The man who brought Scuba Diving to Belize

Reading Time: 5 mins

The story of Jerry McDermott, the man who brought scuba diving to Belize, is an interesting example of someone who has dramatically helped shape the tourism industry in Belize.

It reminds me of how grateful I am that some early ex-pats chose to stay in Belize and invest in the country’s future.

Jerry McDermott, Belize Scuba Diving Pioneer

Jerry McDermott Belize

Jerry McDermott can rightfully be credited as the man who brought scuba diving to Belize.  His journey to the lovely island of Ambergris Caye, off the coast of Belize, began an ocean away when he was born in Dublin, Ireland on May 13, 1927. His father was the first in his family to move to the United States and a year later Jerry and his mother arrived at Ellis Island and then followed his father to Boston. Soon after the move Jerry’s sister, Pat, and his brother Corry were born.

Jerry attended Yale and graduated the year before Former President George Bush. Upon graduation, Jerry and his buddy, Hank Hamlin, went to Oklahoma to get in the oil business. That enterprise didn’t pan out so Jerry moved to Houston, Texas to become an oil scout, joined by his brother Corry. He found himself in the company of notables such as baseball players Dizzy Dean and Ted Williams. Due to some poor investments and a divorce, Jerry soon found himself in financial straits.

It was at this point that he met with a former oilman, Al Dugan, who offered him a business opportunity he couldn’t refuse. Dugan wanted to search for oil in British Honduras (now Belize) and needed McDermott to act as his scout and legal representative in a business deal. He offered him a ticket to Belize and a percentage of what he would find in oil. Jerry took the deal and in 1967 went to British Honduras. At this time Gulf Oil was drilling at Basil Jones just north of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Jerry worked with the oil ministers on a deal for a million and a half acres on the mainland of Belize. Successful, Jerry went back to Houston and got paid $2500 dollars.

Pardaise Hotel 1972

Jerry returned to Belize in 1968 to invest his $2500 from that oil deal in a hotel. At that time, there were two hotels being built on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. One of these hotels was the Holiday Hotel, which was owned by Celi Grief McCorkle. The other was a two-story building at the north end of the town of San Pedro, owned by a wealthy landowner’s sister. With the down payment of $2500, Jerry built a couple of cabanas and the yet unnamed hotel was up and running.

When the hotel was still unnamed, two nuns had spent a week at the hotel and asked Jerry the name of the resort. After hearing that it was still nameless, they exclaimed, “Why, this is like Paradise!” Jerry ran with it and from that point on it was known as the Paradise. 

Jerry soon hired local Ramon Nunez to run his snorkeling shop. He also hired Adolfo Ayoso, Eduardo Brown, Gil Gonzalez and Secun Gonzalez to serve as guides. When they were first hired, they were only free divers, albeit diving down to 100ft.  However, Jerry wanted to expand his resort to include scuba diving. He built the famous Paradise pier, which soon attracted sunbathers from the British Royal Air Force on weekends.


In 1971, Jerry and his brother, Corry, reunited for the first time in 20 years when Corry came to the island to invest in his brother’s resort. Corry had been working in Denver, Colorado in real estate until his move to Ambergris Caye. Shortly after Corry’s arrival, Hurricane Laura hit the island.  There was no doubt that these Irish brothers loved each other dearly, but their arguments were legendary on the island and the timing of the hurricane couldn’t be more symbolic of their stormy relationship. 

It was shortly after Corry’s arrival that ex-Navy diver, Guy Kane, introduced Corry and Ramon to scuba diving by letting them use his dive equipment to try some shallow dives. Eventually, Ramon Nunez, was sent to Houston by Jerry to become certified in diving by Nyle Everett. He was the first native of Belize to become certified. His coworkers, Adolfo Ayuso, Eduardo Brown, and Gil Gonzalez soon followed and were also certified by Everett and became the staff of the Paradise Hotel’s Dive Resort. Corry was also certified by Nyle Everett as well sometime later. Jerry, a certified diver himself, was determined to establish a legitimate dive operation on the island. He wasted no time in utilizing a sailboat to bring 25 scuba tanks, double hose regulators, and a small air compressor over from the mainland of Belize for the resort to rent out for diving classes and tours. This was the beginning of the dive industry on Ambergris Caye.


Jerry greatly appreciated and benefitted from Corry’s extensive experience in the real estate business.  They worked together for a few years developing a real estate market on Ambergris Caye. Eventually, they went their separate ways—Jerry focusing on developing the Paradise Hotel and selling real estate on Ambergris Caye and Corry focusing his attention on land development throughout all of Belize. Corry teamed up with the well-known Emory King, who embraced the roles of politician, writer, and local historian, as well as real estate mogul. 

In the early 80’s, Jerry purchased a cabin cruiser called the “Nina Who?” which served as a dive boat for the resort.  Its primary purpose was to ferry divers out to the main dive attraction, the famous Blue Hole, but also served as a means to highlight the many excellent dive spots along the barrier reef, the second largest in the world. Jerry continued to build the Paradise into one of the top resorts in San Pedro. He sold the business to some Japanese investors in 1991 but eventually bought it back in 2004 for a third of the price he had sold it.


Jerry had always had an interest in horticulture, making sure that the landscaping of the Paradise Hotel was replete with bougainvillea, hibiscus, and other plants indigenous to the country…including the very rare Black Orchid. After Jerry sold the Paradise to the Japanese investors, he turned his attention to some land he bought in San Ignacio on the mainland by the Mayan Ruins. It was there that his landscaping company was born and proved to be a fruitful enterprise as well as a passion of his. 

In 2004, after buying the Paradise Pardaise Hotel back, Jerry had the resort torn down and built the Phoenix Condo’s in its place. The Paradise had been a focal point for the island for years, reflecting the colorful spirit of its owner. Many on the island reminisce fondly about the famous Christmas and New Year’s parties held at the Paradise Bar. For many expatriates and tourists, the Paradise proved to be a home away from home. 

Jerry died May 17, 2007, four days after turning 80. Responsible for bringing diving to Belize and operating the first dive shop, McDermott rightly holds a place among the Legends of Diving.  His brother, Corry, continues his real estate business on Ambergris Caye to this day.


2018 Update: I don’t know when this feature was written but the source was, which is no longer an active domain.



Reader Interactions


  1. Kanu G Bowie says

    Loved reading this article about Jerry and also your comments Eddie are great. Indeed was an amazing time. I first met Jerry in 1974 when I stayed at the Paradise Hotel. He was quite a character and had quite a few good laughs together. It was always a great time whenever I would come up for some island time from my farm on the Sittee River and totally enjoy a much different San Pedro then. I remember Jerry has a very energetic and witty guy, a good sense of humour who knew what he wanted. Some years later in the early 80's I remember sitting in the white dome like bar with maybe one other person and in walks Harrison Ford and asks if I want to play some darts. Spent some alone time with him during the filming of the Mosquito coast and a couple of dances with Helen Mirren at Big Daddy's (not sure if it was called that then). Then around that time myself and Roberto Smith and Russell Pollero swam of the Paradise Pier to the anchored and decrepit 66 foot Wiinie Estelle and suggested to the other two they ought to restore the Winnie Estelle and so it was after close to 5 years on the ways at Hoare's boat yard in Belize city. I always liked Jerry and the people I met at Paradise like Nellie and Ramon and later good ol' Eddie . Hi Eddie. Some truly amazing previous memories. Saw Jerry a few times up at his tropical "paradise" in the Cayo district across the road from Ceaser's Place. First leant to scuba dive on San Pedro as well and couldn't have asked for a better place in the world to first set eyes under the blue turquoise water to the most amazing colourful reef in the world. Yep thanks to Jerry Macdermott

  2. Eddie Halliday says

    My Memories From Those good Old Days had Me tearing Up Sorry about The Misspellings But Herry my Brother and Johny also worked with Jerry Mac but I mentioned Herry But Meant Jerry Sorry

  3. Eddie Halliday says

    The First Expansion to The Hotel Know As Paradise Hotel was Built By Me And My Dad Buddy I went to Houston 5 EX AS And Drove A Ryder Truck With All the Plywood Electrical wire and Components Nails Tar Paper Plumbing Supplies And A Lot More From Houston to BELIZE We Built If I Remember right 6 Small Cabanas and in the Back near the Restaurant a Four plex Cabania I actually Broth THE Compressor With Nile Everett and Was taught to fill air Tans And Repair all the Dive Equipment Those were the Days Zale Gutierrez is Not Mention Nellie Goes All Fixtures at Paradise I also Remember my Wedding Gift From Herry Mac I Was Fired Because he Would Not increase My Salary to Maintain My Wife also a One Nite Stay in The Quad Cabania of course as I came Back to San Pedro He came Home Looking For NE With a Raise Of Salary and Of erring me My Job Back my FAMILLY Loved Jerry But We Found Out Later That It Was Because Of Our Irish Blood That he Had Found Out Our Grand Father Was Irish Great Memories

  4. Eddie Halliday says

    Great Story but missing the original people that actually Started to work With Jerry Mac also the proof is in the pudding the person in the picture with a little white Beebap and No Shirt is me Going from the office to the Boat On The Dock to prep for a snorkel trip the Money you mentioned was lost and under my Bed About six months until I found the owner and gave it Back without Even a Thank you that story I told at his Birthday party at blue water grill we also were the ones who went out and found Guides for Gerry Mac my Dad Buddy is also in the Picture and there is Lots More But So you Know Buddy Halliday And His Familly were the First workers For Mr Jerry Mac thank you

  5. Peter Nolan says

    what a great article and his legacy is continued by his daughter and her family .

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