Co-owners of Scubaqua dive centre Mike and Marieke Harterink.
ST. EUSTATIUS–St. Eustatius has opened its first COVID-19 “bubble” to allow tourist divers to explore its underwater nature without jeopardising the island’s health status during the pandemic. Twenty tourists have recently arrived from Nashville, Tennessee, and further bookings are planned. The bubble is the result of a close collaboration between the Public Health Department, The Old Gin House hotel and Scubaqua dive centre.
“It is not in our entrepreneurs’ blood to sit tight and wait until the island opens up again, but it was a challenge to set all of this up,” admits dive centre owner Mike Harterink. “Diving is all about safety and when that experience is complicated by travel restrictions and health regulations nothing should be forgotten.”
Harterink has worked as a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI)-certified instructor for more than 25 years. His team of seven qualified instructors includes his wife Marieke, who was in charge of creating this dive bubble.
“After more than 300 emails and lots of advice and support from the local government and the commissioners, we were finally able to welcome our visitors from the ‘Music City’,” Marieke told The Daily Herald. “Our COVID-19 safety protocol is working perfectly. Whereas we realise that this protocol means shutting our guests off from the rest of the island community, it is the only way to move forward with care and understanding.” The last group of divers hosted by Scubaqua visited in March 2020.
“Our sunsets remain stunning, our national marine park is teeming with fascinating life and The Quill, our extinct volcano, is a constant reminder of resilience in the background.”
Harterink recognises that the dive centre’s bubble would have popped early had it not been for the proximity of The Old Gin House. Marlies ten Hoopen, owner-operator of the 20-room hotel, agrees. “We became a specialised quarantine residence early last year,” she explained. “This did not mean we lost our customary style and elegance. We still offer bubbles within the dive bubble.”
She said the scale but not the scope of the hotel’s catering has changed. “Our kitchen prepares a selection of fine food every day, with the exception of Wednesday, when a delivery of local pizza is much appreciated. We have put in a lot of extra precautions. It is not easy. We have to keep our eyes on the ball the whole time.”
As the hotel is next door to the dive centre, the bubble is difficult to burst, Ten Hoopen insists. “The history as a building can be traced back to around 1760. Much has changed since then, except for whale-watching at this time of year. Our American guests from Nashville are also hoping to spot one of these wonderful creatures. They are enjoying their stay and they are very welcome.”
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/statia-opens-dive-bubble-for-tourists