Ocean First in Grenada 2018

Ocean First   Jul 05, 2022

The adventure that is Grenada begins as it comes into view through the airplane window. It’s staggering to see an island that seconds as a small mountain range, with peaks that rise from the sea up to 3000’. To put that into perspective, that’s a little less than the average elevation gain you experience when hiking a Colorado 14er. The mountainous landscape is covered in waterfall littered rainforest, with the occasional colorful city. The mountains seemed to be blanketed with a haze that we would later find out to be dust that had crossed the Atlantic ocean from the Sahara desert.

Our group of freedivers has been training for this trip for months with weekly pool sessions, personal apnea practice, and a serious change in diet (no alcohol, dairy, or caffeine...yikes!). For some, this trip is an opportunity to beat personal records, while for others this will be a chance to use their well-honed skills to interact with wildlife and do some underwater exploration. For Jess and me, this marks our second time leading an Ocean First freediving trip but our first time to Grenada.

We started the trip by arriving at Coyaba Beach Resort, located on the Grand Anse Beach. Grand Anse is comprised of soft, white sand and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Walking through Coyaba towards the beach, we come across our dive operator – Eco Dive. The operation is a small stereotypical beach shack with windows and doors that are operated with a ropes and pulleys. The owners of Eco Dive, Christine and Andre, also own a sister-shop in Barbados called Barbados Blue. Both partake in conservation work in Grenada and Barbados through biological consulting. During our time in Grenada, the duo and their extraordinary crew took us on personal tours to their favorite freediving sites across the island. Most days ended with us bellied up to a classic beach bar called Umbrellas, forbidden beers in hand as we mingled with the locals. Umbrellas got our attention with their live music and incredible food, and it got our hearts with their anti-straw stance and compostable to-go ware.

Freediving days started with us crowding onto Eco Dive’s boats and motoring out to deep water beyond the edges of the island’s cliff edges. Before the fun dives could begin, we needed to get our new freedivers certified and make sure everyone was up to snuff on their safety skills. The set-up included two attached floats with ropes and weights, creating free-floating training lines that the divers could adjust based on their goal depth. Jess and I worked with the divers to complete their safety skills and deep water observations, while other divers tried to reach their goal depths. By the end of the week we had two new certified divers and everyone was able to hit their personal records!

During the second half of the freediving days, we stayed in shallower water which gave us the opportunity to do some sightseeing and lionfish culling. While we were there, the water was fairly murky that you might expect in the Caribbean, mostly due to volcanic run off; much to our delight, these nutrients actually attract rays and other filter feeders. As far as the lionfish culling, we managed to snag a dozen of the invasive fish species and ate them in fresh ceviche. We were expecting to see a lot more, which really speaks to the effectiveness of the marine park and the dive operators efforts to reduce their populations. A favorite site in the area was the underwater sculpture garden – after Hurricane Ivan ravaged the reef, a local artist installed concrete sculptures as an attraction to keep tourists interested in diving on their island. In a short amount of time, a natural reef has started to grow on the artificial structures, offering some really cool and eerie sights.

Another popular reason to visit Grenada is the opportunity to see the largest sea turtle on the planet, the leatherback. This vulnerable species is known to visit the north end of the island to bury their eggs in the sand, using the light of the full moon to guide their way. There are popular guided tours that allow you to watch researchers tag the nesting turtles and protect the hatchlings.

Luck was on our side. The evening that we were planning on our scheduled turtle tour, we were finishing up our dinner at Dodgey Docs and talking to Christine, our local guide. She was working on setting up the tour and found out from a friend that a leatherback had appeared at a resort only a couple hundred meters from our lodging! We weretold that turtles haven’t been seen on this side of the island in years, so this was a big deal. We rushed to the resort in time to find the nesting mother surrounded by a crowd of people. This living dinosaur was bigger than we had ever imagined, bigger than a dining table and firmly set on nesting in the fancy resort’s beachfront concrete.

Human development has messed with the leatherbacks’ ability to navigate; the bright lights from the resort look like the full moon to the turtles, so they get disoriented. We worked on urging the resorts to kill the lights while a group tried to push her back into the sea. She wouldn’t budge until someone brought out a flashlight and used it to urge her back towards the water. She was visibly stressed and exhausted but finally she made it back into the ocean. The following night we went on the scheduled turtle tour and saw two nesting mothers as well as six hatchling in a much more protected and less stressful environment.

While the island of Grenada is tiny, you could spend months experiencing only part of what it has to offer, from the diving to the waterfall-ridden jungles. Jess and I were grateful for the experience leading the trip, and our freedivers all praised their time on the island. Now, the main question on everyone's minds is “where to next??”