Category Archives: New Diver

Diving the Barf Bag: Roatan, part 2

(or: “How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Purge Valve”)

So, one of the things I didn’t quite get to in my previous post about being a new diver in Roatan, Honduras, was…that little thing about the time I had a case of the pukes.

After doing my certification dives from shore, and going on one pretty controlled dive from the boat on the second afternoon, I was feeling quite relieved and accomplished.  I was also feeling like relaxing, hanging out with all these cool new people, enjoying the luau-esque dinner at the hotel, having a couple of drinks, surely not enough water, and going to bed a wee bit too late.




Oh, and believing the new pal who swore he’d bang on my door to wake me up the next morning, “in plenty of time!”  Yeah, right.
(First dope-slap beginner lesson learned: don’t forget to pack a reliable alarm device.)

Well, instead, I woke up with a jolt, was quite late, rushed over to the boat area, and felt the burn of a few weary stares from the folks who didn’t appreciate the new girl holding things up.  I can’t remember every detail, but between my nerves, my poor hydration and rest, and the rough conditions on the water that day, I was feeling downright gross.

As we got closer to the dive site, I was ok, but anxious – after all, this was only my first full day on a dive boat, plus I felt like a jerk on top of it.  It was all making me very tense.  So after getting my gear on properly, and doing my second-ever giant stride from a boat, I was calming down and just about to descend with my instructor when – oh, sh*t!

Up it came.




In case you haven’t heard it, one very apt euphemism for seasickness – more specifically, for barfing in the ocean – is “feeding the fishes.”

They were around me like moths to a flame.  Flipping and flapping.  And at the time,  I really resented the little jerks for adding insult to injury.

After a minute and a much-needed laugh, I regained composure and truly felt fine.  I was a little nervous, and counseled that if I wanted to call the dive, I should, but also told that very often you feel better once you’re under.

I went for it, and that proved to be true:  I felt fine, had a fine dive, saw lots of cool stuff, even did pretty well on air consumption, completed a text-book safety stop, ascended slowly while looking above me for any potential obstructions.  Then once on the surface, I inflated my BC, smiled for a second at the wonder of diving…and then puked my guts out again.


Luckily, by then it was time for the surface interval.  Of course, by now there were numerous suggestions – from ginger candy to magnetic bracelets to saltines.  “I feel fine now,” I swore.  “And I never get seasick!”

Eventually, I let it go.  Until, we were gearing up again, and one helpful new friend said:

“Don’t worry, Rach.  If you have to blow chunks down there, you just do it right through your ‘reg’.  Make sure to keep it in your mouth.  Puke, purge, and you’re good to go.”

Um…what?!  That definitely did not put me at ease!

Second stage mouthpiece - Not an ad, just the (very good) regulator I use.

Second stage mouthpiece – Not an ad, just the (very good) regulator I use.

Unlike some stories I’ve since found on the web, the question of vomiting while diving never came up in my open water class.  It just never occurred to me to consider it, never mind the correct procedure.

But of course it can happen.  You just need to think through the right steps and at least imagine it, so you don’t flip out.

How to Vomit While SCUBA diving:

  1. Relax, don’t panic, get your buddy’s attention if you can
  2. Keep your regulator mouthpiece (second stage) IN your mouth, and hold it firmly in place
  3. Vomit into and through the regulator second stage
  4. Use the purge valve immediately after to clear out the offending material (taking the usual care to deflect the direct burst of air with your tongue)
  5. Take your time, relax, make sure your buoyancy is under control, check your air
  6. Regain composure and resume your regular, calm breathing
  7. Proceed along, changing to your back up (octopus) air source mouth piece, if necessary
  8. Either make a controlled ascent (do so if you’ve switched to the octopus) or if you feel better, just calmly finish your dive

Please note:  I have never done this, myself, and still hope I don’t have to.

Then again, now that I have many more dives under my belt, I don’t even think about things like coughing, laughing, even sneezing down there, and all with the regulator in – it truly becomes like second nature.  (Sneezing gets a little snotty, yes, but really not a big deal.)  Hopefully if it ever does happen, it will be as unpleasant as barfing topside – but no worse.

All that said, I have recently read some conflicting opinions about this – even on the DAN site, which surprised me – so I’m going to continue to find out more, and will update if I come across anything good.  Some people recommend taking the regulator out of your mouth, chucking up into the water, and then immediately putting the unsullied mouthpiece back in place.  The main rationale for this method is that you risk clogging up your regulator if you were to keep it in your mouth, or – much more to the point – that when you take the reflexive, sharp inhale immediately after vomiting (which we all do), you might inhale solids that are stuck in the regulator and therefore choke.

The very strong counter argument – and the one that I was since taught and strongly believe – is that when indeed you take the reflexive, sharp inhale immediately after vomiting (which we all do), you most certainly do NOT want that inhale to be all water.  That will definitely cause you to cough, gasp, suck in more water, panic, be unable to get your regulator back in…and good night Irene.

So keep the regulator in!  Then purge if you need to, stay calm, and get the camera ready – after all, if you “feed the fishes,” you might as well get some good shots to tell the tale!

Please let me know – have you ever vomited while on a dive?  Do you disagree with keeping the regulator in place?  Leave a comment – I’m sure these will be educational and entertaining stories, but above all I hope, of course, that they all ended safely.

Thanks for reading!

Diving the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: Roatan, part I

My first SCUBA diving destination trip was in 2006 to Roatan, the “big island” of the 3 Bay Islands in Honduras.



It was a very cool locale to do my check-out dives, and then roll right into my first week of boat diving.  I was able to build on that initial momentum and improve my fledgling skills, while surrounded by a fun bunch of skilled – and generous (and opinionated) – divers. (Good advice, PB!)

So I had finally scored my NAUI Open Water Certification, was on my first big trip, and was very happy. But I was so focused on new skills, not making a fool of myself, not dying, and the new people I was meeting, I didn’t pay close attention to the place, itself. 

That said, a few great things stood out immediately:


AKR View from Bar 2006

The dive operation at the well-known Anthony’s Key Resort was very good (not that I had anything to compare it to at that point, but my seasoned pals were impressed), and set in a beautiful landscape.


Shot from Bungalow AKR 2006

We were situated right along the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) so each day we paid our park fees and received our bracelet tags – as in many marine protected areas (MPA), these need to be displayed on your wrist or your BC at all times to show that you have permission to dive there.  This system helps the RMP in its mission to “protect and provide a healthy and sustainable marine environment off Roatan.”

I was also reassured to know that we were steps away from the only re-compression chamber (or hyperbaric chamber) in the area, at Anthony’s Key’s own Cornerstone Recompression Chamber and Clinic.  In partnership with DAN, the chamber is available to commercial and recreational divers, and in turn, the wider clinic provides general medical care to the local community, who might otherwise not have access to treatment.


My first dive site map 2006

May 15, 2006.  It’s hard to describe my first “real” dives, descending over dense coral walls and through the spectacular coral canyons along the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) – the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Everywhere I looked I saw one more beautiful, weird, creepy, funny, intriguing thing after the next.  It felt like the closest thing I could imagine to being in space – exploring an environment that I couldn’t comprehend until I was in it.

I wasn’t tuned in to the state of the MBRS (a.k.a. the Great Mayan Reef) back then, but I remember a lot of the other divers talking to the dive masters about it, and being cautiously but pleasantly surprised by what seemed like good size and density of the corals.

They were relieved, I learned, because much of the reef had been badly damaged about eight years earlier, by a double-whammy of weather conditions. First, El Nino effects caused sustained ocean temperature rise and resultant, widespread coral bleaching in 1997-98. Then the destructive Hurricane Mitch struck in October of 1998.  [For more on this period, check out this 2001 report from the United States Geological Survey.]

As for the current state of the MBRS, now another eight years later, I found a good resource in the Healthy Reefs Initiative, and their frequent “Report Cards” that assess the situation. 2012-RC-cover-straight

I’ve been reading their clear and thorough Mesoamerica Barrier Reef’s HRI Report Card from 2012.

As anticipated, the news is not good.

Like coral reefs world-wide, the MBRS suffers the very common but serious problems of:

  1. Urbanization and over-development on land
  2. Ocean acidification leading to coral bleaching (that’s climate change, people)
  3. Over fishing and by-catch depletion
  4. Marine debris from litter and run off
  5. Chemical pollution and marine oil leaks

And then another great threat is our ol’ frenemy, the Indo-Pacific red lionfish, a dastardly invasive species that has spread widely, and increasingly threatens marine ecosystems in the Caribbean and the Eastern U.S.

Pretty but Unwelcome!

Pretty but Unwelcome! Cozumel circa 2010 RS

These beauties live harmoniously in Indo-Pacific Ocean environs, but are now wreaking havoc in places where they don’t belong.  Stay tuned for more on the lionfish problem.

I’ll also have more to come on my (limited) experience in Roatan, but for now – if you have a chance to dive the Bay Islands, definitely take it.  It is a beautiful part of the world, with great diving and important marine conservation initiatives going on, but the reef is in trouble.  (Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s already an “it” market for U.S. & Euro expats to (over)develop, so…better get a move on!)

Have any of you been to Roatan recently?  Or maybe to Utila and Guanaja?  What was your experience?   Please leave a reply – I’d love to know the latest.

Thanks!  Until next time.


UPDATE: On Feb. 27, 2014, I came across a new article in Marine Science Today.  The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI) has recently released a new report on the state of the Mesoamerican Reef System.  Here’s a quote from this article:

The Eco-Audit revealed that encouraging progress has been made on some issues, particularly with marine protected areas, but the overall pace of implementation of management actions is far too slow.  Since the last Eco-Audit in 2011, 80 percent of the 22 indicators measured in both 2011 and 2014 had no changes; only 18 percent increased. If this pace continues, it will take 50 years to fully implement all of the recommended management actions, which is too long for reefs that are already in danger.