I just got back from a trip to the ABC islands on a Holland America Line cruise. It was amazing. The diving in Bonaire was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The diversity of life was astounding, I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the Caribbean. There was an occasional bleached coral hear and there, but the reefs were remarkably healthy, especially when compared to some of the other island reefs in the region.
The beautiful dive sites of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire proved to me that marine protected areas work. Bonaire created one of the first marine protected areas in the Caribbean, protecting nearly all of their reefs from any kind of fishing.The small island relies on the income generated from dive tourism, and is very serious about protecting their reefs so people will keep on coming back. It’s rumored that if you show up with a spear gun, they confiscate the gun and send you on the first plane off the island. Enforcement is real and has teeth. Dive shops are terrified someone will do something stupid and their license will be in jeopardy. There’s even an entrance fee to go diving, I had to buy a $10 parks pass to go diving in the marine park, and all of that money goes back into protecting the reefs. I was glad to pay it. The dive masters were adamant that we keep our receipts with us on the boat since enforcement officers often come around to check.
Did I mention how amazing the diving was? It was worth it. It was the most I’ve ever spent to go diving, but it was worth every penny.
I had a bunch of dive buddies on the cruise, and it wasn’t everyone’s favorite place, since there were other places that had more big fish. Many of those places were really depressing though. Coral was dead or dying. Bleached coral was everywhere, and not just at the top of the reef near the surface. Algae was taking over. One of the places I dove clearly was once a beautiful reef, and not so long ago, but was a rubble and algae field when I showed up. A quick look on the beach gave a good indication why: little streams of runoff were coming down off the beach every couple hundred meters from the streets and city on shore. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Some of the people I went with had been there 3 years ago and said it was so much nicer. Millions of years to build a coral reef and only a few short years to destroy it.
I hear that this year is one of the worst years for coral bleaching ever. I believe it. I snorkeled or dove on more than 8 islands in 2 weeks, and not one reef was free of bleached coral.
Here’s hopping a few more islands in the Caribbean get serious about marine protected areas, so that a few years from now, there’s more diving like the diving in Bonaire.