The coral reef that fringes the entire island of Jamaica has been a source of seafood throughout it’s history. Nowadays there is little left, yet, there are many who still rely on this resource for their livelihood. There is one group of people who form an exclusive breed of fishermen, entering into the water to hunt fish with spearguns. Many Jamaicans begin spearfishing as young men looking for an accessible and enjoyable way to make a living. Simply swimming out to the reef from the beach, they shoot whatever they can find and are usually able to catch enough of the tiny, juvenile fish that are left to sustain an exotic but meagre lifestyle.
Very few are able to freedive further than 80 feet, where the larger fish, conch and lobster remain. This has led to a new generation of spearfishermen who use boats and SCUBA gear, or surface compressors, to take them deeper, for longer. Unfortunately, a lack of training and economic necessity means many of these men end up suffering crippling injuries, paralysis or even death from decompression sickness or “the bends”. Discovery Bay Research station runs the only hyperbaric chamber on the island, where they do their best to treat the victims and learn more about the effect of this dangerous activity on human physiology using the limited funds at their disposal. Meanwhile, a network of fish sanctuaries are being set-up around the island as a safe haven to support the dwindling fish stocks and resupply the areas that are used for fishing.
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