends, trying to keep up his skill

John is described as the intellectual of the group, but still a hippy at heart. Certified way back in the 70’s. He is the OG

Gary is the dive boss, originally certified in the early 1980’s he has been certified in PADI, NAUI, and TDI. Reaching varying levels of certification from MSDT to full TEC and Cave diver. He’s also a real character.

Mike was the newest to the diving world, receiving his certification in 2000, but is the life of the party. He’s in charge of organizing trips for the group from hotels to flights, Mike always tries to optimize the fun.

At first it had been a bit of a boys club, boasting trips of up to 27 dudes. Honourable mention at this time goes to 5th member Jerry Wilson, the Party Boy Award Winner (That’s right, they have awards). Apparently he is good at two things; partying and photography. If you check them out on Facebook a lot of the pictures you see are Jerry’s work.

Look at that talent, Jerry made a Moray Eel look cute!

The group has now grown and evolved to include ladies and gentlemen of all ages. Though they called it ‘getting old’ they said they really enjoy having a mixture of people. Diver Tammy, met the group through work, at a time when she really needed to get away and the Rats welcomed her with open arms, she has been back twice since. No matter what kind of dynamic they have on each trip they continue to invite divers of all certification levels, and continue to encourage training and growth.

The Rats ensure each trip feels like a celebration. T-shirts, badges, hats, and awards are all part of the experience. It is important to them to include activities that make their members feel as though they are really involved in something special. With any group, nicknames are naturally a huge part of it.

a group of people sitting at a table with a lot of luggage

J dub, Hickey, Paddle Foot, Bernie, Mclovin, Big Nasty, Spider Monkey, Bam-bam, Skippy, and Professor P Diddle- just to name a few. When I asked for some of the sources Mike responded,

“Sorry, I can’t tell you who is which, I’d have to kill you.”

Mike, 2005. He thinks he is an underwater model

The first couple of trips were in Cozumel/Playa Del Carmen but, they have now branched out all over. Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Belize, Nicaragua, Fiji, Roatan, and more. If they like a place, they will always return. It’s not just about the diving for them, its about getting to know the local culture. They like to make sure they have the beat on a place, where to stay, what to eat, what to do. Making them pretty nice friends to have when you are a little apprehensive about trip planning.

We asked how their group continues to grow and how they all knew each other. Most of the answers we received were, coworkers, through family, or through posters in their local dive shop. Mike’s answer is that anyone interested will receive an email invite. He tells you times, dates, and costs and all you do is RSVP.

a group of people posing for the camera
The crew at El Agila wreck.

They offer trips in spring and fall, usually saving fall for Roatan. It’s ‘slow season’ here during that time and they take advantage of quieter boats and hotels. Although, we are at our hottest weather wise, the water remains refreshing and the diving fantastic. The group came to Coconut Tree Divers around 6 years ago, preferring the speed of West End to West Bay and quickly made themselves at home. They like to stay close by and have chosen some modest accommodations as the majority of your time on Roatan is spent outside, or in the water.

Lisa’s gorgeous baking. She boxes it up and brings it right down too you. You can also visit her at Fresh Bakery for sit down breakfast and lunch!

Breakfast favourite for the Rats is definitely Fresh Bakery. Owner Lisa, delivers fresh baked goods, bagels and sandwiches everyday but Sunday right to Coconut Tree Divers. Coffee is available at the shop every morning starting early, making it a simple way to start the day. Lunch favourites will be determined by whether they need a quick lunch before the third dive, or a nice sit down if done for the day. Choices such as Keith’s BBQ, Bean Crazy and Dos Hermanas next door become the staples. For dinner they have three main recommendations Pazzos, Rotisserie Chicken and C-Level Pizza.  Pazzos for homemade Italian deliciousness, Rotisserie for home cooked sides and desserts and C-Level for build your own pizzas.

Joining clubs and being part of teams are things that we encourage children and youth to do but as adults for some reason we hesitate. Having a community that we belong to is important at any age. If you can find one that fits you, it’s easy to feel encouraged, supported, and part of something bigger.  But, I do warn you, if you run with the Rats you better be able to handle a little teasing. Their primary languages being sarcasm and lampoonery.

If you are interested in joining you can always contact the Rats through their facebook page. Being from Tulsa is not a requirement, the crew is now located all over the U.S. meeting up when they can. As always, you can contact us for more information about diving and Roatan in general at [email protected]

A cutie little video of the Garden Eels at El Agila

We would love to have you come dive with us!
For more info on Coconut Tree Divers, schedules, courses, and pricing head to our homepage HERE!
To make a reservation head to our online reservation page HERE!

Dr. House Is Not A Diver

a man wearing a suit and tie
So Majestic

“Went diving yesterday. Like an idiot, he surfaced too quickly. Like a bigger idiot, he boarded a flight which is pressurized to 8,000 feet above sea level. Low pressure is killing him. Tell the pilot to dive until we can club baby seals out of the window.” -House M.D.

If you aren’t familiar with the popular TV series House M.D. that ran from 2004-2012 you must not have owned a television.  It was made famous by the incredible, loveable, and detestable character Dr. Gregory House, and brought to life by actor Hugh Laurie—Total Babe. The average viewer loved the drama and darkly sarcastic comments but, to the medical world, the show left something to be desired.

Dr. Scott Morrison, a physician in the U.S., has been quoted by Forbes as saying:

“An average House episode may rate a C,” he says, “but that is still miles above any other show out there.”

Morrison rates the validity of each episode and storyline on an A-F basis, and if anyone would know, it would be this guy. His blog, Polite Dissenthas a medical review for—no lie—every single episode. Its unclear to us how Dr. Morrison finds the time for that sort of thing, but we’re grateful when stumbling upon it when embarking on this post.

Matthew McConaughey swimming in the water
He’s handsome even though in the diving world the way he is wearing his mask is equivalent to socks with sandals
a group of people sitting at a table

Several ‘airplane experts’ in the comment section of Dr. Morrison’s blog are angry because the seating is totally unrealistic. So that part gets a D for stupid chair arrangement.

The reason we are writing about a medical drama on a diving blog is because—you guessed it—there is an episode with a diving related injury.

We don’t know about you guys, but whenever we stumble upon any reference, scene, or anything SCUBA related in a movie or on TV we get obsessed. Partially judging it’s objective accuracy, and partially just being excited to see SCUBA represented.

However, when searching this particular episode we found Morrison’s quote wholly disappointing; “I felt the medicine was decent this time, particularly the airplane scenes.”, and that was it.

Come on man, we want to know more!

To get you all up to speed, I will try and summarize the diving storyline, for those of you interested in more, we are looking at ‘Airborne’ Season 3 Episode 18 – Currently on Netlfix –

Hugh Laurie smiling for the camera

House and his boss Cuddy are aboard a plane leaving Singapore when this guy Peng starts to look really rough. He appears dizzy, nauseous, and is in obvious distress. His skin is grey and sweaty.

He then begins to vomit all over his food tray.

At this point, there is some – according to the comment section of Dr. Morrisons blog – questionable Filipino from the air hostess who then determines the guy only speaks Korean.

Super Unlucky.

So, House and Cuddy start doing what they do and the diagnosis jumps from thing to thing. They also realize that inconveniently this plane is flying over the North Pole and has nowhere to land prior to their destination. We then see Peng being described as having a fever, severe abdominal pain, and, a rash on the lower back.

Cue Dramatic and incorrect diagnosis.

Sometime later House shouts at the man to stand up. Peng is shaking, staggering, and, proceeds to fall down. Dr. House adds ‘Extension Posturing’ to the list of signs and describes Peng as having focal limb paralysis.

This escalates to a scene where House and crew are holding Peng down in order to cut what they believe to be a cocaine filled condom from his abdomen. The kid applies pressure to Peng’s shoulder and he appears to experience relief. House notices and repeats the same action on Peng’s knee, again, exhibiting relief. House puts the scalpel down and asks to see Peng’s wallet. Inside he finds a PADI card (We are not able to see the certification level) and a receipt for dive rental equipment from the day before. They call for the pilot to descend below 1524m. (5 000ft). It ends with Peng leaving the plane alive but on a stretcher.

a view of a snow covered mountain

The first aspect of the episode I wanted to investigate was the airplane. How could a commercial flight that travels from South-East Asia/China to the United States not have emergency landing sites? It turns out that it does. Although, Nunavut might not be teeming with dive doctors and recompression chambers it would still have likely been a better option than maintaining the altitude. We also read that in order to keep fuel temperature from freezing these flights often descend around 3000m over the arctic presumably increasing cabin pressure. This could explain why Peng’s symptoms worsened as they approached the U.S.

Also, would these airlines really just leave you to the mercy of these two doctors? We asked our friend Laura who has worked in the industry and she said that if a medical emergency did occur (dive related or not), protocol required the crew to inquire if anyone with medical training was on board, if not, they had an emergency line to call that would determine the status of the patient and provide EFR as needed. If necessary, they would be instructed to land the plane. She also recalls being briefed on DCS and minimum no fly times, 12 hours for single dives, 18 hours for multiple which, corresponds with DAN (Divers Alert Network) rules. Cabin crew required a minimum 24 hour window.

This portion of our episode is pretty cheesy. However, if they were able to land the plane at anytime, it sure would have taken away from the drama. It’s pretty misleading but, we will give the writers this one.

a close up of a sign

According to a study done by DAN , they discovered the acceptable minimum no fly times were difficult to determine because the low acceptable risk to the test volunteers. Incidences of neurological DCS were too high to continue testing. Basically they were able to find that the current rules (at 1% risk rate) were acceptable, anything below was unsafe to determine.

Next up, Peng was described as having likely experienced symptoms before he got on a flight that was then ascending to an altitude that at it’s highest would maintain a pressure of .76 bar (the limit for any commercial flight). So why did Peng do it? As a certified diver he should have been able to recognize the symptoms.

The thing is, is that this is a lot more common than you think. One of the first indicators of a DCS hit can be denial.

According to DAN;

The most common manifestations of DCS are joint pain and numbness or tingling. Next most common are muscular weakness and inability to empty a full bladder. Severe DCS is easy to identify because the signs and symptoms are obvious. However, most DCS manifests subtly with a minor joint ache or a paresthesia (an abnormal sensation like burning, tingling or ticking) in an extremity.

Most of these symptoms then get blamed on something else. Tight suits, heavy lifting, or, other non-diving related activities. So it’s not actually that unbelievable that dear old Peng didn’t recognize his symptoms. He is also an entirely fictional character so we won’t let this aspect stress us too much.


This is extension posturing. Doctors are able to determine injury types depending on the type of posture- And I am a child so I found the face on this drawing hilarious

Drama aside, lets break this down to determine if DCS is a plausible explanation for these signs and symptoms.

1. Dizziness- A clear and common indicator.

2. Nausea- And delightfully, vomiting.

3. Pain/discomfort- The most common symptom of DCS.

4. Rash on lower back– DCS related skin rashes tend to stick to the fatty tissue so this seems pretty accurate.

5. Severe abdominal pain- This one is a hard call, it was determined through zero communication from the patient so it’s lack of correlation with DCS doesn’t really prove anything.

6. Fever- A fever is actually what commonly helps doctors to realize that DCS is not the cause and more likely one of many other commonly linked symptoms such as those of dengue fever.

7. Staggering- Definitely a common sign. It should also be noted that anyone with suspected DCS should not sit or stand.

8. Extension posturing- Although this is not a commonly listed sign of DCS, it could occur in neurological varieties.

9. Focal joint paralysis- Again, this term specifically isn’t what is commonly used to describe the paralysis associated with DCS but it is understandably similar

10. Confusion/Strange Behaviour- Peng made very little attempt to communicate with the team trying to assess him, so we’ll go ahead and assume that this was another of the common signs of DCS.

Other than the glaring mistake of the fever, these symptoms seemed to be pretty accurate. Now, we have never seen anyone exhibiting signs of DCS to this severity but we would imagine that the actor embellished a little in his portrayal. The most concerning aspect of these symptoms are those suggesting neurological type forms of DCS, these would have required some pretty immediate action. So the signs and symptoms for the most part pass the test, the emergency first response does not.

a close up of a reptile
This is our judgement turtle. He is judging you 
a close up of a fish
This is our judgemental burrfish, they aren’t always judgemental like turtles are but, that final scene really did his head in.

The kicker though for us was the final scene where House finally figures the whole thing out. Pressure applied to a joint causing immediate relief? Sorry, but we called bull-@#$%. We are not a doctors but as a divers we have spent a fair amount of time studying and understanding Decompression Sickness. Some of us have even seen it. It was difficult to believe that a human body could exert the amount of pressure on a joint to simulate a change in atmospheric pressure.

A quick message off to DAN’s Medical Service Centre and we immediately received confirmation on our assumption,

Hello Rachael,

Your suspicions are correct, this is indeed misinformation. There is no evidence to suggest that mechanical pressure applied to a joint would result in any change in their condition. Please reconnect with us should you have any other questions or concerns. Regards,

Jonathan Gilliam

DAN Medical Services

It’s clear that some of this was complete garbage. The plane would have been able to land. They may have ended up somewhere near Santa’s house but, it could have worked. The flight staff also, would likely have enacted procedures for landing the plane at the initial symptoms. Especially had any of House and Cuddy’s terrifying diagnosis been correct. As Dr. Morrison would do, I give this section a C. It’s unrealistic, but delightfully dramatic.

Peng getting on the plane is far more believable. A lot of divers make the mistake of misdiagnosing their DCS symptoms and very often continue diving or get aboard flights. So this aspect gets an A. Although, House was maybe unfair for how many times he called him an idiot.

The symptoms get a B-. We struggled with this one, the symptoms are all bang on, except for the fever. A fever would be the indicator that proved this probably wasn’t DCS and therefore took the grade way down.

The final seen? An F. A big F, less than an F. It’s absolutely unrealistic. If you don’t believe us lets go ask Jonathan, or any other dive doctor for that matter.

All in all, though we liked this episode. It was funny, it got us talking, and it gave us fodder for this blog. If you guys have any other movies, shows, books, or whatever that you would like us to take a look at on the subject of diving let us know!

We’ll see you all next week.

a group of people posing for the camera
Diving makes us happy
Acknowledgements to Instructor Shane for informing me about the existence of this episode. Thanks to Laura for being my airplane expert. Obvious thanks to Jonathan and Divers Alert Network. Thanks to Forbes, Dr. Morrison, and all the guys on reddit who showed me how to read Morrison’s expired blog. Thank You to Conde Nast Traveler for having all the information about North Pole flight routes in one handy article. All of the articles that I referenced can be linked to in the section in which they are referred. Thanks Alexandra HG Photography for being my resource for epic dive photos.
We would love to have you come dive with us!
For more info on Coconut Tree Divers, schedules, courses, and pricing head to our homepage HERE!
To make a reservation head to our online reservation page HERE!