Where Dolphins Roam
Anthony's Key Resort
Text and Photography by Stephen Frink, Jun. 1997
In 1982, when I first visited Anthony's Key Resort on Roatan in the Bay Islands, it had already been in business for about 13 years. Skin Diver Magazines of that era printed images of pristine hard corals, giant Pillar Coral colonies and massive sponges bathed in brilliant blue water. Reefs rich in marine life, dramatic walls and a dedicated dive resort that provided wonderful service made Anthony's Key Resort an icon, high on every traveling diver's wish list.
A lot of bubbles have been blown, both by the guests of Anthony's Key Resort (AKR) and myself in the decade and a half between then and now. Yet, when I visited AKR again this winter, I was transported back to that time of magic in 1982. Despite the substantial improvements that had been made over the years, AKR has managed to retain its unique ambiance as 'The Resort Nature Designed.' Once again I felt the privilege of having visited someplace very special.
Anthony's Key Resort: The resort grounds cover 34 acres; some on the Roatan mainland and 9.4 acres on Anthony's Key, a palm studded island just 50 yards across the lagoon. There are 56 caba–as strewn along the dock, hillside and Anthony's Key. A complimentary water taxi constantly transports guests back and forth between Anthony's Key and Roatan, which is the setting for the restaurant, bar, dive dock, boutique and the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS, more about this later). The water taxi will also take guests to nearby Bailey's Key, a five acre nature reserve rich with native flora and fauna, as well as some great snorkeling sites. Bailey's Key is also home to a portion of the dolphin activity that has become so popular at the RIMS.
Having been in the resort dive business under the same family ownership for 28 years, AKR has learned how to please its customers. Guests are picked up at the airport and transported directly to the resort in an air-conditioned bus. Upon check-in you fill out your diving paperwork so you are free to board the dive boat the next morning. AKR staff will also handle your airline confirmation and explain all the recreational options of the resort. They do it quickly and painlessly. Before you know it you'll be relaxing with a rum punch in the treetop bar.
The caba–as are simple; louvered windows overlooking the sea, a ceiling fan, a pair of beds and a bathroom. Yet, at AKR I've never felt the need for more. Television would be intrusive and air-conditioning would spoil the sense of being immersed in the natural beauty of the place. The meals are served family style, with a choice of several entrees.
Scuba diving is clearly a big part of why AKR exists and its dive infrastructure is among the best in the industry. There are six, island-built, 43 foot wooden dive boats, one 35 footer and plans to acquire a Rob Shirley Pro 48 jet drive. This fast, state of the art dive boat will open the possibility for day trips to the pinnacles off Cayos Cochinos and the sites off Barbareta.
A pair of 80 cfm compressors and 45,000 cubic feet of storage capacity assures divers will never miss a dive waiting for a tank to be filled. Convenient guest gear storage, a snack shop, dive store and a complete underwater photo center featuring E-6 film processing, camera rentals, underwater video services and instruction are all available at the dive dock. There is even an hyperbaric chamber on the premises.
AKR was recently awarded the coveted PADI Five Star Instructor Development Center accreditation. Scuba instruction remains a prime emphasis, with basic and advanced open water courses, 11 different specialties and even PADI Instructor Development Courses.
The system for diving couldn't be easier or more user friendly. There is the traditional sign-up board providing the daily dive options and three single tank dives each day, as well as scheduled night dives. The tanks will already be onboard, divers simply carry their gear a few steps to the boat. Ten to 15 minutes later divers will be making a giant stride into the calm, clear waters of the Roatan Marine Reserve.
Sites such as Herbie's Place, with its giant barrel sponges and abundant soft corals; Green Outhouse Wall, a drift dive where turtles are common; Peter's Place, a traditional favorite for Yellowfin and Black Groupers; the vertical precipice of Wrasse Hole and Half Moon Bay Wall; and the fascinating eels and macro life typical of Bear's Den have long defined the high quality diving of AKR. Yet despite nearly three decades of dive service, the AKR dive staff, under the direction of Kevin Brewer, remains excited and motivated to discover new sites or find better ways to improve the dive portfolio.
Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences: Founded in 1990, the RIMS resides in a spacious educational center housing the research labs, library, audio/visual center and exhibits dealing with the natural history and geology of the Bay Islands, above and below the surface. The classrooms are used by educational groups, particularly students of high school and college age that visit year-round. Under the direction of education coordination and researcher Julie Dutcher, RIMS has undertaken an extensive project of reef monitoring to establish baseline data for water quality and the health of the reefs. In her words, the goal of RIMS is 'to preserve Roatan's natural resources research program through education and research.' One of the key elements of that concept is the Bottlenose Dolphin, which also happens to be one of the prime dive and snorkel attractions for AKR.
Dolphin Programs: Presently 13 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins reside at RIMS, some housed in pens at Bailey's Key and others at the main RIMS facility. Four of these are babies born here during the past six months. The dolphins are an integral part of the ongoing educational programs, where visiting scientists and students study their echolocation and behavior patterns. An especially popular program is the new Dolphin Discovery Camp, where youngsters 8 to 14 can enjoy interactive sessions with the dolphins to learn about physiology, evolution, conservation and training techniques. This six day program is intensive, thorough and guaranteed to instill a reverence for one of the most wondrous creatures in the sea.
For divers and snorkelers in residence at AKR, dolphin education and appreciation is enhanced by free daily presentations at RIMS or dive or snorkel programs presented for an a la carte fee. The Dolphin Snorkel Program is staged in the large environmental enclosure at Bailey's Key in 3 to 15 feet of water. Snorkelers get to see and even touch dolphins. Small coral heads and usually clear water (unless it has been raining) present excellent video opportunities and the photo center is especially adept at making professional quality souvenir videos of the experience.
The highlight of my visit to AKR was the amazing Dolphin Dive. There were six of us signed up for the dolphin dive. We motored to a moored site just five minutes outside the channel. Head dolphin trainer, George Kieffer, brought a pair of dolphins to the site, swimming and leaping alongside his small boat. The amazing dolphin aerial acrobatics set the mood for an inspirational underwater encounter. We knelt in the sand just seaward of a high profile coral ridge and the dolphins swam among us, foraging for small crustaceans, playing, leaping and just generally having a good time. There were plenty of very close encounters, punctuated by the constant clicks of our underwater cameras. I have been diving long enough to know how rarely dolphins come close to scuba divers in the wild, so to have this opportunity to interact with Tursiops truncatus is unique indeed.
For me, any aspect of the AKR experience is justification to return. The appeal is undeniable. For further information or reservations, phone Anthony's Key Resort at (800) 227-DIVE (3483) or (305) 666-1997 and fax (305) 666-2292. E-mail may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find AKR on the Internet at http://ww.aventuras.com/antho