The beauty and unspoiled marine environment of the Turks and Caicos Islands is just one great attribute of this not-so-far-away destination. Many of the walls fringing the shelf of Provo, North and West Caicos, and down to French Cay, drop to as much as 7,000 feet. Ironically, when you consider that the maximum recommended depth for the majority of recreational divers is 130 feet, the same walls that draw so many visitors here remain largely unexplored. It's sort of like visiting the World Trade Center in New York, but seeing just the top three floors. Rising to this challenge on the island of Provo is Big Blue Unlimited. From an operational standpoint, its services are unique, varying from scuba and private charters to hosting eco-tours. Big Blue works with its sister operation, O2 Technical Diving, to provide tech-dive training and certification in Nitrox, Normoxic mix to 200 feet, and advanced Tri-mix to depths of 300 feet. Big Blue is also the only operation in T&C with both DrAger semi-closed rebreathers and Buddy Inspiration closed-circuit rebreathers. Closed-circuit is considered by most the ultimate in diving experiences. Silence is Golden It's not hard to imagine diving the edge of one of these walls at, say, 60 feet. On one side, the view is blazing white and peppered with scattered coral heads teeming with small fish. On the other, the edge of the reef cascades off into nothingness. Moving at a leisurely pace, fish appear oblivious to your presence. There are no bubbles; your breathing is met with silence. At the end of three hours, you're able to surface with no obligation for decompression. You still feel warm, even hydrated, due to the simple little fact the air you're breathing was not cold and dry. Even using a semi-closed apparatus, although not as silent or capable of the same dive duration, can render amazing results. As you lie flat on the open sand, not moving, garden eels appear clueless as you watch them sway and undulate above their burrows two feet away. The same effect occurs when an eagle ray drops to the sand a short distance away to root out a small conch or crab buried underneath. While tech diving might not be for everyone, having more than one option for making the most of what the Turks & Caicos islands have to offer is always a nice advantage. Diving Made Easy If they can make tech diving easy, Big Blue can certainly take care of every regular scuba request. Charters with Big Blue range from half-day, two-tank trips to full-day, three-tank safaris to as far away as Sand Spit, south of French Cay. Between Big Blue's two 40-foot, eight-diver catamarans and a smaller 30-foot cat, groups are offered more personalized service. The larger boat handles eight divers and the smaller takes five. In locations such as French Cay, divers are given the option to drift dive, jumping in on G-Spot and following the wall to Rock & Roll and Double D before surfacing. Following a live-aboard ambience, complete with fruit platters and refreshments, no diver is pressured to jump right back in if they don't feel ready. Furthermore, Big Blue shuns rushing through regimented dives and brief surface intervals. The main emphasis of their unique style is to provide a highly comfortable platform with fewer restrictions on the diving. Using a computer is mandatory and they are available to use for free. This extends bottom time, but decompression is prohibited. As Big Blue's operation chief, Philip Shearer, points out, ''You're an adult as well as a certified diver; behave like an adult, we'll let you do what you want. If you want to go to 130 feet, do. We'll keep an eye on you, but it's up to you to monitor your own depth and time.'' Eco-touring Recognizing that the islands' heritage relies on their many natural wonders, the T&C's provisional government has set aside a large portion of its seven inhabited islands, 30-plus small cays and surrounding waters for safekeeping. As a result of the National Parks order of 1992, 11 national parks, 10 nature reserves and four sanctuaries were established. In addition to diving, Big Blue runs several specialized guided eco-tours across most of the Caicos group of islands. Even across the channel from their dock, guided kayakers can set out to explore the coastal flats and mangrove channels between Provo and Little Water Cay. Inside the Princess Alexandra Nature Reserve you'll see a variety of birds, iguanas, crustaceans and fish -- including baby sharks and rays residing in this special ecosystem. For more information about Big Blue, click here: For general information about visiting the Turks & Caicos, click here:
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