ABC - B for Bonaire!
Good thing was that we learned the alphabet in school so ABC did mean something when we booked the video shooting dive trip to one (or two) of the ABC Islands a.k.a. Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao (Dutch Antilles).
Bonaire would be our 'home' for the next 18 days. This small island with a maximum elevation of 240 meters (Mount Brandaris within Washington Slagbaai National Park) is home to about 16'000 residents who surprisingly can speak often five (5) languages including; Papiamentu, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French, English and so on. Formerly a Dutch colony the descendants from African slaves have made Bonaire their home after slavery was abolished in 1862.
Our mission was not to dig too deep into Bonaire's human history rather then exploring all the dives sites we heard good stories about. Our base was close to the town of Kralendijk (coral bay in Dutch) ideal to get to most of the dive sites which line up like a necklace along the leeward side of the island. Who ever wanted to dive the uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire (Little Bonaire) just a stone throw away from Kralendijk had to charter a dive boat to add 20+ dive sites to their log book.
Getting around the island was made easy with our rented four-door pickup truck which came even with a tank rack and unlimited km (who would have guessed that). A handful of dive resorts and dive shops offered competitive packages of tank fills and rentals if you didn't bring your own dive gear.
What makes Bonaire unique is its logical order of dive sites markings (yellow painted rocks along the front street) from far North to the most Southern tip of the island. The road map that was handed out to us included all the dive site names and locations. Like that all we had to do is to make out choices of every day's diving sites and how many dives we intended to do a day. That was easy!
In general the underwater topography was often similar from dive site to the next with the exception that some entries in to the water were sometimes challenging. Once you passed the wave breaking zone you could swim out on the surface until you reached the edge where turquoise water turned dark blue. Past that point the ledges underwater gradually slipped away into deeper water. White sandy beaches were mostly non exist here, instead we found broken but rounded coral pieces and slippery rocks. Wearing neoprene socks and open heel fins would have been a better choice.
Over the course of a week we finally had a better picture about the diving and marine life around Bonaire. It was somehow similar to Curaçao (except the sandy beaches in Curaçao) but since Bonaire's underwater world to the depth of 80 ft./24 meters was declared as a Marine Protection Park it showed more diversity in species and better health of the reefs.
Locals on Bonaire were concerned about the health of the reef themselves since garbage and over acidity in the ocean have no borders. A local project to revitalize the stressed coral reefs took place a few years ago. Along the grid of submerged wires pieces of corals were attached to the wires so they could develop a stronger growth and could be replanted back onto the reef.
Even human structures like the 'Helma Hooker' wreck just one mile North of the Salt Piers created a new artificial reef for fish, lobsters and corals. The pillars of the T-shaped Salt Piers themselves formed a fish haven. Tarpons, Trevally and snappers in large numbers find refuge under the platform of the Pier while sponges and soft corals attach themselves to the steel pillars to sieve nutrients out of the current.
While the leeward side (West) of Bonaire reflected a healthy and vivid marine world the East face of the island was not looking very pretty. Currents from South America sweep in huge amounts of garbage onto the shores of Bonaire. It is also the stormy side of the island and cleaning the boulders from plastic and other long-life garbage seems to be an endless task.
Occasionally the dive shops organize a shore clean up but with the constant flow of new garbage coming in it seems hopeless.
Three weeks into our Caribbean diving trip we had to leave Bonaire just to have a three day stop-over in Curaçao on our way home to Canada.