The remote island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia is among the few places in the world that remains free of Covid-19 thanks to its ocean border and a strict travel ban that has kept its residents safe.
Nonetheless, Yap has been affected, too. As one of the world’s premier, award-winning destinations for divers, this paradisiacal location in the western Pacific Ocean has had no outside visitors to its rich shores and reef for nearly a year. But while there may be no virus, the island hasn’t been cut off from the economic impact experienced around the globe.
That didn’t stop Bill Acker, CEO and founder of the Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers, from doing something, though.
Last March, soon after the island went into lockdown, Bill began to realize the effect of the virus on daily life beyond the island. “Yes, we are closed, have no divers, had to send our employees home and prepare for difficult times,” he said. “But we’re lucky in that we have, for the most part, avoided the human suffering and death this pandemic has caused.”
Thinking about the problems faced by his family business, they paled when he compared them to those endured by the healthcare workers who have been fighting selflessly around the clock for months on end for the well-being and lives of others.
“One evening, while checking the news online, I saw pictures of frontline workers who were tending to desperately ill and dying people when families and friends could not be with their loved ones. It was heartbreaking,” he added.
The next day, a meeting was held with the resort’s staff and Bill invited suggestions for ways they could do something to honor healthcare workers. The result was the idea to award twenty divers who are working on the frontline to save other’s lives during this pandemic while risking their own, with a free week at the resort.
Divers around the world who had been guests at Manta Ray Bay in the past were invited to submit the names of candidates for the award by December 31, 2020. “We received nominations for 126 individuals from as far away as Germany, the U.S., Australia and Canada,” he said. “It was not easy choosing the winners but our committee of staff members took on the job and selected the 20 finalists.”
“While trying to choose the people to reward for their hard work during this Covid-19 crisis,” Bill added, “by reading the nominations we saw that every one of the nominees was doing things above and beyond the call of duty. Sadly, we don’t have the finances to offer over 100 free weeks in Yap, but we do want to recognize the contributions all of them are making to our world. So, we are offering the rest of the nominees a free week of diving in Yap which includes room, hotel tax, airport transfers, breakfast, diving and Wi-Fi. The only requirement is that they travel with at least three other people and stay in two rooms or more.”
“We do not yet know when Yap will open its borders,” said Bill, “but when it does, we will welcome these important guests to Yap to relax and dive with the manta rays and the other beautiful denizens of the ocean surrounding our island home. They are the true heroes of this devastating, historic time and we look forward to honoring them with a well-deserved dive vacation.”
Watch out for our exclusive trip report from a healthcare worker from the UK who is one of the 20 to have been awarded this amazing dive trip!
For more information on Manta Ray Bay and Yap Divers visit their website by clicking here.
Top 12 Dive Destinations in Oceania – Part 2
Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote dive spots that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough dive destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous divers. In part II of 12 great places to go diving in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next dive trip to Oceania here.
French Polynesia’s Society Islands have a stellar list of dive destinations, including Tahiti and Moorea. Between them, they offer easy coral reef diving and calm, turquoise lagoons with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks. You can also swim with humpback whales, tiger sharks, lemon and nurse sharks there.
This beautiful nation’s best-known dive spots, Fakarava and Rangiroa atolls, are just a short flight away from the Society Islands. Both of these huge atolls offer exciting pass dives with hundreds of grey reef sharks and resident dolphins.
For a completely different dive experience, visit the Marquesas Islands. This island group is the farthest from any landfall on Earth and has a unique underwater world that hosts unusually large mantas and melon-headed whales.
And if that all sounds like too much effort, go Bora Bora scuba diving instead. This ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ has fantastic diving, and you can spend your downtime relaxing with champagne lunches on deserted islands.
The Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every diver there.
The Russell Islands host some of the best-known dive sites in all of the Solomon Islands. There, you can glide between the walls of a crevasse that cuts through an island, immerse yourself in wreck diving at White Sand Beach, swim through a halocline at Custom Caves, or go in search of pygmy seahorses.
For the best wreck diving, make sure you visit Iron Bottom Sound. This stretch of water hosts around 200 ships and more than 600 aircraft wrecks from World War II. It is a wreck diving mecca that offers excellent tech-wreck dives.
The Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands is a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls that few people know about. As the fifth least visited country in the world, these islands offer remote diving among exciting deep wrecks and vibrant coral reefs.
Bikini Atoll is the main dive destination in the Marshall Islands. Made famous by US atomic bomb tests in the 1940s, this atoll hosts numerous deep wrecks that offer incredible tech diving.
As well as some of the best tech-wreck dives imaginable, the Marshall Islands also have thriving hard coral reefs without any dive crowds. There are pinnacles, drop-offs, channels and shallow coral gardens to explore, busy with colorful reef life.
The Cook Islands
When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.
This wonderful country is a perfect place to get your Open Water Diver certification or take your family diving. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms. There are around 25 dive sites just offshore and gorgeous beaches for laid-back surface intervals.
Nearby Aitutaki has fewer visitors, yet it hosts around 22 dive sites, with many still being discovered. It is a great place to dive among remote coral-covered landscapes and forget the rest of the world exists. Whichever island you choose, the waters are warm and full of colorful reef life.
New Caledonia is one of those wish-list destinations known for its spectacular diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.
There are over 100 dive sites scatted around New Caledonia, offering a tempting mix of deep drop-offs, thrilling drift dives, wrecks, and easy reef diving. Most diving is conducted at the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, a vast 1500 km-long reef that encloses a UNESCO World Heritage lagoon. Within the lagoon, you can explore coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy dive sites in shallow waters.
New Caledonia’s extensive marine reserves ensure these dive sites are teeming with life. For the best chance to see mantas and sharks, visit from April until September.
Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes and excellent scuba diving.
Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many dive sites accessible simply by walking off the beach. Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique dive spots and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. The SS President Coolidge, a former World War II troop carrier, and the 1874 three-masted Star of Russia are excellent wrecks to dive.
The amount of marine life at Vanuatu’s dive sites is staggering. As well as rainbow-hued corals and countless reef fish, there are sea turtles, sharks, rays, and numerous pelagic fish. You can also go swimming with dugongs there.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, home to more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.
Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic.
The nearby Witu Islands are a great place to go critter hunting and drift dive among schools of tuna and barracuda. Milne Bay is the home of muck diving and offers excellent shallow muck and reef diving with numerous critters.
There are seamounts busy with reef sharks and exciting walls at Fathers Reefs, and you can dive in the shadow of jungle-covered fjords at Tufi.
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.
Fiji drops pre-arrival Covid-19 testing requirements
The news that Fiji is dropping pre-arrival Covid-19 testing requirements is a welcome one for divers wishing to explore some of the world’s healthiest and most vibrant soft coral reef systems on the planet.
Effective 1 May 2022, fully vaccinated visitors to Fiji will no longer be required to produce a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 test prior to entry, a move that reduces costs and lends greater convenience to those traveling to the country.
The change applies to all visitors entering Fiji by air or sea who were previously required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or rapid antigen test (RAT) prior to their arrival to Fiji.
This step is in line with best practice for entry requirements among highly vaccinated societies and follows countries such as Australia and Singapore which have also removed COVID-19 testing as an entry prerequisite.
The current requirement to book an in-country pre-COVID RAT test, prior to departing for Fiji, remains. The test must be done within 48 – 72 hours of arrival. In-country tests must be booked prior to arrival to Fiji on https://entrytestfiji.com/.
Commencing 1 May 2022, the vaccination requirement for entry into Fiji has also been widened. All visitors above the age of 16 years must now display proof of full COVID-19 vaccination prior to entering the country.
The lowering of the age requirement for the vaccine prerequisite comes as more children globally are granted access to vaccines. Fiji’s key visitor markets have considerably high coverage of vaccination amongst those below the 18-year age threshold.
In Australia, the vaccine coverage for ages 16 and above is significant across all key visitor market states of New South Wales (95%), Victoria (94%), and Queensland (92%). New Zealand has a vaccination coverage of 95 percent for those 12 years and above. In the United States, vaccine coverage for those between the ages of 12 and 17 years the vaccine coverage is 77.4 percent.
Requiring that all tourists aged 16 years and above provide proof of vaccination prior to visitors to Fiji further reduces the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and allows Fiji to capture a greater percentage of the fully vaccinated tourism market.
All other existing conditions for entry remain applicable and can be reviewed at https://www.mcttt.gov.fj/.
These moves follow Fiji’s continued effort to strengthen its in-country testing program and wider community surveillance efforts designed to ensure the safety of visitors and Fijians alike.
The COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Taskforce will continue to review Fiji’s entry requirements and COVID safe measures, with a focus on strengthening community surveillance and the robustness of the in-country testing digital platform, supplemented by the already high vaccination rates.
With thanks to Volivoli Beach Resort (pictured) for the story.