Bonaire is a small island off the coast of Venezuela, that is a part of the Netherlands and home to dozens of ethnic backgrounds. It holds a special place in my heart, as I have been there every single year since I was 9 months old, this spring break trip was my 19th time on the island. Every time that I return, the ocean and the people capture my heart all over again.
Most people visit Bonaire for scuba diving or windsurfing. The windy west side of the island provides perfect waves for windsurfers, while the sheltered east side is where all of the dive sites are located. There are 86 dive sites on Bonaire, all on the eastern side of the island.
My parents first visited Bonaire for scuba diving in the 90s. I learned to dive in Bonaire as soon as I was old enough, and have been certified for 9 years. I have been on approximately 150 dives in Bonaire over the years. Before I even learned how to snorkel, I would lay on a raft with a small plastic viewing hole and watch my parents scuba dive below me as my grandparents were with me on the surface. Bonaire is where I first discovered my love for wildlife, and photography. I was mesmerized with the whole other world that was beneath the surface of the ocean, and I still get that same feeling jumping into the water this trip.
After watching my dad take underwater photos for years, I wanted nothing more than to try it. I got my first camera, waterproof up to 20 feet, when I was 7. I was truly enamored with underwater photography back then, and I still am today. It’s interesting to think how I actually learned how to photograph underwater, not on land. Underwater photography presents a lot more challenges than taking photos on land and requires a different skill set.
In the coral reefs there is an abundance of marine life. There is a large variety of fish species as well as other interesting creatures. In the shallows there are often rays and sea turtles passing by. Every dive has something interesting to see.
Bonaire’s main industry is tourism, however they also produce and export sea salt. It is strange to be driving along the coast, and suddenly see white mountains of salt, that almost look like snow.
Bonaire is also a leading destination for sustainable tourism. All divers must pay a marine park fee to help fund reef restoration. There are many restoration projects happening all over the island. Visiting divers can even take a coral restoration course and help with the maintenance of some of the projects. The coral reefs are diminishing due to many stressors including rising ocean temperatures, and increasingly common severe storms. Common restoration projects are coral nurseries and tying up sponges with fishing line until they re-establish.
On land, Bonaire is very well known for their flamingos. The island is one of few breeding locations in the Caribbean, and the birds are protected on the island. Flamingos have become a mascot for Bonaire, tributes to them found all over the island. Flamingos are born with grey feathers that turn pink due to the shrimp and algae in their diet.
Bonaire holds such a special place in my heart, it is where I first discovered my love for nature and photography, which are two very big parts of my life.