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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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Keeping Up With Carl Hanson!

Director of Water Operations and Safety, Carl Hanson, travels all over the world representing
Sub Sea Systems and Sea TREK helmet diving, offering our locations insight, assistance, and camaraderie! He returns to headquarters with stories and lessons to share. Here’s what Carl had to say about his latest trip to Sea TREK locations in Curacao and Aruba!

Where did you go on your latest trip?

Curacao and Aruba, Round 2! These locations were my first two international stops last year.

Sea TREK Curacao
What kind of work did you do while visiting each island?

Curacao is under new management, so my time was spent training the new team. The location moved from one beach to another, so helping them set up the new location was also part of my contribution. They are now at Papagayo Beach Resort!

I then traveled to Aruba, which is approximately a twenty-minute flight from Curacao. While I was in Aruba, I completed a site inspection and safety check. We discussed installing the helmet lift system, which assists staff in placing and removing helmets. I also showed them our new underwater wheelchair, Adapted Sea TREK.

Soft Corals, Curacao
What is the best (or most unique) feature of each TREK operation?

Curacao operates Sea TREK at one of the most beautiful, natural reefs. There are no artificial structures, just the majesty of the ocean and its inhabitants. The resort is also amazing and incredible on its own.

In Aruba, Sea TREKkers take their tour from a private island! It’s an all-inclusive experience owned by DePalm Tours. Sea TREK is a main attraction on the island.

How did you travel from one island to the next? 

I took a quick flight from Curacao to Aruba. I got lucky- the flight left early, so we landed in Aruba at the time I was scheduled to leave Curacao! You can do that when you fly on a plane that only seats about 50 passengers!

Jeremy Carty, Sea TREK Training Coordinator
What are some of the differences between these islands?

Both islands are Dutch, but are so completely different. Aruba is immaculate. The majority of guests come in from the US, while Curacao guests hail primarily from the Netherlands. Aruba is windy, which keeps a hot, humid island from being uncomfortable. Curacao is considered more of a “party” atmosphere!

What animals did you encounter while traveling?

Aruba has lots of lizards in a variety of colors! The underwater environment is unique in that the inhabitants are a little bigger, thanks to the artificial reef created by Sea TREK staff. Fish love the reef and tend to hang out there, so they get food every day.  They don’t have to worry about predators, and are able to grow freely. I saw my first wild puddingwife, a type of wrasse, in Aruba.

In Curacao, sea life is pretty much the same, since the two islands are so close together. Coral are the main focus in Curacao, and they are truly special.

TREKking at DePalm Island, Aruba
What are some of the challenges the operations face and how are they overcoming them? 

Aruba is purchasing a helmet lift, which will help make life easier for staff. Helmets are heavy, and having the lift is going to lighten their workload. Curacao has a challenge with water entry, due to significant waves. The team is putting in a platform and ladder, to make things easier on the staff.

What did you do when you had down time?

I got to explore Curacao and scout out some potential new locations for Sea TREK, and maybe even Clear Lounge. I did experience a short time of being under the weather, so I took a bit of time to rest and recuperate.

While I was in Aruba, I spent a lot of time with the team, just hanging out. We went out to eat and really got to know each other. I just wanted the team to know they’re part of our family. On an island, but not alone!

What surprised you the most?

Sea TREK Curacao’s new location is at a high-end resort, and this new home is such a huge improvement over the prior location.

At DePalm Island, they’re constantly adding features. They find ways to create and add new adventures for returning guests, so that there’s always exciting things to try.

Carl’s next trip will take him to San Diego. Stay tuned for more!

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Chance Meeting Leads to Underwater Adventure!

At Sub Sea Systems, we promote our Sea TREK underwater helmet diving eco-tours as a way for just about anyone to “Sea life like never before”. We’ve shown the magic of the underwater world to thousands of children, seniors, and families, for over thirty years! It is one of our goals to reach out to more and more sea explorer novices, knowing that when they take an incredible helmet dive, they will learn to love and appreciate…and hopefully help to protect our precious aquatic environment.

The Beginning

Native Diving, a Sea TREK location in Lanzarote, Spain was the first to implement a “sea chair” called Adapted Sea TREK. The specialized wheelchair was developed by the instructors at Native Diving Lanzarote in collaboration with Novaf Andalucia, a leading company in the development of specific devices for people with reduced mobility. The program at Native Diving has been such a success, that it has inspired Sub Sea Systems to develop Adapted Sea TREK and make it available to Sea TREK operators around the world.

helmet dive in wheelchair

The Development

In August, our company President, Jim Mayfield traveled with a newly designed and engineered chair, from our headquarters in California to Xcaret Park in Mexico. For its anticipated debut at the park, Jim and the crew at Xcaret planned for the training and certification of staff on the Adapted program.

The Meeting

While Jim was in Mexico, he happened to meet a woman sitting in a wheelchair along the shore. Jim introduced himself to the woman, Anita, and discovered that she had been in an automobile accident that led to her paralysis. Jim conversed with Anita, explaining Adapted Sea TREK and offering her the exciting opportunity of going underwater at Xcaret. Anita enthusiastically accepted his offer of taking this very unique journey.

On August 15th, our team headed back to Mexico to train and certify staff, and to take Anita on the very first Adapted Sea TREK tour at Xcaret. Javier Fortunato, Regional Coordinator and Keenan Mayfield, Director of Sea TREK Field Operations, met with Anita, her husband Reidar, and nurse Mariana, and accompanied them to Xcaret. And the journey began!

The Journey

underwater in wheelchair

With Xcaret’s media team ready to photograph and film, a gung-ho Anita rolled her electric wheelchair up to the Adapted chair, while Keenan and Javi explained the chair’s functionality. The Adapted chair features adjustable lumbar support in combination with adjustments to the seat back position, to ensure participants’ comfort. It also incorporates shoulder straps, utilized to keep participants securely in place. Since Anita could not use hand signals due to her physical challenges, the team shared techniques on how they could communicate underwater. Anita used crossing arms to signal to the crew if she wanted to stop the activity. A nod of her head meant she was doing great and wanted to continue.

The team gently wheeled the Adapted chair, and Anita, into the water, with safety divers in front of and behind the chair. Next came the Sea TREK helmet– staff placed the helmet on Anita’s shoulders and supported it on both sides until it was completely underwater. Donning another helmet, Reidar joined his wife, walking by her side.

Once Anita was underwater, her expression was one of joy and happiness. She was able to freely move her arms and would not stop moving. The 20-minute tour meandered around coral features filled with marine life. After completing the tour with her husband, Anita enthusiastically opted to go again with her nurse, Mariana. Once the second tour completed, Anita emerged with an ear-to-ear smile. The inaugural first (and second) tour had been a huge success!

The team took Anita, Reidar and Mariana to lunch, then walked them back to their car. Emotional goodbyes and a promise to meet again ended the afternoon.

The  Experience

underwater in wheelchair

After her TREK, we asked Anita to share her experience:

“I am filled with overwhelming gratitude to the people of Sea TREK for their ingenuity and commitment in providing this opportunity to me. My first experience underwater in over 25 years proved to be more than I ever expected, in that my physical limitations seemed completely insignificant. The staff and crew were extremely helpful, patient and thorough, allowing me to relax and enjoy the beauty and serenity of life underwater. The specially designed helmet and chair will now allow people living with physical disabilities around the world to experience this same joy. I’ll look forward to more trips back to Xcaret and Sea TREK! A very special thank you to Jim, Keenan and Javi!”

Reidar also shared his perspective.

"I was impressed by the professionalism and care shown to us by all of the Xcaret and Sea TREK staff. They seemed to be enjoying the experience as much as we were. Watching Nita beam with joy was the greatest thing that I experienced that day. That is the happiest I have seen her since the births of our grandsons 16 years ago. Giving disabled people an opportunity to experience the things that we take for granted is inspiring and helps them feel special and normal at the same time. Thanks to Jim for providing the synchronicity to make this happen.”

Keenan also added his thoughts on the special TREK:

“I am truly humbled to have shared such an incredible experience with an exceptional human being. Despite formidable odds, Anita lives life with no boundaries, both mentally and physically. With the introduction of Adapted Sea TREK, physical disabilities will no longer hinder a guest’s ability to explore our oceans. We look forward to broadening the horizon of what is possible for guests with physical disabilities through Adapted Sea TREK. I look forward to another underwater adventure with my new friend very soon.”

Our team members will be connecting with Anita and Reidar in October to take them on another amazing Adapted Sea TREK journey! Stay tuned for more updates as the Adapted Sea TREK program continues to develop.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Responsible Tourism - Sea TREK Ecotours!

Now more than ever, awareness is building about the negative affects that humans can have on our oceans and waterways. With a focus primarily on plastics, companies and individuals are decreasing their carbon footprints by turning away from plastic straws and containers and increasing production of biodegradable and recyclable packaging. In the US, many states have enacted legislation regarding the use of plastic bags.

Additionally, consumers are seeking out more sustainable seafood choices and supporting organizations that work to protect our oceans, such as Ocean Conservancy and Reef Alliance. Websites like 40cean also allow visitors to partake in quick and easy activities that help make a difference.

As humans become more sensitive to ecology and the wellbeing of our planet, an interest in ecotourism has dramatically increased. According to Sustainable Travel International, roughly 105.3 million sustainable U.S. travelers prioritize vacations that are dedicated to giving back to the environment.

Ecotourism is making significant positive contributions to the environmental, social, cultural and economic wellbeing of destinations and local communities around the world. Ecotourism is also an effective vehicle for empowering local communities around the world to fight against poverty and to achieve sustainable development.

So what is ecotourism exactly? The World Conservation Union (IUCN) describes ecotourism this way:

"Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples."

Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement, participate in and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following ecotourism principles:

  • Minimize physical and behavioral, and impacts.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
  • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors, that help raise sensitivity to host countries' environmental and social climates.
  • Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
  • Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous people in the community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

SeaTREK locations across the globe take extra care to ensure our oceans and sea life remain pristine and protected. Our tours give guests a unique view of the underwater world and provide educational opportunities, while protecting inhabitants. We teach travelers that sea life isn’t scary and that the underwater world needs our help to continue to thrive.

Our operations are built with consideration for marine life, including precious corals and fishes. Our operators in open waters ensure that any elements added to tours are eco-friendly.

Sea TREK trails & walking underwater
Trails are created around coral, not over or through, taking care to create enough distance so that guests can see, but not touch the coral formations. The same trail is utilized for each tour. Studies conducted in California concluded that the impact of TREKKERs walking on a sandy seafloor is comparable to the natural movement of sand due to tidal movement and/or the disturbances caused by marine life such as stingrays and invertebrates.

Railings and Ladders
Railings are put into sandy areas utilizing sand spikes, which do not damage the environment. Ladders in open oceans do not touch the ocean floor and are stored on boats, not left behind. Floating manifolds provide ropes that do not tangle or cause damage to sea life.

Artificial Enhancements
Statues and objects placed into the ocean environment provide more than just fun photo opportunities. Artificial enhancements also create habitats for sea life, giving them “free housing” while taking pressure off the natural reefs. Fish take advantage of the enhancements, allowing them to thrive. Artificial enhancements often reflect local history, providing an additional educational opportunity.

Want to know more about our dedication to the ocean environment?  Check out our program,
Reef Alliance, or join our staff and clean up beaches and reefs during the annual Coastal Cleanup.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Preparation is Everything!

Each year, thousands of guests don helmets and take an underwater Sea TREK or enter the giant human fish tank known as Clear Lounge.  They meet new sea life friends like giant turtles and stunning stingrays, or play jenga and shoot bubble guns at fellow helmet divers.

But what happens before participants enter the water?  Both Sea TREK and Clear Lounge have requirements that ensure your activity is not just memorable, but comfortable and safe. While each location may have its own specific prerequisites, there are certainly some consistencies.

Sea TREK – Prepare to be Astounded!

Before guests take a TREK, they need to do a little preparation on their own. Typically, guests bring a bathing suit, their own towel, eco-friendly sunscreen, an underwater camera or money for photos... and their eyeglasses or contact lenses! Eyewear is perfectly fine for TREKking. If guests have long hair, wearing it pulled back helps keep the ends dry. Some TREK locations provide wetsuits, swim shoes (booties or crocs), or guests can bring their own water shoes or crocs. Since Sea TREK is a walking tour, comfortable and sturdy footwear is definitely necessary.

Another important prep piece is participation in an orientation briefing. During the briefing, Sea TREK guides share safety information such as hand signals, equalizing, and proper breathing techniques. Guests get acquainted with their guides and are given the opportunity to ask questions. Guides may also offer interesting facts about the sea life that might stop by for a visit, or they might share info about the ocean environment and conservation efforts being made in the area.

Clear Lounge Underwater Oxygen bar – Prepare to be Energized!

Cruise ship travelers and residents alike love the excitement and energy of Clear Lounge. But, there are some preparatory steps to follow before stepping into the tank and taking on this incredible adventure. Guests can access on-site changing rooms for changing into their own swimwear. They are encouraged to also bring their own towels and sunscreen, although these items are available for purchase onsite. Lockers are available to keep personal items safe and secure, and showers are nearby, offering a quick rinse off. A brief safety video provides guests with info on how to utilize the helmets to breathe in the cool, clean O2. Guides prepare participants by answering questions and sharing details on what exciting features will be found in the underwater lounge. Guests then ascend a staircase and prepare to take the plunge!

From the reviews of both Clear Lounge and the SeaTREK locations, it’s “clear” to see that each offers unique underwater experiences, with both safety and comfort in mind.

Do you have a Sea TREK helmet diving or Clear Lounge question, or want to share your helmet diving experience? Post it below!
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Thursday, August 2, 2018

TREKker Trifecta!

The Sea TREK underwater helmet diving experience is enjoyed by travelers across the globe. In fact, with operations from Guam (Underwater World) to Spain (Sea TREK Spain and Diving Stones Benidorm) and new operations in Australia (Reef Magic) and the Dominican Republic (Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach), more and more vacationers are able to take amazing underwater journeys.

We receive wonderful feedback from our guests who often say, “we’ll be back” or “can’t wait to do another Sea TREK!” but occasionally, we find guests that just can’t seem to get enough TREKking. Rick and Sherée Niece fall into that category. Rick and Sherée recently took their third TREK! Here’s what they had to say about their underwater helmet diving addiction.

Where was your first Sea TREK?

Our first time for helmet diving was in 2002 at Coral World in St. Thomas. To say that the experience was exhilarating would be a major understatement. Although we had snorkeled several times before, helmet diving was an amazing adventure in a new world. We didn’t know what to expect, but this helmet dive beat whatever it was, by 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Coral World St. Thomas

Were you on a cruise? If so, which cruise line? 

We were on the Millennium, a Celebrity ship, for the Ultimate Caribbean Cruise.

Who accompanied you on your TREK?

Just the two of us for this one.

With so many vacation/excursion options, why did you select Sea TREK for your activity?

We were intrigued by the concept of helmet diving. The excursion description was well-written and enticing. We had already experienced snorkeling, catamaran sailing, and island tours, so this sounded like a great opportunity for unique memories.

What was the best part of this first Sea TREK?

Aware that we novices were a bit nervous, the crew was reassuring and calming. They explained each step of the dive and what we should expect. The easy path, an underwater walkway with a variety of sights to see, was beyond description. Exhilarating and spectacular come close.

DePalm Island Aruba

Where was your second TREK?

Our second TREK was in 2007 while sailing Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. Accompanied by Sherée’s parents and Rick’s father and brother, we did the helmet diving in Aruba. Because we had described our 2002 TREK adventure many times over, everyone wanted to experience the thrill themselves.

What was different about this TREK?

It was March and the water was chilly, so we wore wetsuits. We remember the walk as being a bit steeper than our first one. A sunken plane within our view was memorable!

Where was your third TREK?

The third TREK was in 2018 in Grand Cayman while sailing Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. My other brother and his friend joined us for the helmet diving. They had seen our pictures from the first two adventures and were not about to miss out on the fun!

What was unique about this TREK?

We loved our guide who led us to the boat. She professionally covered all of the safety features while we gathered, and she was funny, friendly, and personable. Her husband was the boat’s captain, and he and the crew were exceptional. One thing that made this dive unique was the diver who led the TREK. He taught us underwater sign language, and we communicated frequently. He performed amazing tricks, like blowing gigantic underwater bubbles. We were fascinated. Unfortunately, the tricks don’t work in a bathtub!

Out of the three Sea TREK’s, which was your favorite and why?

All of our adventures were terrific. The first time for anything is always memorable. The second TREK with six family members was great because we were able to experience it with loved ones. But, the most recent one stands out for us. If we had to pick a favorite, we’d go with that. Although we don’t know when or where it will be, we are looking forward to our fourth TREK!

We appreciate awesome adventurers like Sherée and Rick, and we can’t wait to see where they will Sea TREK next!

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