I know the California kelp forest. But although I have dived the Caribbean multiple times, enjoyed the great viz, vibrant colors, and warm water, I barely know these coral reefs and their inhabitants, let alone the behavior patterns of its creatures. I read and have some guidebooks and know some of the species, but much of the marine life is simply foreign to me. I remember a trip a couple of years ago where my wife was asking me about the I.D. of a particular fish and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and say, “I dunno.”

In California waters I have always had a strong desire to not just know the marine life, but to understand them, their behaviors and the ecosystem in how they all interact. I want to fully understand the complete package, including how humans interact with this ecosystem (both positively and negatively).

On a trip this summer to Club Med Turkoise on Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands (see sidebar), I became educated on the Caribbean coral reef ecosystem in ways and in depth to an extent that I could not have previously imagined. I learned more in four days of diving than a previous 33 days of diving the Caribbean. This unique program is called Beautiful Oceans (www.beautifuloceans.com).

The Beautiful Oceans program is like no other in that it takes on a total and comprehensive look at the Caribbean coral reef ecosystem. Not only are participants involved in just marine life identification but also detailed behavior patterns and interactions. You learn how a coral reef ecosystem “works.”

The course can be broken into two portions that work hand in hand. The first portion is educational in experience with a large amount of useful material presented in a fascinating simple and easy to understand format. This portion of the course can be taken either online or at the participating resort. The online portion is a stand-alone course and can be taken by itself online and the participant need not even be a diver. The second portion of the experience is the in-water portion. It is here where the course really comes alive.

At Club Med Turkoise (as well as at the Club Med Columbus Isle on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas) Beautiful Oceans have extensively mapped multiple dive sites. Off Providenciales 26 dive sites have been charted and illustrated in detail using GPS and a depth finder. Beautiful Ocean marine biologists and professional divers then extensively surveyed each dive site for enclaves of marine life of interest including zones to find sea horses, moray eels, lobsters, jawfish and much more. Each detailed map is reviewed by certified Beautiful Oceans instructors in a predive briefing that is like no other you have experienced. Marine life locations are pointed out with a recommended dive plan (usually lead by the instructor as a guide, optional, of course).

The part I enjoyed the most was the briefings on animal behaviors to look for. And to make things even easier and more fun, each one of the dive site maps is placed on a waterproof card that can be carried with you underwater. More waterproof cards for marine life are included in a binder that can be also carried with you. It fits easily into most BCD pockets. The marine life cards include photos of the animal along with behaviors to look for on the back.

This program was the brainchild of partners Stephan Becker and Ian Popple. Years in the making, the program was assembled by a large team of professional marine biologists and diving professionals dedicated to coral reef preservation through an extensive education of the diving public. It is their desire that those that better understand the coral reef will go to greater lengths to protect it. The program is reasonably priced, includes extensive materials, and a percentage of the profits go to coral reef conservation programs.

In the Club Med tradition, Turkoise is an “all-inclusive” resort that includes all meals, non-premium booze and multiple activities. Unfortunately, it does not include your diving excursions. Even so, given the good pricing of the resort, and the fact that the dive trips are also reasonably priced, a diving vacation at Turkoise is excellent value. The facilities at the resort includes, amongst other things, multiple restaurants (excellent food, by the way), a pool, tennis, basketball, volleyball, kayaks, health club, sailing, and a really fun night-life. Rooms are large and air-conditioned.

Turkoise is situated on a beautiful white sand beach on Grace Bay, Providenciales or Provo as the locals call it. There is no beach diving but some good snorkeling along a sand bottom near shore. There are, however, many dive sites just a short boat ride away. A typical morning of diving is a two-tank boat dive with the first dive out around Northwest Point, about a 45-to 50-minute boat ride. Here are magnificent life covered sheer walls with spectacular water clarity. The second dive is usually in Grace Bay with gentle walls or stair-step drop-offs or shallower reefs. Diving along these reefs is also very good, but not quite as spectacular as the outer walls. Then it is just a short 5 or 10-minute boat ride back to the dock. Afternoon dives are occasionally run as well as night dives once a week.

For more information on Club Med Turkoise, visit www.clubmed.us.