If you’re a certified diver looking for a new place to explore, a backpacker searching for the next extension of your journey, or even someone interested in becoming involved in the sport of scuba diving for the first time, I’ve got just the place to share with you: Utila!
Utila is one of three bay islands located off the northern coast of Honduras in the Western Caribbean. With one main road spanning the length of the island’s single town center, Utila is refreshingly small and consists primarily of dive shops, restaurants, and bars. This past fall, I spent three months in Utila earning my instructor certification, learning to operate the Utila Hyperbaric Chamber, and conducting research with the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center, or as islanders call it, WSORC. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Utila, so much so that I plan on returning in early April to extend my work with WSORC.
I wasted no time diving into all that Utila has to offer, for the morning after my arrival I began my Instructor Development Course (or IDC) with the Bay Island College of Diving (BICD) and course director Nick Derutter. For fourteen days, I spent time in the classroom and in the water learning all the techniques and skills necessary to properly conduct a PADI course. I also received instructor-level training for PADI Emergency Oxygen Administration and Emergency First Responder Primary and Secondary Care. My IDC culminated with the Instructor Examination (or IE), which all candidates must successfully complete to be an official, teaching-status instructor. We celebrated my classmates and my success that night with a PADI-sponsored party, a large BICD dinner, and socializing at our favorite local bar, Tranquila. Becoming an instructor has certainly been the most rewarding step I have taken in my scuba diving career, which began nine years ago when I received my Junior Open Water certification.
Having completing my IDC and inspired by just how much I learned in two weeks, I yearned to get back into the classroom. One very unique feat Utila boasts is that the island has its own hyperbaric chamber operated by the Bay Island College of Diving. Thus, I enrolled in a Hyperbaric Chamber Operator course taught by instructor Pete Gilbert. Over the course of a week, I explored the physics and physiology behind hyperbaric medicine and learned how to safely operate a multiplace hyperbaric chamber.
I spent the remaining two months of my time in Utila with WSORC working as a Research Intern. Led by director Kate Meyer, the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center’s primary goal is to serve as a hub for graduate and thesis research while also offering educational internships. Through my internship, I gained an appreciation for the local Utilian ocean environment and learned how to be an advocate for it. Alongside studying local fish, corals, invertebrates, and benthic organisms, I also took part in beach clean-ups, monitored the local reefs’ health by conducting environmental surveys, and cared for corals under the guidance of Dan Hughes at WSORC’s coral nursery. Toward the end of my time, I also assisted two thesis candidates, Aislyn and Stephanie, conduct research and analyze data they had collected concerning the relationship between algae cover and fish populations on the north and south side of the Island. Their work was fascinating, and I was glad to be involved.
In addition to all of the unique opportunities Utila has to offer, the island’s harmonious population and easy going lifestyle makes it a truly enjoyable place to spend time. It was amazing getting to know all of the people with whom I worked at BICD and WSORC. Utila attracts a diverse crowd of individuals. I met people from different countries with zany accents and individuals with varying travel experience, interests, and scuba diving backgrounds. But one thing unites all of those who stumble upon Utila — a love for scuba diving and a passion for the ocean. At the end of the day, it’s nice to be able to sit back, watch an incredible Caribbean sunset, and enjoy the company of your island-mates.
I look forward to returning to Utila, and continuing to explore all that the island has to offer. It’s no coincidence that those who visit Utila often return or end up staying much longer than anticipated. There is no shortage of adventure in Utila.
Post By: James Allan, Boston Sea Rovers Intern 2016, PADI Instructor