A modern Hyperbaric Chamber, to treat decompression illness in divers, was officially commissioned into service at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Discovery Bay marine laboratory, in St. Ann, on March 13.
The unit is capable of accommodating up to five persons at a time, and was built at a cost of approximately $34 million. It replaces an outdated 37-year-old facility.
The new chamber is the only one of its kind operating in the island, and was installed through the collaborative effort between the UWI and the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF).
Addressing the commissioning ceremony, Principal of the UWI, Mona campus, Professor Gordon Shirley, highlighted the importance of the two marine laboratories operated by the UWI, one in Port Royal and the other in Discovery Bay, adding that they enhance the capacity of the country to address the challenges associated with its ports, harbours, reefs and marine life.
He described the work being done at both laboratories as essential for both social and economic development in the region.
The Principal pointed out that at least one person is treated per month at the facility, and as many as 400 persons have been treated over a number of years.
He cited the importance of the facility as it relates to tourism, noting that visitors to the island who go diving to view the reefs can get ill, and the service can save their lives.
“We also have a number of fishermen across the island, who go diving very deep and when they rise too quickly, there can be a problem, so the chamber is very important to treat them if they get ill,” he added.
Meanwhile, Director of the Centre for Marine Sciences at the UWI, Professor Dale Webber, noted that 75 per cent of persons treated for decompression sickness have been fishermen, 24 per cent are tourists and one per cent, recreational divers.
For his part, Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, linked the provision of the chamber with the unlimited potential and possibilities that it creates within the tourism market.
“This chamber is a substantial investment in our drive towards promoting dive tourism, while assisting the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory in executing its role and meeting its objectives,” he said.
He commended the laboratory staff for the research and other work being done for the country’s marine environment, adding that the Ministry is pleased to be a partner in the project.
“The fact is, the TEF is strategically looking at funding programmes and projects that will drive increased visitor arrivals, and stimulate job creation and income generation for our locals,” the Minister said.
By Bryan Miller, JIS Reporter