Sub Sea Systems — Our World is a blog dedicated to the unique experiences of Sub Sea Systems — Immerse yourself in our incredible adventures, company culture, and innovative programs and products.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Perseverance and Pushing Forward - Recovering from Irma

The gorgeous island of St. Maarten is known for its laid back vibe, relaxing beaches and hot nightlife. A visit to this dual-governed entity (the north side is distinctly French, while the south side is a Dutch territory), is often described as two vacations in one!

But, things dramatically changed for St. Maarten and its residents on September 6th, 2017. Hurricane Irma ravaged the tranquil island. Buildings and infrastructure were heavily damaged. Winds up to 240 miles per hour (386 kph) ripped off roofs, downed power lines and destroyed homes. The hurricane caused approximately three billion dollars in damage, and dozens of people tragically lost their lives due to this incredible storm.

Sea TREK St. Maarten– a highly successful Sea TREK operation that has been in business since 2009– sadly, was not immune to the devastation caused by Irma. We asked Whitney Keough, co-owner of Sea TREK St. Maarten, about the storm’s damage…

 “We lost everything on the Sea TREK platform (a custom floating platform where Sea TREK operated)- it was floating but that was it.  The generator and compressor eventually worked – they were in the hulls, not on top. The helmets were everywhere. We did manage to get them and repair them. The boutique/office building, tanks, dive gear, remote air console, many hoses, manifold, TV, snorkel gear, etc. were all gone.  The customer benches were gone. Rebuilding the underwater track (raised underwater Sea TREK trail where guests walk) took 3 months, due to swells and bad visibility. Each piece of track weighs one ton, and we used 5000-pound lift bags. We also had to replace the handrails. Other dive shop operators volunteered to help with this. It was a very dangerous and difficult operation. Many times we had to stop and try the next day, because we had to be able to see around us, and see our team. Fortunately, our site enhancements were not badly damaged. The helicopter is almost all still there, the submarine is ok, and the King Neptune statue and canons were all ok. We lost some sunken boats, but we have plenty to choose from now to sink. We are still rebuilding our Tiki Hut tour, which was destroyed, too. This will take another few months and more money than we have, so we will ask help from family and friends.”

We asked Whitney how many days Sea TREK was closed due to this damage, and she replied, “From Sept 6, the day of the storm, until February 1, 2018.  Then, most of Feb and March, we had to cancel due to huge ground swell and bad visibility. We worked about 10 days in 2 months.”

Clean up efforts began almost immediately, with neighbors helping neighbors to clean up yards and streets and tack tarpaulins over gaping holes where roof sheets, or even whole roofs, used to be. Aid poured in from all over the world, and two major cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, also assisted by evacuating several thousand travelers and bringing food, water and ice to the island, while organizations such as 4Ocean joined forces to clean beaches and waterways. In one weekend, groups removed three tons (6,000 lbs) of trash!

In the weeks after the storm, the Dutch and American governments, various airlines, and other N.G.O.s donated more than three hundred thousand pounds of food, water, tarps, tents, and hygiene products. Dutch Royal Marines took over the airport, which was first built by the U.S. military, during the Second World War, and accepted only military and relief flights for a month. St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association helped distribute aid across the island.

Sea TREK had its own work to do to begin recovery. “My husband, Bobby, and what was left of our crew (many had to go find jobs to survive), did the rebuild.  It was 6-7 days a week and 8-10 hours a day. With the exception of one medical appointment for Bobby, he did not have a break- nor did the crew. We had some insurance, and my family helped, too, but it did not cover everything, so we will be digging out for some time,” shared Whitney.

While there’s still work to do, St. Maarten tourism officials say that 88% of households have electricity. Restaurants and other small businesses are reopening. Both airports are fully operational and run around 60 flights a week from 12 airlines. St. Maarten’s cruise port welcomed its first ship in late December, with the arrival of Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas. On the Dutch side of the island, around 80 percent of the restaurants are open, and 1,600 hotel rooms are available to book.

While many hotels throughout the island are still closed, the island’s attractions are operating, including catamaran cruises, diving and snorkeling excursions, zip lines, and of course, Sea TREK. Whitney and her staff are still working to not only repair damage, but to also make improvements; larger shaded area, better design for the compressor and generator areas, and bigger office, boutique and storage areas. 

We asked Whitney what her biggest takeaway has been from the challenging experiences Irma brought to St. Maarten, and to Sea TREK. She responded, “that you can never really prepare for a Category 6+ hurricane. And to be thankful for blessings we do have.”

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Rolling Right Along... Moving Forward with Aquaticar!

DEAL Show Dubai Aquaticar

Aquaticar, the world’s first underwater driving experience, was featured at the DEAL trade show in Dubai last week. Our staff, who met up with our partners Cloward H2O, traveled 26 hours and approximately 8,000 miles with trade show materials, a sleek model of Aquaticar, and lots of excitement, knowing they were about to share the unique Aquaticar technology with a brand new audience!

We asked Kyle Mayfield, Sub Sea System’s Vice President of Production, about his travels and the trade show experience:

Q: How long did it take you to fly to Dubai?

KM: Our trip took us 26 hours door to door

Q: Why do we do this trade show?

KM: The DEAL show gives SSS an opportunity to not only make new contacts in the Middle East’s premier tourism and entertainment destination– Dubai, but also gives us an opportunity to meet with our existing clients in the region.

Dubai DEAL show Aquaticar

Q: How long did it take to set up the booth?

KM: This well-oiled machine took two people only two hours to set up…that’s like an hour a person!

Q: What were some of the questions or comments you received about Aquaticar?

KM: Some people were familiar with Aquaticar from the IAAPA show in Orlando last year, while others were seeing it for the first time. The reaction continues to be the same- impressed and intrigued! Most people are interested in how it is propelled and how guests are able to breathe underwater.

Q: What other cool things were displayed at the trade show?

KM: We stayed busy at the booth and had limited time to look around, but my favorite of what I saw/experienced was curling at the Xtraice booth.

Aquaticar model

Q: How many hours were you at the trade show booth?

KM: Including set up and break down, 24 hours…dang!

Q: While we can’t reveal who is interested in Aquaticar, can you comment (without being specific) about the interest level?

KM: We received strong local interest in Aquaticar and look forward to our next visit! ☺

The key feature of the booth at DEAL was a scale model of Aquaticar. Our team painstakingly built a replica that would show all of the features of the car. The model took a team of three over two hundred hours to build! From 3D printing, to molding, to ensuring the wheels turned, to creating the tiny logos… the car is truly an exact replica; complete with functioning canopy, wheels and rotors!

Aquaticar underwater driving

On the home front, our staff has been working hard on advancing Aquaticar to the next phase. Our giant test tank is now equipped with a track! And, we’ve moved the test car into the tank to test its speed and weight. (As a side note, we are also testing a new Sea TREK helmet in the tank, with improvements expected on comfort and noise reduction).

What’s next for Aquaticar? Stay tuned as we continue our journey developing this amazing underwater adventure!

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Discover the Great Barrier Reef!

We’re super excited about our latest and greatest Sea TREK operator, Reef Magic Cruises in Cairns, Australia! This gorgeous location along the Great Barrier Reef provides TREKkers a unique opportunity to obtain a “bucket list” checkmark!

Australia is known for cute koalas and playful platypus.  It’s also an amazing place to view incredible sea life. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, hosts 1,500 species of fish, 411 types of hard coral, one-third of the world's soft corals, 134 species of sharks and rays, six of the world's seven species of threatened marine turtles, and more than 30 species of marine mammals. The Reef is also home to approximately 40 species of sea birds. Whew! That’s an impressive population!

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is massive. In fact, it is the largest living structure on the planet. So big, in fact, that it is visible from space! The reef stretches 1,430 mi (2,300 km) along the Queensland coast, covering an area of over 132,819 square miles (344,000 square kilometers). To keep this in perspective, this equates to 70 MILLION football fields, or the size of Japan!

leatherback sea turtle
Leatherback Sea Turtle

The average depth of the reef’s inshore waters is around 115 ft (35 meters), while its outer reefs plunge to more than 6,561 ft (2,000 meters). This, combined with its tropical climate and warm waters, creates the ideal environment for its residents.  From the tiniest of coral and microscopic plankton, to the large leatherback sea turtle, the reef keeps its residents happy by providing intricate ecosystems. The reef’s rich biodiversity helps it to maintain a stable and healthy coral reef system, which in turn, provides food and shelter for its population. GBR has one of the most diverse habitats on the planet!

surgeon fish great barrier reef

Everyone who lives on the reef has a job to do, to contribute to the ecosystem. A great example is the surgeonfish, which is essential in the process of sediment removal. These fish consume between 8 and 66 grams (.3 oz to 2.3 oz) of algae per fish, per day! They get rid of their stomach contents in a different location from their eating grounds, and around one third of the sediment they eat via the algae is deposited off the reef, in deep water. This process helps maintain the reef, and possibly specific algal habitats in particular, which are a valuable food source for herbivore fish.

Pretty, but Evil- Crown of Thorns Starfish

Like many of the world’s great reefs and waterways, the GBR’s existence is threatened by several factors, including declining water quality. During tropical floods, runoff containing fertilizer and pesticides is dispensed into the reef's waters, which harms its delicately balanced ecosystem. The runoff problem is made worse by the loss of coastal wetlands along the Queensland coast, which act as a natural filter for toxins. The area of wetlands in the Great Barrier Reef catchment has decreased by over 50%, according to the Great Barrier Reef Coastal Wetlands Protection Program. Additionally, pollution from mining, seabed dumping, climate change, overfishing, and coral reef predators such as the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, all contribute to the decline of the Reef.  Tropical cyclones also contribute to disturbances on the Reef; causing fragmentation, sediment plumes, and decreasing salinity.

Bluestripe Snappers

Thankfully there are efforts being made to protect the Reef and its inhabitants. Australia has permanently banned the disposal of port related capital dredge material in the entire World Heritage Area. Australian and Queensland government investment in Reef management and research activities is projected at more than $2 billion over the coming decade. This includes:

$140 million in funding for the Reef Trust

$100 million for improved water quality announced by Australia’s Prime Minister

$100 million in addition to the current $35 million per year from the Queensland Government for improving water quality and further reducing the impacts of fishing

And, over $29 million has already been allocated by the Reef Trust to improve the quality of
water flowing into the Reef, enhance species protection and control outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish.

Queensland has established the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce to provide advice on the best approach to achieve up to 80% reduction in nitrogen run-off and up to 50% reduction in sediment run-off in key catchments by 2025. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy are also involved in the protection of the Reef.

Reef Magic's Marine World Platform

Our new Sea TREK family members at Reef Magic Cruises are also taking great measures to ensure the health and longevity of the Reef. Their Sea TREK operations are on a platform attached to a pontoon. The nearest rock/coral formation is 4 meters below any TREKker, so coral is kept safe from potential human contact. During the tour guests learn about the Reef and its importance. Additionally, Reef Magic has its own in-house, self-funded Crown-of-Thorns Starfish removal program. They have strict rubbish and waste removal, and no-straw policies, and their vessels run on low emission engines. Reef Magic holds Advanced Eco Accreditation, issued by Eco Tourism Australia, and has been awarded certification as a Climate Action Business.

So, if you’re planning a visit to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, consider a fun and educational TREK with Reef Magic Cruises. You’ll experience an unforgettable journey to a very special underwater world.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Around the World in Thirteen Days!

We’ve got a lot happening at Sub Sea Systems– we’re developing new products, opening new Sea TREK locations, and doing quite a bit of international travel! In March, our Director of Water Operations and Safety, Carl Hanson, took what can only be described as a “lengthy journey.” Carl traveled from our home base in California to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and then to Australia. He returned with stories to share, and some amazing photos and videos, too.

Where did you go?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, then to Cairns, Australia.
With stopovers in:

  • San Francisco, California
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • Chennai, India 
  • Singapore
  • Bali, Indonesia
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Los Angeles, California

(yes, all in one trip!)

How many miles did you travel? 

21,837 miles in 13 days (FYI: the circumference of the Globe is 24,901 miles)

What was the purpose of your travels?

I traveled first to Dubai, where I did a site inspection of the Sea TREK program at Atlantis The Palm. I made sure that they are current with safety standards, and updated them on our product line. I also offered some ideas on how to improve their program. Atlantis The Palm is an award-winning location, and was the 2017 Sea TREK Operator of the Year; so it was nice to be able to meet the hard-working staff that made it happen. I also visited the Dubai Aquarium, and talked to them about potentially adding Sea TREK to their lineup of aquarium activities.

In Cairns, Australia, I worked on installing a brand new Sea TREK system for Reef Magic Cruises, replacing their outdated Sea Walker system. I worked with staff to ensure they were trained on our system and well versed on our safety standards. I also visited the Cairns Aquarium and talked about the potential of adding Sea TREK to the aquarium.

Did you have any down time? What did you do?

I didn’t have much down time, but I got to dive the Great Barrier Reef every day that I was in Cairns– a big ticket item on my Bucket List! I also got to enjoy my Easter holiday with a nice dinner and great company– the new Training Coordinators at Reef Magic.

What was the highlight of your trip?

Walking off a steep drop off (intentionally), in the Ambassador Aquarium at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai, while wearing a Sea TREK helmet. It was about a 32 ft (10 m) free fall! Awesome!

The highlight of my Cairns trip was learning how a different helmet diving program was run, teaching the staff about our amazing Sea TREK product, and seeing them get excited about this new opportunity.

Did you encounter any unusual sea life?

Nothing really new, but I met a huge Maori Wrasse named Wally! He's a Great Barrier Reef native.

What was the most surprising cultural difference you encountered?

In Dubai, I did not realize it is against the law to kiss your spouse in public!

What were the people like in each location?

The people of Dubai were very friendly, however, everyone I met in Dubai was not from Dubai! I met people from India, Philippines, Kenya- all over the world, but not from the region itself!

The Australian people are very laid back, very relaxed. They're also hard-working!

dubai atlantis the palm sea trek

What was the first thing you did when you got home?

I went to work!

("We told Carl to go home and rest, but sure enough… within a couple hours after landing, he showed up at the office. He’s extremely dedicated and enthusiastic about his job! However, we encouraged him to go home and get some sleep. We needed him rested for the remainder of the workweek!" –Hannah de Bie, VP of Marketing)

Where are you headed next?

In just a few weeks I will be headed to the brand new Atlantis resort in Sanya, China with Keenan Mayfield, Sea TREK Field Operations Specialist. We will be installing and setting up a new Sea TREK operation, as well as training and certifying the staff. This will be the third Atlantis property to offer Sea TREK!

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