The majority of the world’s most beautiful reef systems are found within the tropics. As a scuba diver these reefs provide some interesting and unique dive opportunities, however the tropics also provide a unique set of challenges that you may need to overcome. The majority of the countries that are found within the tropics are undeveloped, which means that access to many of the facilities that we are used to are hard to come by or impossible to find at all. These could include things that we take for granted such as medical care, fresh water, a constant power supply and reliable transportation options.
As a diver we are all aware of injuries that can occur underwater. Although decompression illness and other pressure related maladies are rare, it is still possible even in shallow depths. It is therefore of vital importance that you have access to emergency oxygen, and have an emergency action plan in place so you can evacuate to emergency medical care if necessary. This could even be evacuation to another country because many developing countries still do not have re-compression chambers. It is important to be properly insured for dives you will be completing with a reputable company such as DAN (Divers Alert Network).
Other injuries that can occur whilst diving could be from the marine life itself. Although unprovoked attacks are very rare, it is possible to accidentally trigger the defensive mechanisms of other creatures. Accidentally brushing up against a sea urchin can cause a mildly painful (but small) puncture wound, or accidentally kneeling on a stone fish will result in a painful venom being injected through the spines into the affected area. It is important that you plan for any dangerous marine animals that you may come into contact with. You should learn how to identify them, and the first aid required for any injuries. Also be aware that in the tropics infections can happen quickly, so any wound you get, even a mosquito bite can quickly become a problem. It is very important that you look after any wounds properly, ensuring they are clean and if they get infected you should keep out of the water until the infection has gone.
As we are focusing on less developed countries it is important to note that scuba diving is also not a well-established sport in many parts of the world, even some of the countries with the most beautiful, untouched reefs. This means that getting spare parts for dive specific equipment or getting pieces of equipment fixed can be impossible. Most dive shops will have spare parts for some equipment, such as spare regulator mouth pieces or mask straps, but probably not different parts for all the regulators available so it is advisable that you take a service kit for your regulators, a spare battery for you dive computer and a spare mask is never a bad idea!
Some of the more remote areas also have poor infrastructure in terms of building and development, it is a good idea to plan a couple of days to get to anywhere you want to go. This is especially important of catching flights! I have been stuck on an island before as the Ferry Company decided there wasn’t enough people to run the ferry! I spend nearly $600 on a private charted flight so I could catch my flight back to the UK. It is common for buses to get cancelled or have their engine break half way through the journey. Many places also lack decent roads so a 30 km journey could easily take 1 hour 30 minutes. This needs to be taken into consideration when planning an emergency action plan, as emergency services may not be so good, or not there at all you will need to have a plan for what emergency transport you may need.
Because diving is not well established in many of these areas, you will find that many of the locals are very interested in what you are doing. Usually just coming to you and asking questions. Remember you are in their country and it is polite to answer them and share what you are doing. However SCUBA equipment is commonly stolen and sold in the black market for illegal fishing so make sure you always lock your equipment away after a dive and try not to leave anything lying about.
On a final note I highly recommend that you have your Open Water and Advanced Open Water certifications before you leave for your trip. Due to the lack of tourism in many places, you may find that the dive shops only have one instructor and they don’t t have time to complete your course. This could be incredibly frustrating, especially if you went there especially to learn to dive. Completing your courses at home beforehand allows you more flexibility with your dive holiday, and will allow you to dive the better and deeper site too!
The tropics include a huge area of our planet, and offer some stunning dive sites, often many that have seldom been explored. Heading into the wilderness and going diving in these places can be an amazing experience. Hick ups are bound to happen, and the only way to learn to deal with them is to experience them first hand. If the reason you got into diving was for adventure and exploration then diving in remote areas may be for you!
‘Diving in Remote Area of the Tropics’ was written by Mike