Woman Under Water
- June 30th, 2010
- in Yachting
Most Texans I know are inherently upbeat and self-assured. In addition to that big-state confidence, they also tend to be some of the most open and giving people I’ve ever encountered. Casey McNutt is no exception. I first met her at the Governor’s House for a reception honouring Dr. Gregor Hodgson of Reef Check International. Within five minutes of our introduction, she was offering me a place to stay the next time I visited Virgin Gorda and insisting that we keep in touch. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland, a place that’s famous for the HBO crime series The Wire, and while I come from a very warm and welcoming family, I’m still a bit sceptical of Southern hospitality.
Casey at the airplane wreck. Photo courtesy of Daylon Walton for Random Photography.
But Casey’s warmth, I found out after meeting her a few more times then spending a morning with her at Little Dix Bay, is genuine. She appreciates her life in the BVI, the opportunity to run a successful business in the Caribbean, the tight-knit community on Virgin Gorda, and the chance to give back whenever she can.
Casey and her husband Jeff McNutt moved to the BVI eight years ago on a whim. “We had told the family that we were just going to do a year [in the Caribbean],” Casey said. “Then after a year, we were like, ‘This is fun. Let’s do another year.’ After another year, we were pretty hooked and didn’t want to go anywhere. We loved our jobs and the people that we worked with and the island.” She and Jeff had started out working as dive instructors for Dive BVI at their Marina Cay location then they became the general managers of Dive BVI headquarters in Virgin Gorda. Two years later when the owners sold, the new owner asked if they would like to buy in. “So now we’re part owners,” she said, clearly proud of the business that she’s helped to keep flourishing. “Last year was our second best year on record in 25 years,” she said which really surprised me when I’ve seen other dive shops closing down or laying off their employees. Dive BVI just hired two new instructors, in fact. “Even after these two permits come through, I could use another two,” Casey said. “Just to make it so everybody can get their days off.”
When I asked Casey why she thought Dive BVI continued to do so well, she said, “[Virgin Gorda is] a destination where a lot of people come on vacation, and they dive on the side, rather than a dive destination. We don’t just do dive trips. We have day trips, snorkel classes, eco excursions, kayak trips. There are things we do that aren’t just dive related, so our model reaches out to more, and I think that’s one of the reasons we had a really good year.” Instead of simply concentrating on what services they already provide, Casey said she’s constantly asking herself ‘What else can we do to bring more people in?’ Dive BVI has recently expanded—their new shop on Scrub Island opened in June. “It’s stunning,” Casey said of the new location. “We’ve got a full classroom, a nice compressor, a workroom area. We’ll be able to teach in the pool.” She lit up as she spoke of the new shop. “We’re also hoping to have a local dive day once a month [from Scrub] for East End residents at a super-low rate. Just a two-tank dive that goes out and does something fun to get people off the island and out diving.”
Photo courtesy of Daylon Walton for Random Photography.
When she mentioned offering dives to the community, I was reminded of our Reef Check encounter, so I asked her about her involvement with the reef-monitoring assocation. “We’ve been involved for a couple of years—donating the boats,” she said. “Trish Baily’s done a phenomenal job of keeping it standard, but you can only do it for so long before you can pass the torch—knowing it stays at the same level. What we’re trying to do is take over that torch for Virgin Gorda. Have a [Reef Check] branch here so Dive BVI will ultimately adopt reefs, and we’ll have transects that we do every year. Hopefully we can get a little core group of tourists that come, and that will be the transect that they work on. We also have a really popular summer program here that the Fishermen’s Co-op does, so the kids that are old enough to do the fish identification course…we’ll teach that core group of kids the protocol for Reef Check, and then we’re going to put a snorkel-level transect out at Nail Bay, Mahoe Bay, and that’ll be their transect.” Casey stressed the importance of educating young islanders about the reefs. “Hopefully, the kids that are growing up here will start to own that reef. They’ll start to see it as theirs, and then it becomes important.”
Education is key to preserving the reefs that provide many residents of the BVI with their livelihood. She brought up the additional, recent threat of the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish. “The experts at REEF [Reef Environmental Education Foundation] say that if you start seeing them regularly, they’ve been here at least two years because of the way they reproduce. So, the fishermen need to know what they look like and how to safely capture them. It’s important, I think, that the restaurant industry here starts learning how to cook them and make them worth the fisherman catching them.” She suggested that lionfish should become a high-end menu item. “Have them up on the level with swordfish and lobster.” Casey would not be opposed to ordering them from BVI menus. “They taste great,” she told me, mentioning that she’d had some at a trade show in Florida. Dive BVI even offers a free dive to anyone who spots a lionfish. “We’re telling our dive guests about it,” she said, “and if they spot one and notify their instructor, their dive is free.”
Diving brought Casey to the BVI in the first place, and it’s something that she still loves. Though already candid and forthcoming, she seemed to open up even more when I asked her about her favourite dive spots. “The wreck of the Chikuzen has a special place for me,” she said. “It has probably been one of the most exciting dives I’ve ever done…We had one dive when we had four lemon sharks, two reef sharks, and rays everywhere. It’s always exciting with the barracuda and the history.” She also spoke of staghorn corals. “They’re so pretty, and they’re coming back in full force,” she said. “From what I understand, a lot of reef people say that is a good sign of a healthy reef—a great indicator because if the reef can support those fragile ones then everything else picks up.” Casey also mentioned several seahorses that have been spotted in the BVI lately. “There were a couple on the Rhone. I saw them then they disappeared then we had a staff member find one on Thumb Rock then another one on Ginger Island in the past month and a half.” She obviously loves being in the water. “My job is not in the water as much as it used to be. I love what I do now, but [diving] brings back the excitement every time. It’s never been work for me; it’s just been fun.”
Photo courtesy of Casey McNutt.
Casey’s genuine happiness comes, in part, from appreciating a job that she loves. “I grew up in a loving house. My parents never really fought in front of us, but I remember waking up and hearing them…talking about how much they hated their jobs,” she said, wiping her eyes. She never forgot that memory and as a child told herself that she’d never choose a career that made her unhappy. “I’m fortunate that I can make a living doing what I love to do. I’m happy to go to work every day. I get on the boat, and I go, ‘I can’t believe I work here.’” Casey then motioned to the scenery of Little Dix Bay. “This is my backyard," she said. "Who gets to do that?”