Bonaire's pristine reefs and diverse marine life are unique to the Caribbean. Because the waters around Bonaire are designated as an official marine park, diving Bonaire is like diving the Caribbean the way it used to be - untouched and unspoiled. The island's location in the south Caribbean gives it an arid climate with little rainfall; consequently, the waters are exceptionally clear of silt, calm, and divable year round. It is an ideal destination for underwater photographers. Water temperatures average a warm 78-84°F (25.6-28.9°C), with visibility often averaging over 100 feet(30m), and frequently, up to 150 feet (55m). During January and February divers may wish to consider a Caribbean dive hood or 3mm shorty to conserve body heat.
In 1961, while most places were still nailing turtle shells to the wall and slurping turtle soup, Bonaire was enacting legislation to protect sea turtle eggs and nests. In 1971, at a time when divers carried spear guns in much the same way that they today tote underwater cameras, Bonaire banned spearfishing from its reefs. In 1975, the island made it illegal to break coral, take it from the water, or sell it--activities that are still practiced today in the Indo-Pacific. It was no wonder, then, that the government of Bonaire decided to create the Bonaire Marine Park, the next logical step in the island's conservation efforts. With the generous financial support of the World Wildlife Fund of Holland, the Marine Park was established in 1979 . Its purpose is to ensure that Bonaire's marine resources-its magnificent coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves-remain intact so that everyone can enjoy our wonderful coral reefs for years to come, just as they are now.
Exploring the Marine Park:
The Marine Park encompasses approximately 2700 hectares and extends all the way around Bonaire, from the high water mark to the 60m depth contour. Bonaire's narrow, fringing coral reefs encircle both Bonaire and Klein Bonaire. The reefs are very well preserved, very diverse, and support a truly amazing array of reef fish. Recent studies by Dr. Callum Roberts and the volunteer group REEF have shown that Bonaire's fish population is the most diverse in the Caribbean and ranks among the best in the world.
Typically, the reefs start right at the water's edge and shelve off gently to a depth of about 32 feet (10m). This area, known as the reef terrace, is very narrow along the north coast (as little as 20m wide) and much wider in the south, where it may reach widths of 200m. In very shallow waters are encrusting coral formations, which grow close the bottom to avoid wave action. On the reef terrace, you will find amazing stands of elkhorn and staghorn coral, often with fire coral, patch reefs, and dense stands of soft corals--all inhabited by a dazzling spectrum of reef fish. The tangs and parrot fish will be out in force, grazing and keeping the algae stands under control. Expect to see lots of damsel fish, with butterfly and angel fish amid grunts, coneys, rock hinds and their relatives--goatfish, hogfish, and an abundance of wrasse. On the bottom, look for peacock flounder, lizard fish, and scorpionfish, all of which are so well camouflaged that you may easily overlook them. Goatfish, by comparison, are hard to miss. They make no attempt to hide their presence as they churn up the bottom in search of tasty morsels. Be sure to notice the sticky tentacled anemones hiding within the coral.
Then comes a transition to a zone dominated by the mountainous star coral, which may form huge pagoda-like structures, pillars, mounds, or even sloping, overlapping, shingle-like structures. This zone is known as the drop-off zone, and it starts almost uniformly between 10-12m. There may be an abundance of soft corals and beautifully colored sponges, as well as Byzantine stands of mountainous star coral interspersed with clouds of radiant fish. Don't miss the fierce sergeant major fish (they are actually harmless and approximately 8 inches in length) defending their eggs, and moray eels hiding out in crevices. Solitary grouper, large parrotfish, and various snapper can be seen swimming the reef; you can also expect to see the ubiquitous shoaling chromis, bothersome yellowtail snapper, and passing schools of various jacks cruising by in blue water. Specials include tarpon, turtle, seahorses and frogfish. Extra-specials are nurse shark, whale shark, rays and dolphin.
Below the drop-off, the reefs descend sharply, and the mountainous star coral communities described above yield to leaf or scroll corals, which cover the sloping bottom like a beard. This area, known as the reef slope, is also where you will find fine stands of black coral. Beware, the reefs on Bonaire slope down and down and down. The fish here are similar to, but less abundant than, those in the drop-off zone.
Bonaire also has some special reef features, including two examples of spur and groove formations, where the corals form fingers which protrude perpendicular to the shore. Typically, coral formations follow the contours of the coast. Bonaire's reef forms also include buttress formations, where corals have grown out to sea, forming a kind of headland with sandy valleys in between; a very well developed double reef in the south; and several small wall dives. Bonaire also has several large and small wrecks-the most famous is the Hilma Hooker, a freighter which lies on its side at a depth of 30m.