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Twenty years ago, Aaron Hunt wouldn’t have seen himself where he is now. Today he serves as an unlikely hero to some of the Cayman Islands’ most vulnerable animal species: coral. With a love of the sea and a lifetime of lessons under his belt, he is the founder of Eco Divers, a not-for-profit dive shop with a mission to reinvigorate the coral population.

We were recently able to sit down and chat with Aaron about his life and how he and Eco Divers are paving a new way for coral sustainability. 

Color Me Coral

Aaron grew up and spent much of his life in Sacramento, California, thousands of miles from any type of coral reef. He served in the Army from 1993 to 2001 as an M1A1 tank commander. After retiring from the military life, he studied computers in college, and eventually became a computer specialist and network systems administrator for a series of small businesses around the Sacramento area.

It was during this time that Aaron developed a fascination for coral—some might even call it an obsession. He built his own 500-gallon coral propagation system in his home. He lived with a beautiful, albeit small, coral reef in his living room, but he wanted to get even closer to the animals he had grown to love so much. The best way to do that? Scuba diving.

In 2006, Aaron took up scuba diving and began working as a part-time divemaster helping instructors teach classes at a local Sports Chalet, which is a sporting goods store found only in parts of the Western United States that went out of business a few years ago. (I took dive lessons at a Sports Chalet in Las Vegas when I was a kid.) Aaron watched the students he taught travel to exotic places for dive trips, and he wanted to do the same.

If you couldn’t tell already, Aaron isn’t the kind of guy to go halfway on anything. When he loves something—like the military, computers, or coral—he goes all in. His work with scuba wasn’t going to be any different. Not only did he want to travel to exotic places, he wanted to move to an exotic place, dive for a living, and work with coral.

“So I read every one of our travel guides,” Aaron said. “I knew I wanted to stay in the Caribbean, but one book seemed different than the others. It spoke of friendly people and quality of life, rich history of scuba, and a prosperous community.”

Where was this amazing place? You guessed it: Grand Cayman.

The Eco Divers Story

In 2009, Aaron made his move to Grand Cayman and began his new life. He became a dive instructor, able to teach classes on his own, and trained as a captain, all while remembering his love for coral.

In 2014, Aaron founded Eco Divers. Not your typical dive exploration group, Eco Divers is focused on “diving with a mission” to help the coral reefs around Grand Cayman.

Coral reefs are believed to be some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and the reefs around the Cayman Islands are no different. Coral reefs are home to hundreds of species of coral and other animals and are vulnerable to disease, bleaching, increases in ocean temperatures, and other threats. As a result, reefs in the Caribbean are suffering and a significant number of them are dying or already dead.

This is where the Eco Divers Reef Foundation team comes in. Over the past few years, they have been building spawning structures around Grand Cayman that help grow new coral species. These corals are then transplanted to existing reefs where they thrive and help redevelop the ecosystem.

The best part is: they’ve seen success—90 percent of their coral are surviving.

“In two years, we have seen an increase in coral abundance from three to seven every half kilometer to finding two hundred to two hundred and fifty,” Aaron said.

Get Involved

Anyone interested in helping the Eco Divers mission can do so when they visit Grand Cayman. They offer opportunities for individuals to see the coral spawn structures no matter what level of diver you are.

Beginners can participate in the Discovery Coral Diving program, a short lecture, and class that leads groups straight to one of the nursery sites. For more experienced divers, PADI offers a Coral Reef Renewal Distinctive Specialty course that is offered through Eco Divers. This enrolls divers in their volunteer effort and opens up new experiences for those wanting to help sustainable coral restoration.

If diving isn’t your thing, Eco Divers hosts fundraising events on a regular basis including pub quiz events.

Serving Others

Aaron Hunt has used his unique skills as a former soldier and network administrator to create a successful coral management foundation in Grand Cayman. In addition to helping the reefs, he is using his skills to give back to the community in other ways. Eco Divers is an active member of the Inspire Cayman project with a mission to help young Caymanians become leaders in Cayman’s dive industry.

“My experiences in the military, explaining computers to frustrated customers, growing and managing corals, and then working as an instructor have all formed into this unexpected, timely series of skills,” Aaron said. “I am truly blessed to live today with my lifetime of experiences. Instead, I get to apply all of these seemingly unconnected skills together and use them to return vitality to coral populations.”

If you’re interested in going on an Eco Divers dive exploration, visit their website, www.caymanecodivers.com or give them a call at 345-938-4904.

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Last year, Christopher Columbus Condos was excited to become the first development on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lighting. Today, we are delighted to announce that thanks to this update, 142 baby sea turtles hatched on our beach earlier this week.

A few weeks ago, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) began monitoring a nest that was found next to one of our beach huts. They determined that because of our turtle-friendly lighting, the eggs would not have to be moved to another location. On November 12, the eggs hatched and the tiny turtles made their way to the sea with a little help from the DOE and cheers from onlooking CCC guests.

CCC’s turtle-friendly lighting was installed as part of a partnership with the DOE in an effort to help preserve the sea turtle community. This was the first nest on our beach since the lighting was installed, and we hope for many more in the coming years.


*Photo courtesy of property manager Lisa!

What is turtle-friendly lighting?

Turtle nesting season occurs yearly between May and September, and hatchlings appear between July and November. Momma turtles come up onto the beach to lay their eggs, and then after 50–60 days, the hatchlings emerge and begin their journey back to the ocean.

When baby turtles hatch, they use the light of the moon to help navigate them to the ocean. Bright, blue-spectrum lighting on buildings can mimic the lighting of the moon, disorienting the hatchlings and leading them into dangerous places like further up the beach, nearby properties, or even roads. LED lights sit more on the orange end of the light spectrum, which doesn’t bother or confuse turtle hatchlings.

Due to the endangered status of green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles, the DOE is working on an official policy that would require new developments on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lights. These regulations would be based on similar ones enacted along the Florida coastline, which have been incredibly successful and world-renowned in helping preserve the turtle population.


Attractive and environmentally friendly

In addition to helping out our turtle friends, LED lighting is more energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing. The warm lighting creates a cozy, modern atmosphere outside the condos and around the pool. Enjoy watching the stars without distracting bright lights, and don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see your way back inside after taking in every second of gorgeous Cayman sunsets on the beach.

Owner Keith Holloway who oversaw the lighting installation last year says, Christopher Columbus is “invested in keeping the property current and modern for the enjoyment of our guests.” New lighting is one of many improvements that have been made in recent years, including in-unit wi-fi, enlarged laundry facilities, a roomy oceanside gazebo, and more.

*Photo courtesy of condo owner Marsha O'Daniel. This was taken in 2014 when the DOE came to CCC's section of the beach to assist some turtle hatchlings and allowed lucky viewers a chance to see the baby turtles up close.


Heads up for turtle nests

We would like to thank the DOE for monitoring the nest on our beach and for all the continued work they do preserving the sea turtle population in Grand Cayman. Guests can do their part in helping turtles as well. If you notice any turtle tracks on our segment on the beach, let a CCC staff member know or call the DOE directly as soon as possible. The DOE will properly secure and tag the nest so the hatchlings can have the best possible chances at survival. Remember, disturbing a turtle nest is against Cayman Islands’ law so if you see anyone harming a turtle or a nest, you should notify CCC staff or the Cayman police.

Since the DOE began monitoring nests on Seven Mile Beach in 1998, nest numbers have increased from just 30 a year to over 300. We hope that our new turtle-friendly lighting can help foster a comfortable and safe environment for many more nests to come!

This post was originally published on May 31, 2018 and updated November 14, 2019 to share great results from the original lighting project.


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Did you know that Grand Cayman is home to one of only a handful of bioluminescent bays in the world? Bioluminescence is a fancy name for “light-up” creatures like fireflies, glow worms, and jellyfish. In Cayman, tiny light-up creatures live in the waters off the north side of the island, a short boat ride away from Rum Point. We recently took an unforgettable tour of the bioluminescent bay led by Tom Watling, who helped us see these enchanting creatures up close.

Tom and Lisha Watling are the owners of Cayman Kayaks, who offer eco-friendly tours of the bioluminescent bay by double kayak or by boat. Cayman Kayak tours run only on moonless or low-light evenings so the experience with the bioluminescence can be as enjoyable as possible. The tours embark from Rum Point, and while it’s a bit of a drive from West Bay, it’s well worth the trip.

We took the boat tour of the bay, and the boat itself was almost as neat as the tour! Tom’s boat, Moonless Moments, might look like a regular catamaran at first glance, but it was custom designed with the touring experience and the utmost safety of the bioluminescence in mind. The boat is electric, which protects the organisms from harmful fuel emissions, and its walls are high and painted black to help block out nearby streetlights. Panels in the floor of the boat pop out, allowing tour goers to get up close and personal with the bioluminescence without swimming in the bay. Tom explained to us that everyday things like sunscreen, lotions, perfumes, and hair care products are harmful to the bioluminescence, so swimming in the bay is strongly discouraged and tour goers are advised to avoid or wash off any sunscreen or lotion beforehand.

As we entered the bay, Tom passed around a paddle to put in the water. When we looked over the side of the boat, suddenly the water surrounding the paddle lit up a bright blue. It was impressive and beautiful, and that was just the beginning of the light show. Once the boat stopped inside the bay, Tom popped out the panels in the boat’s floor, and we were able to play in the water and see the bioluminescence up close. With every swipe of my hand, dozens and dozens of little creatures lit up blue along my movements like fairy dust. Though small, the light provided by these creatures is mighty!

Tom and a friend kayak in the bioluminescent bay (Courtesy of Cayman Kayaks

Though the organisms in Cayman’s bioluminescent bay haven’t been studied officially, Tom told us that they are believed to be Pyrodinium Bahamense. Dr. Michael Latz of the Marine Institute in San Diego, California, toured the bay with Tom and noted that the organisms were very similar to those in another, extensively studied bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico—Mosquito Bay. Though he didn’t put the Cayman creatures under a microscope, he felt there were enough similarities to hypothesize that Cayman is also home to the Pyrodinium Bahamense.

In addition to the magic of the bioluminescence, getting to chat with Tom during the tour was a treat in itself. He told us that his parents first visited Cayman from Canada on their honeymoon in the 1980s and immediately fell head-over-heels for the island. It would be almost a year before they went back home at all! As a first-generation Caymanian, Tom is a strong advocate for protecting and conserving Cayman’s natural beauty. He recalls the first time he really noticed the bioluminescence, saying, “I was out on my back out on a dock looking up at the stars—the star gazing is great this side of the island. I went to shore and picked up a coconut and brought it to the end of the dock, threw it up in the air, and watched it splash. It didn’t splash as per usual, though—it glowed, sparkled, and because the end of the dock was in shallow waters, shoals of fish shot out from every direction of impact from the coconut hitting the surface. Phosphorescence! I thought to myself. Incredible!

When asked what it is about the bay that invokes such passion in him, Tom answered, “It’s the small things that makes the muscle behind my eyes tighten and my heart squeeze into tears of joy. That is what Cayman’s wildlife is all about to me—the knowledge of what you are looking at, and then getting up close to the tiny life structures and truly appreciating these life forms.”

A naturalist in every sense of the word, Tom shares his passion for nature with those on his tours. One of my favorite moments of the tour was when he stopped the boat and took the time to point out some of the constellations in the sky above, gently encouraging each of us to take a few moments, breathe in the ocean air, and be present in nature.

With Tom after our tour. 

Next time you visit the island, I highly recommend you book a tour of the bioluminescent bay—it will be an experience you won’t soon forget! And if you’re interested in helping keeping the bay happy and healthy for generations to come, you can read more about how you can support Tom and Lisha’s efforts here.


*Cover photo courtesy of Cayman Kayaks
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Christopher Columbus Condos is excited to announce that we’re working to become the first development on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lighting throughout the property.

A combined effort between CCC and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), owner Keith Holloway is overseeing installation of the new lighting. “The native turtle population is a true treasure of the Cayman Islands. We have had nesting turtles on our property and have safeguarded the nests and hatchlings through the years.” We’re thrilled to add new lighting to our list of ways to help out the turtles.

What is turtle-friendly lighting?

Turtle nesting season occurs yearly between May and September, and hatchlings appear between July and November. Momma turtles come up onto the beach to lay their eggs, and then after 50–60 days, the hatchlings emerge and begin their journey back to the ocean.

When baby turtles hatch, they use the light of the moon to help navigate them to the ocean. Bright, blue-spectrum lighting on buildings can mimic the lighting of the moon, disorienting the hatchlings into dangerous places like further up the beach, nearby properties, or even roads. LED lights sit more on the orange end of the light spectrum, which doesn’t bother or confuse turtle hatchlings.

Due to the endangered status of green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles, the DOE is working on an official policy that would require new developments on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lights. These regulations would be based on similar ones enacted along the Florida coastline, which have been incredibly successful and world renowned in helping preserve turtle populations.

Attractive and environmentally friendly

In addition to helping out our turtle friends, LED lighting is also more energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing. The warm lighting creates a cozy, modern atmosphere outside the condos and around the pool. Enjoy watching the stars without distracting bright lights, and don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see to make your way back inside after taking in every second of gorgeous Cayman sunsets on the beach.

As Holloway says, Christopher Columbus is “invested in keeping the property current and modern for the enjoyment of our guests.” New lighting is another improvement that’s been made in recent years, in addition to in-unit wi-fi, enlarged laundry facilities, a roomy oceanside gazebo, and more.

Heads up for turtle nests

If you notice any turtle tracks on our segment on the beach, let a CCC staff member know or call the DOE directly as soon as possible. The DOE will properly secure and tag the nest so the hatchlings can have the best possible chances at survival. Remember, disturbing a turtle nest is against Cayman Islands’ law. If you see anyone harming a turtle or a nest, you should notify CCC staff or the Cayman police.



Since the DOE began monitoring nests on Seven Mile Beach in 1998, nest numbers have increased from just 30 a year to over 300. We hope that our new turtle-friendly lighting can help foster a comfortable and safe environment for many more nests to come!

*Photos courtesy of condo owner Marsha O'Daniel. They were taken in 2014 when the DOE came to CCC's section of the beach to assist some of the turtle hatchlings and allowed lucky viewers a chance to see the baby turtles up close.

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My first trip out to Stingray City was a huge day of firsts for me—first time on a boat in the ocean, first time petting a stingray, first time holding a starfish, and first time snorkeling. Even on a day full of amazing new experiences, getting to meet Winston, crew member extraordinaire, stands out as one of the highlights. 

The first thing that made me smile about Winston was his ability to guess my shoe size just by looking at my feet. He took a quick glance and then handed me a pair of snorkeling fins (which to my surprise weren’t called just "flippers") that fit on the first try. He laughed and said that people with “little heels and ankles” were by far the hardest people to fit. My shoe store trips would be significantly easier if I had Winston along! 

As the boat began to take off towards the Coral Gardens, we were quickly greeted by lots of cold, salty splashes of seawater. Most people squealed and shouted at being suddenly soaked, but Winston opened up his arms, closed his eyes, and smiled as the waves splashed him. “Ahh, you all should enjoy this now because you won’t get any of this on the ride back.” I, like my fellow passengers, was initially a little jarred by the splashes, but seeing Winston enjoy the waves and encourage us to enjoy the experience turned my attitude around. 

Since he seemed to have such a positive outlook on being at work, I asked Winston how long he’d been doing boat tours. He’s been working for Stingray City for about eight years. Winston worked in construction for several years after moving to Cayman from Jamaica for better opportunities for his family. I asked which he liked better and with a big smile he said he liked giving tours much better—he gets to be outdoors in a beautiful, laid back atmosphere, and gets to meet lots of people from all around the world. Of all the destinations on the boat tours, he said he enjoys Star Fish Point the most because of the fun but relaxing atmosphere and how much kids enjoy the spot. 

Once we arrived at Stingray City, Winston also served as our stingray ambassador. As a few stingrays began to swim by our group, one guest got a little freaked out by the rays being so close. She screamed, flailed, and even tried to escape back onto the boat, but Winston took the time to calm her down. He explained that there was nothing to be afraid of, and slowly guided her over to the stingray. After a few moments, she seemed to calm down a little, and by the time we were finished she even gave the ray a little kiss for luck! As Winston said, “You have to kiss the stingray—it’s seven years good luck!” 

All too soon it was time to get back on the boat and leave the stingrays behind, but as I asked Winston if I could give the ray a goodbye pet on the fin, he replied with his signature, “Of course!” Throughout the whole day, any request a guest had—Will you take a photo? Can you explain how starfish eat?—Winston always replied with a cheerful, “Of course!” His kindness and enthusiasm made an already incredible experience even more special. 

Whether it was manning the ship’s anchor, explaining how to use snorkel gear, or wrangling stingrays, Winston did everything with a genuine smile and generous spirit. Every time I think back on my big day of firsts, Winston’s smile is a big part of my memories. The first trip won’t be my last time hanging with stingrays for certain, and hopefully it won’t be my last time getting to visit with Winston. 
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When planning my recent trip to Grand Cayman, other than remembering my passport and sunblock, the most important item on my check list was to schedule an unforgettable dive experience. Something extraordinary that would carry me through the long, cold winter that was waiting for me on my return home to the States. I knew that Grand Cayman was already recognized as being one of the absolute best diving destinations on the planet, so I certainly had that going for me. However the biggest question was which diving operation to hire. So, after Googling “best dive operations in Grand Cayman” (which left me no shortage of options) I started the interview process!

After a few nondescript calls, I struck gold with Living the Dream (LTD) Divers. Within the first few minutes of my conversation with Liz (one of the owners), I could clearly sense that there was something really unique and special about her operation. She seemed to be more excited than I was, and was going to do whatever she could to make it memorable. After sorting out the logistics, we decided on a two tank dive for the following day at noon. As advertised, Scotty showed up at Christopher Columbus Condos right on schedule in the brightly wrapped LTD van. Immediately he welcomed me in his thick British accent and within 5 minutes we were telling jokes and poking great fun at each other. He also shared intriguing stories of his diving adventures all over the world as a PADI Master Scuba Instructor. It became very apparent that Scotty loved his job, but more than that, he seemed to be genuinely happy doing it. I later learned that Scotty’s nickname is “Happy”, which was certainly appropriate.

Within 10 minutes, we arrived at the dock where I was immediately greeted by “Captain” Carl. Like Scotty, Carl is super friendly and welcoming with his British wit and demeanor. And like Scotty, he is a 10 year PADI professional that has traveled all over the world. He started with a quick tour of our boat, which was clearly the nicest dive boat I had ever boarded. He pointed out that it was custom built for Living the Dream Divers down to the smallest detail. Before we launched to our first destination, Carl gave us a very thorough safety briefing and made it crystal clear that our safety was his top priority. Our first dive spot was along the North Sound wall of the Island which is called Eagle Ray Pass. It was a spectacular choice. Along the wall are a series of canyons that eventually feed to a sheer drop off point into the deep blue abyss. As I descended to a maximum depth of 102 feet, the area was teaming with marine life such as sea turtles, eels and lobsters. With Carl in the lead, he took the time to educate our group by pointing out creatures and plants that I would have certainly missed otherwise. It was a great education. After a brief rest and a snack, we were on to our second destination. We motored around to the northwest side of the island not too far from Seven Mile Beach and Christopher Columbus Condos. Our next dive spot was “Bonnie’s Arch,” named after a famous Cayman photographer Bonnie Charles.

Bonnie’s Arch was a great choice for many reasons. Not only was it a more appropriate depth (50ft) for our second dive, but it was a really unique natural structure that was well decorated with magnificent sponge and coral. Teams of fish like parrotfish, squirrelfish, and snapper shared their home with us, as a hungry sea turtle grazed his way along reef. We spent the next 45 minutes or so just relaxing and trying to blend in among the magnificent world of blue and vibrant colors. After we surfaced and unloaded our gear on the boat, Carl was kind enough to put back on his professor hat. On the journey back, he was very eager to discuss and unpack all that we had just experienced. Once we returned to the dock, he more than thanked us for being part of his day and allowing him to “Live his dream” of diving in Grand Cayman.

As a business owner myself, I am constantly in “evaluation mode” when it comes to studying organizations and their ability to deliver. LTD Divers have accomplished something that is rare in the business world. They have developed a clear vision for their entire team and a culture of ownership from top to bottom. Not only do they have fun with their vocation each and every day, but they are grateful for the opportunity to share it with others. I would highly recommend Living The Dream Divers to anyone looking for a first class diving experience in Grand Cayman, and look forward to seeing them again on my next trip to Christopher Columbus Condos!

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It's not often my father and I get to dive, and it is especially rare for us to have the opportunity to dive such a tropical locale as Grand Cayman. Hailing from southeast Missouri in the Heartland of the United States, the availability of sparkling translucent, turquoise-blue ocean water is nonexistent. Rewind a decade to the last time I dove the Cayman Islands, having just exited the training pool after an incredibly expedited scuba training session aboard a cruise ship. The water was picturesque, but our time on the island was short and our dive experience so limited as to ensure a far more cautious, less relaxed environment than was anticipated or hoped for. The experience was memorable, but after sucking in a regulator full of salt water, enduring a leaky mask and salt-stung eyes, and struggling with equalization, the "fun" was well finished before the dive was.

Fast forward a few years, a few murky lake dives, a few local scuba classes, a few more years, a few more uneventful lake dives, and then an extended dive hiatus. Finally, we arrive in Cayman once again, only this time with at least a remedial amount of experience, and with experience, confidence, and with confidence, excitement. Coupled with this excitement; plenty of time.

After a solid 24-hour period of comfortable island acclimation, we set off for a laid back afternoon dive session with the Cayman Turtle Divers. Although I had spent some time awake the night before conjuring up any number of irrational apprehensions; hostile marine life, sharks, equipment failure, user error, etc., all of my inconvenient fears were assuaged the moment we met our guides. Approachable and friendly, their cool attitudes represented a norm we had already encountered and were to continually encounter throughout our entire trip, that of a consistently amiable attitude from pretty much everyone we met. It was this same calm, rational, and humorous persona projected by our British guide, coupled with breathtaking reflections of light off the gently rolling, bright blue waves that steadily quelled all worries and heightened expectations. By the time we were in the water, I knew this would be our most unforgettable dive to date. And it was.

With light penetrating in shards from the surface, even at 50 feet our visibility was astounding, and the colors were vivid. The coral was elaborately detailed, setting off in all directions like fingers, harboring all sorts of life from its cavernous base to its castle like spires. Brightly colored fish danced and darted in and out of the sponge-like holes in the coral, orientally armored lion fish hovered stoically under crags, sting rays and eagle rays passed by flowingly, their bodies moving steadily yet seemingly oscillating in place, and care-free sea turtles floated nearby. At the sandy bottom lay interesting bits of wreckage to explore, as well as a bicycle I did attempt to ride. Our guide maneuvered us effortlessly through the winding reef, looking back occasionally for a sign of "Ok," rubber band spear gun in hand for the lion fish. Although our time underwater was relatively brief, the experience was incredible and the location could not have been more accommodating to novices such as ourselves. In addition, it was not just the environment and geography, the magnificent beauty and diversity of life that surrounded us throughout our dives that realized the adventure. As special as Grand Cayman is, and indeed it is a special place to experience, it was the people that made the trip complete. My father and I cannot wait to return as soon as the next available opportunity arrives (and it won't be long), for it was this unique combination of natural wonder and benevolent personality that thoroughly ensured the end to our scuba hiatus was that much more exceptional.

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