Jul 312014

In our last post, we recounted our adventures from the 11th Annual Jellyfish Jamboree in Bonaire.  The event host was Bud Gillan, a jellyfish researcher from Boca Raton, Florida.

Bud Gillan at CIEE in Bonaire

Bud Gillan at CIEE in Bonaire

Bud’s accomplishments as an educator and researcher are many.  We had the opportunity to sit down with Bud to learn more about his scientific discoveries, his role in the research of the effects of sunscreens on our marine environments and current recommendations for the treatment of jellyfish stings.

Meredith: You are known in scientific and education circles as an expert in the field of jellyfish research and Cnidarian ecology. What first sparked your interest in these marine invertebrates?

Bud: I first visited Bonaire in 1966 and saw the pristine reefs and sea life. I grew up by the beach in Ocean Grove, NJ and was the son of an Atlantic Ocean fisherman. We had a boat, and I was out on the ocean at an early age. So there were many influences from surfing to fishing to snorkeling to an internship at Sandy Hook Marine Labs as a college freshman in the research dive department. So the bell was there, and the reefs on Bonaire were about to ring it.

Reef ecology is a passion and for me the keel of what I teach young people about. The intense focus on jellies started with stings from “sea lice” and Man-O-War in Florida.  What could I, as a scientist and biologist, do about these stings? That started the whole shabang. My interest in jellies progressed to box jellies primarily in 2001 when we tried to identify a new (unknown) species in Bonaire that had banded patterns and amazing agility.  I nicknamed this species the Bonaire Banded Box Jelly, and I was on the hunt.

Meredith: Among your accomplishments in the area of jellyfish research is the discovery of a new species. Can you tell us when you first discovered Tamoya ohboya (common name- Bonaire Banded Box Jellyfish or BBBJ) and give us insight into how a new species is officially declared?

Bud: In 2001-2002 I sent video and pics of the BBBJ to many of the major players in the jelly world (I call them Jellyologists). Not one of these experts knew what it was. I then contacted Dr. Bob Larson, then the jelly expert at The Smithsonian, and who has a PhD in box jellies of the Caribbean. He had never seen this species, and he believed it was an entirely new Genus (not just new species). Turns out he was almost right.

Over time I collected and documented sightings of BBBJ via a useful online tool called BonaireTalk. Folks were so helpful. Some took up the charge with interest and concern, particularly after a severe sting led to medical evacuation. The sting victim lived and is now living on Bonaire with scars and skin grafts. But in the first 5 years, it was interested people and Bob Larson that were so helpful. As more and more sightings were documented, a story was unfolding. Through a series of events, The Smithsonian’s jelly curator, Dr. Allen Collins, contacted me and asked if he could help with the research (since it was clear this project of determining a new species takes a team and technical resources).

Today, declaring a new species requires more than morphological and microscopic comparisons. Genetic sequencing and DNA analysis are required, in addition to the digital tools needed to compare sequences. Generally, a specimen requires at least a 4% difference in its genome (total gene sequences) to be considered a new species. For many years, we worked closely together to formulate the academics of the research.  We were ready to publish the results, but we waited until we could collect another specimen of BBBJ – a good whole specimen. This was very difficult because it is a rare animal.

Almost as an act of God, I went for a snorkel on the next to last day of a trip to Bonaire in July 2010 with my snorkel buddy, Marijke Wilhemus (a dive master and nurse on Bonaire).  As luck would have it, we spotted a beautiful, fast, agile, and holotype specimen. We collected it for final analysis, and the race was on to complete the academic and genetic research. The jelly team at The Smithsonian was wonderful in providing help and acumen to this project. They suggested letting the public name the new species, because that had not been done before. It was quite interesting to see the names that were suggested, and the final name, Tamoya ohboya, came from a group of high school students in Florida. Ohboya was the new species, but Tamoya was already established as the new Genus in the major Cubozoan reorganization at the same time. Then the academic world (from ZooTaxa) assigned 2 jelly experts and a referee to do the final declaration. In sum, after much discussion and points of clarification, a new species was declared in January 2012 and the work was published in ZooTaxa. It was also declared #2 in the 2013 New Species Top Ten worldwide out of 30,000 new species that year and made the Top 100 New Species for the Century. Not bad for a box jelly….and to date 73 specimens of Tamoya ohboya have been documented across the Caribbean.

Tamoya ohboya, photo by Steve Schnoll

Tamoya ohboya, photo by Steve Schnoll

Meredith: You identified a very interesting phenomenon in Bonaire – the regular swarming of Alatina alata (sea wasp) 8-10 days after a full moon. What is the significance of this discovery, and why was it so exciting to the scientific community?

Bud: This phenomenon was first discovered in Hawaii 18 years ago for this species which was then called Carybdea alata (see “Reef Creature Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas” by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach). In the major Cubozoa re-organization, select species were assigned to the new Alatina genus, including this one.  It is also called the sea wasp, because, like Tamoya, it is a powerful stinger.

It was my hypothesis that the Bonaire species of Alatina was also involved in these swarms, and for many years I followed their patterns and appearances.  At the same time, I went to the hospital to verify the timing through sting patterns. It was clear to me that the dates and patterns matched Hawaii’s (8 to 10 days after the full moon). My 2 cents included that they followed the same lunar patterns, and that they would come in on the high tide of those days.

So this was a testable hypothesis that my Bonaire jelly buddy, Johan van Blerk (a Dutch botanist) and I put to the test. Seven years ago we sat at the end of Karel’s Beach Bar and watched and waited, and sure enough, the Alatina came marching in. We where able to collect specimens and begin the work to determine if it was the same species that was swarming in Hawaii and other locations worldwide. This collection process sparked a lot of interest and discussion from bystanders, so we put these activities into a program which we called “The Jellyfish Jamboree”. This summer was the 11th annual Jellyfish Jamboree event.

Bud Gillan (left) and Johan van Blerk with Alatina Alata

Bud Gillan (left) and Johan van Blerk with Alatina Alata

To date we have had several teams of world class scientists come to Bonaire from The Smithsonian, University of Hawaii, University of Maryland, and elsewhere, to study this species. We determined that this species is swarming as part of a reproductive event, and through the generous resources at CIEE Research Station, we have been able to study Alatina in great detail (including raising juvenile jellies).

The Alatina research in Bonaire and Hawaii, and now Saipan and Guam, has led to a new educational video called “Science of the Sting” created by Dr. Angel Yanagihara and me for use in schools.  Through a grant from the Pew Foundation, the video is now available to all schools worldwide on Vimeo. The video uses the story of Alatina to teach children about how scientists think and work, and it encourages young students, particularly girls, to consider careers in the sciences. Dr. Yanagihara (University of Hawaii Med School), Dr. Allen Collins (Smithsonian Institute), Dr. Dennis Kunkel (University of Hawaii), and Dr. Rita Peachey (CIEE Bonaire Director) are all involved in the new Pew Grant, of which I am the Principal Investigator, to extend the way students learn and teachers teach using real science.

An additional item of note is that Dr. Yanagihara has successfully produced an antidote for box jelly stings which is more effective than any anti venom or current first aid product. Her toxicological expertise is directly tied to the overall work on Alatina on Bonaire, Hawaii, and now Saipan, where Alatina was responsible for 2 deaths in 2014. Worldwide, more people die from jelly stings than shark attack, and certainly, the number of stings has risen astronomically due to jelly swarming of a wide variety of species.

Alatina Alata Collection at the Jellyfish Jamboree

Alatina alata collection at the 2014 Jellyfish Jamboree

Meredith: In addition to your work in jellyfish research, you have been active in researching the effects of sunscreens on our marine environments. What has your research unveiled? What can we, as consumers, do to protect our oceans while still protecting our skin?

Bud: Jellies, as we call them, are from their coral cousin’s Phylum: Cnidaria. Corals, worldwide, build reefs and ecosystems that sustain the sea life in the entire ocean. It is not a mystery that coral reefs are in trouble worldwide. It is very clear that elements in the water are a key factor contributing to the collapse of coral reef systems. There are other contributing factors, but water chemistry is one factor in which we have some direct control. In 2008, we saw the first academic work declaring that chemical sunscreens are one of the pollutants directly causing coral disease and death. This includes the viral attack on the coral animals symbiotic algal partner called zooxanthellae.  This research was verified by National Geographic scientists.

Since the 2008 research was published, between 4,000 and 6,000 metric tons of chemical sunscreens have been added to the world’s water systems each year. Subsequent research about the nature and danger of chemical sunscreens has risen to alarming heights. This is particularly true of the family of sunscreens called oxybenzone and BP1-3. These sunscreens are effective at screening the sun’s rays, but they cause other documented damage to cells of many species including vertebrates and humans. The list of potential dangers includes DNA breakage, hormone disruption, cancers and a whole host of dermatological problems and allergies. This is a much longer discussion, and I am only highlighting the key points here.

In 2014, a new and very significant study done by 12 PhD’s showed the impact of oxybenzone and BP’s on coral and coral larvae. The results are clear and require action. When non-polluting natural sunscreens with zinc oxide (not titanium oxide), and its new formulations, are completely effective and broad spectrum across UVA1, UVA2, and UVB wavelengths, these products are a much better alternative to the problem of solar exposure. I have called for a ban on oxybenzone, starting with Bonaire and Barbados, having met with officials on both islands. We are doing this in Florida as well, starting in the Florida Keys. Personally, I use Raw Elements, which is a top-rated natural sunscreen according to the Environmental Working Group.  It contains 23% zinc oxide, and it is the only non-nano and non-GMO certified product.

Clearly, there are other chemical sunscreen ingredients that are in question, including the water resistance ingredients which effectively glue the chemical sunscreen to the skin. But the first wave of compelling research published in Ecotoxicology is the new lighthouse upon which we must act. There is also compelling Korean research on human dermatology and chemical sunscreen which is just as concerning. For Bonaire, an island that is known as a world leader in coral conservation, and which has an economy that depends on the health of its coral reefs, banning oxybenzone is a necessary next step.

Meredith: Please help us settle this longstanding debate once and for all. What is the current recommended treatment for jellyfish stings?

Bud: The debate about what to do for first aid of jelly stings RAGES on. Certainly do not use fresh water, urine, alcohol, ice, compression bandages, and now, vinegar (which has been shown to accelerate Man-O-War and other jelly stings). The newest Australian protocol (in my opinion the US is not in a leadership role here yet, although DAN is moving in this direction) for the treatment of jelly stings includes instruction for the treatment of anaphalaxis and allergic reactions for sting victims that experience these complications.

Current recommendations include applying heat directly on the sting area. This works to varying degrees as the temperature and location can be problematic. How hot is hot, and how long should the heat be applied? No definitive research has answered these key questions, nor has it addressed the problem of heat expanding vascular tissue (and thus speeding up venom transfer). So use heat with caution. And certainly do not apply scalding water to the skin.

For several years a team of scientists and first aid/ER providers have used proteolytic enzymes including papain and bromelain (but not meat tenderizer itself) to denature venom (which is a protein). Debriding pads have been successfully used with these enzymes to remove sting cells (nematocysts) and biochemically inhibit venom spread. In addition, tests by marine biologists have shown that medicinal grade lidocaine performs as both a pain analgesic and a nematocyst inhibitor, limiting the firing of unfired stinging cells. These are the tools that I use on myself and others, and they have been used by lifeguards, first responders and dermatologist on hundreds of sting victims.

My friend and jelly colleague, Dr. Angel Yanagihara, has successfully tested a new first aid antidote of a zinc compound that will work on stings of cubozoans and other jellies, including the blocking of hyperkalemia and heart collapse.  This product is due out early next year for the general public and earlier for medical professionals.


We extend a special thanks to Bud for lending us his time and expertise.   If you have questions for Bud, please post them in the comments section, and we will try to obtain answers.

Jul 222012

While relaxing on my balcony on a recent dive trip to Sunset House, Grand Cayman, I heard the familiar sound of clanking metal just below.  I looked down to the sea pool to find the dive staff offloading a pallet of scuba tanks.

This meant that a group of divers would soon be shore diving.  Typically, divers don their BC and tanks at the opposite end of the resort and walk to the sea pool (with tank already strapped on).  Clearly something different was happening here.  I wanted to know what it was.

About 30 minutes later, I saw a group of what appeared to be teens and young adults make their way to the sea pool.  Many were sporting shirts and rashguards with the same logo.  Some were walking, but most were pushing themselves in wheelchairs.

Intrigued, I grabbed my camera, zoomed in, and snapped a photo of the shirt.  I then zoomed in on the logo.  Stay-Focused, it read.  Being the consummate techie, my iPad was at hand.  I googled “Stay-Focused”, and what I found was a true inspiration.

Stay-Focused is a non-profit organization, dedicated to helping teens and young adults with disabilities develop leadership skills, gain confidence, learn independence, and set goals.  At the core of Stay-Focused is a PADI scuba diving certification program, which is held annually in Grand Cayman.  In almost ten years of operation, Stay-Focused has certified 66 new divers.  In addition to the scuba certification program, Stay-Focused conducts medical research studying the effects, risks and benefits of scuba diving on persons with disabilities.

Upon my return home from the trip, I contacted the President of Stay-Focused, Roger Muller, to ask for an interview.  Roger was gracious, immediately said yes, and suggested that I interview one of the emerging leaders in the organization – Ryan Chalmers.

Roger Muller, Ryan Chalmers

Stay-Focused 2012 Divers – Group 1

Stay-Focused 2012 Divers – Group 2 – Photo by JenFu Cheng Photography

Below is the full text of my interview with Ryan.

Reeftraveler (RT):  How did you become involved with Stay-Focused?

Ryan Chalmers (RC):  I first heard about the organization in 2005, when Roger Muller, Founder and President of Stay-Focused, came to a Junior Nationals Track and Field Competition and was introduced to my Dad to find out if he thought I would be interested in scuba diving.  Of course, I was, and that summer I went through the Stay-Focused program at the age of 15.

RT:  What is your role in the Stay-Focused organization?

RC:  At the moment, I am an assistant to Roger as well as his mentee, and I have started to learn the ropes of what it takes to run the Stay-Focused organization.  I have been given the opportunity to be more involved in the organization, managing relationships, and becoming a leader along the way.

RT:  What unique challenges do divers with disabilities and mobility challenges face?  How can you help them overcome these challenges?

RC:  The great part of scuba diving, other than getting in and out of the water which can sometimes be a hassle, is not needing to face different challenges than those faced by an average, able-bodied diver.  If you are not a very strong swimmer, you will get help from the water just like an able-bodied person.  The same is true if you have trouble equalizing.  This is one of the most rewarding parts of scuba diving because while in the water, people with disabilities get to experience freedom under the water with no limitations.  A person with a disability can do exactly what his or her able-bodied dive buddy is doing.

RT:  What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a mentor with Stay-Focused?

RC:  The most rewarding part for me about being a mentor is being able to see the joy and sense of accomplishment on the kids’ faces I have mentored.  During my first trip and my Reunion trip with Stay-Focused, changes were happening within me because of how incredible the organization is, and the goals the organization sets out to achieve – building leadership skills, instilling confidence, and experiencing freedom. But, at the time, I was unable to see them, partly because I was young, and partly because I was just so excited throughout the experience that I was hardly paying attention.  During my mentorship, however, I was actually able to see the changes first-hand because they were happening to others. That is when I sat down and thought about how much of an impact this organization has had on my life, and realized I needed to stay involved with Stay-Focused one way or another, and continue to help provide other kids with disabilities the chance to have these incredible life experiences as well.

RT:  If you could dive anywhere in the world, where would you go?

RC:  I would keep diving in the Cayman Islands. In my opinion, diving does not get any better than in it is in Cayman. The visibility is incredible, you able to see over 100 feet down. The water temperature is perfect for persons with disabilities, like me, as well as for able- bodied individuals. The dive operations could not be more adaptable, and the staff at all the dive operations is great. If I could only dive in one location for the rest of my life, it would be in the Cayman Islands.

Ryan Diving in Grand Cayman – Photo by JenFu Cheng Photography

Looking ahead …

Ryan will be pushing his racing chair from Los Angeles to New York City (Push Across America), in the spring of 2013 (leaving LA on April 6, 2013 and arriving in NYC 71-days later on June 15th).  Ryan’s goal is to build awareness for the potential of all persons with disabilities and support Stay-Focused.  Ryan will also Push Across Cayman on November 24, 2012. (Insert Flyer)  Major sponsors include the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, Dart Cayman Islands, and the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.

Ryan plans to complete his Divemaster certification, sponsored by Sunset House, in 2012.  Way to go Ryan!

Apr 032012

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many amazing dive and snorkel destinations.  From the Indian Ocean, to the South Pacific to the turquoise Caribbean, each tropical island has its own unique vibes, sights, scents and sounds.  But there’s one place that lures me back time and again.  Once I exit the plane and descend the staircase into the shining sun, I know I am “home”.  I’m referring to the US Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John – home of powdery white beaches, sparkling turquoise waters, lush green mountains and perfect painkillers.

We often stay at Secret Harbour Beach Resort on St. Thomas.  Secret Harbour appeals to us for many reasons, but first among them is the welcoming on-site dive shop, Aqua Action, expertly run by owners Sam and Diane.  From a diver and snorkeler’s point of view, both Sam and Diane possess the qualities that make a dive shop owner / divemaster truly excellent – patience, friendliness, safety consciousness, concern for the environment and a desire to make every customer happy.

Secret Harbour Beach

Sunset at Secret Harbour

Secret Harbour Sealife – Photo by Mr. Reeftraveler

I recently had the chance to interview Sam and Diane about their work with disabled divers and snorkelers.

Reeftraveler (RT):  Tell me how you became involved in helping divers with physical disabilities?

Aqua Action (AA):  The previous owner of our shop, Carl Moore, was an HSA (Handicapped SCUBA Association) Dive Instructor, and was very active with taking people with physical disabilities diving and snorkeling.  That sounded to us like a wonderful thing to do, and once we took over ownership, I too became an HSA instructor.

RT:  What sorts of unique challenges do divers with disabilities face, and how can you help them overcome them?

AA:  The most obvious is the physical immobility. We take both paraplegics and quadriplegics out, but we also take people with vision and hearing impairments, so the challenges each diver or snorkeler faces are unique.  For those with physical limitations, we have a beach wheelchair that we use to get them in and out of the water, and we have a great staff that love helping out!

Many people with disabilities are used to depending on equipment and other people for their mobility, and so are very comfortable with the changes and challenges that diving presents. They are used to facing challenges everyday, and diving is just one more hurdle to overcome. And in many people, no matter what their abilities, it’s about facing the same challenge – entering the unknown!

We also have a boat that is very open and accessible, and our dive shop is recognized as an accessible facility by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).  The resort itself (Secret Harbour Beach Resort) is also very accessible – right above our shop are several handicapped-accessible rooms, so our entire operation is geared to helping the physically challenged get on and into the water!

Aqua Action Dive Boat

Pufferfish Seen on Dive with Aqua Action – Photo by Mr. Reeftraveler

Crab Seen on Dive with Aqua Action – Photo by Mr. Reeftraveler

RT:  Can you teach physically challenged individuals to snorkel as well as dive?

AA:  Yes, we take many physically challenged folk out snorkeling – more often than we do diving, in fact.

Night Snorkeling at Secret Harbour – Photo by Mr. Reeftraveler

RT:  What has been the most rewarding aspect of working with disabled divers?

AA:  The pure joy we see once people enter the water.  In many cases it’s something they thought they might never do, and it’s amazing to see their faces light up once they realize that they are doing it!  For me, it’s the feeling of trust I see develop between my diver/snorkeler and me – it’s a very personal thing, and very rewarding.

RT:  How can those with physical disabilities get more information about learning to dive?

AA:  All of the major dive training agencies (e.g., PADI, NAUI, SDI, SSI) make considerations and have alternative methods for those with challenges to meet training standards and get certified. Plus, there are several dive training agencies that specialize in certifying divers that can’t meet those standards to still be able to dive with specially trained dive “buddies”:

Handicapped SCUBA Association

Disabled Diver International

International Association for Handicapped Divers

More About Aqua Action

Aqua Action is a PADI 5-Star Snorkel and Dive Center located on beautiful St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands! Our focus is on custom-tailored SCUBA and snorkeling trips, individual training, and small, fun groups of people! We are located at Secret Harbour Beach Resort, near Red Hook, on the southeast end of St. Thomas. We offer beach chairs, kayaks, paddle boats, stand-up paddleboards, snorkeling (the best on St. Thomas!), a beautiful white sand beach and a beach side bar and bistro. We also have a fully stocked store and gift shop, with a wide assortment of souvenirs, snacks and refreshments. Plus, we are the only HSA (Handicap SCUBA Association) Certified Dive Center on St. Thomas, with specialized programs for divers and snorkelers with physical challenges! Come visit us and experience the vacation of a lifetime!

More about the owners, Sam and Diane

About Diane 

Diane is an SDI/TDI Divemaster and PADI Assistant Instructor. She is also an attorney and owned her own law firm in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to St. Thomas. She specialized in Domestic Relations and Constitutional Law, so when diving with Diane, you’ll ALWAYS have a shark in the water!!!

She finally got tired of the stress of the courtroom and pressed the “escape” button on her computer and ended up in St. Thomas with her husband Sam. She and Sam have never regretted the move for a moment.

About Sam

Sam is a PADI Master Instructor, an SDI/TDI Dive Instructor and an HSA (Handicapped SCUBA Association) Instructor.  He is also certified as a Primary and Secondary Care Instructor/Trainer by the Emergency First Response Corporation. He has been an avid SCUBA diver for 15 years, diving in such diverse locations as the Red Sea, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Great Lakes (Lake Erie). He holds a USCG (United States Coast Guard) 50-ton Master’s License, with both Inland and Near Coastal routes. During the summer months in Cleveland, Ohio (where he is from) he captained the Express and the Linda Mae, 36′ and 40′ Lake Erie charter dive and fishing boats owned and operated by Discovery Dive Charters, located in Wildwood Marina in the Cleveland Lakefront State Park.

When not in the water, Sam served as Director of Engineering for the VAC Division of Multi-Dimensional Imaging, the Medical Device division of the Healthview Center for Preventive Medicine. Prior to that, he spent 20 years working on and leading teams designing CT (Computed Tomography) systems for Philips Medical Systems.

He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Cleveland State University and a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Case Western Reserve University with an emphasis in Networking. He is also an IT (Information Technology) Specialist, with several certifications from Microsoft and CompTIA.

Contact Aqua Action

Secret Harbour Beach Resort

6501 Red Hook Plaza, #80

St. Thomas, USVI  00802

Phone & FAX: (888) 775-6285 or (340) 775-6285

E-mail: sam@aadivers.com

Website: www.aadivers.com

Book Now at www.aadivers.com/reservations

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See our reviews on TripAdvisor

Aug 062011
When we first became engaged, it didn’t take much effort to convince Mr. Reeftraveler that a beach wedding was in our future.  After a few (research intensive) months of considering various locales, we decided to return to the scene of the engagement – Playa Langosta, Costa Rica.

Photo by Frank Gourley

Fortunately, our wedding was everything that we hoped for – memorable, romantic, intimate and relaxed. But it wasn’t without months of careful (and slightly obsessive) planning.  I’m often asked for advice about planning a beach wedding, so I jumped at the chance to interview the guru of beach wedding planning, Donna Mickley.

Reeftraveler (RT):  Is a beach wedding right for every couple?
Donna Mickley (DM):  A beach wedding is perfect for a couple that thoroughly enjoys everything about the beach and the ocean – the sights, the sounds, the smells and the breezes.  It’s perfect for a couple that have a tropically casual or tropically elegant wedding vision.  Nothing is more romantic than saying your vows at sunset over the ocean…. and it makes for incredible photos.

Photo by Sean Davis

RT:  Are there any special considerations for the beach bride?
DM:  Choose a dress that fits the location.  Lightweight, flowing fabrics work well in the tropics.  The breezes will enhance the flowing fabric and give it life.  Try to keep your hair as natural as possible.  In the ocean air, curly hair will go curly and straight hair will go straight.  A stylist can produce the updo of your dreams, but once you’re on the beach your hair will revert to its natural state, so make the most of it.  A few flowers in the hair add a tropical touch.  Consider wearing flats, sandals or going barefoot.  Heels do not work well in the sand and will cause you to walk awkwardly.  Also, remember to wear plenty of sunscreen prior to the wedding. A sunburn on your wedding day is uncomfortable, and it won’t look attractive in your wedding photos.

Photo by Frank Gourley

RT:  And what about the groom?  What unique considerations should he keep in mind?
DM:  Lightweight linen or cotton attire works well, and be prepared to roll up your pant legs!

RT:  Beach wedding guests often ask how to dress for the occasion.  What are your tips for beach wedding guest attire?
DM:  Choose lightweight, light colored, non-clingy fabrics.  Wear flat shoes, sandals or go barefoot  Make sure to use plenty of sunscreen.

RT:  What is your favorite style of decor for a beach wedding?
DM:  I really like the beach cabana style.  It lends itself to many variations and can be designed to coordinate with all types of weddings and to fit all budgets.  It’s tropically elegant, works for larger weddings as well as elopements, and it provides the wedding party with some shade from the sun.  It can be constructed in bamboo, driftwood or wood.  The most basic rendition of the beach cabana is bamboo with flowing white fabric, but the sky is the limit when it comes to personalizing the decor.  We have designed cabanas using all types of materials including hanging garlands of orchids, crystals, moss and hanging vines, origami birds and the most popular – floral arrangements designed to coordinate with the wedding floral decor.

RT:  What are your top 5 tips for planning a beach wedding?
DM:  1)  Timing is essential.  Mornings or evenings before sunset are the best times of day.  These times offer the best lighting for photos and provide a break from the hot mid-day sun for your guests.  Checking the time of the high tides on your wedding day is a must.  If you plan on a sunset wedding and high tide is at sunset that day, there may be no beach remaining when the tides roll in.
2)  Be aware that the crashing waves will produce background noise. Officiates and musicians may require amplification which must be battery powered.

Photo by Frank Gourley

3)  Check for ceremony site accessibility for elderly or disabled guests. The beach terrain is often uneven and not easily navigated.
4)  Always have a Plan B in case of rain.
5)  When choosing your flowers, consider choosing those that are locally grown.  Not only will their appearance fit the overall backdrop of the beach, but local flowers will remain wilt-proof longer than those imported from other locations.

Photo by Sean Davis

6)  My addition… Hire an experienced wedding planner from the area where your wedding is taking place, and enjoy the day without stress!
Donna Mickley is the owner of and Senior Wedding Coordinator at Pura Vida Weddings in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Pura Vida Weddings is an event planning and design company specializing in creating the beach wedding of your dreams to fit your individual style and budget.

Our Reef Themed Cake

And Reeftraveler’s top tip – be yourself.  Let your personal style show through.