I made six dives during this week’s trip to Bonaire, spotting everything from a 6-foot nurse shark that darted out from a hidey hole in the coral to a trio of big, torpedo-shaped tarpon that used the beam of my light to hunt during a night dive.
But the best find of trip award? That went to the 6-inch longsnout seahorse that clung to a branch of soft coral off the tiny island of Klein Bonaire.
We were lucky to see the 6-inch fish (yes, seahorses are fish). They’re hard to spot, and blend into their environment like magicians.
The longsnout is one of 47 species of seahorse, which range in size from a pine nut to a banana. Most mate for life, and although we tried to find our seahorse’s mate on the coral reef, we couldn’t. It was probably watching us search from a few feet away.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Other cool finds? A foot-long scorpion fish in shades of red and brown, that blended perfectly into the background. Three kinds of eels – a green moray, a sharptail eel with handsome yellow spots, and a black and white spotted moray. Several drumstick-shaped puffers, an ocean trigger, queen angels, parrot fish and spotted drums. We found a large lobster during a night dive, lots of lettuce sea slugs, which look like little bunches of ruffles, trunkfish, filefish and blue tangs, too.
The reef, to me, looked healthy, with no signs of coral bleaching or die-offs. Every dive master we met asked us not to use sunscreen, which can damage the reef, and reminded us not to touch any of the coral or marine life. The island’s entire perimeter is a protected marine park, and we each paid $45 for a permit to dive there. Dive shops also organize underwater cleanups several times a year, and restaurants and businesses recycle paper, plastic and glass.
I stayed at the Marriot Bonaire Dive Resort, just next to the airport, which operates an on-site dive shop through Dive Friends. We did two day-time shore dives, and two different two-tank dives off a boat that took us to the small island of Klein Bonaire.
Besides diving, we spent some time touring the island with a guide, checking out the salt production facility on the island’s south side, looking at the old slave cabins (a reminder of a dark side of the island’s past). watching windsurfers and kiteboarders, visiting the Cadushy cactus liquor distillery in the center of the island, and admiring the native populations of donkeys (which were brought here to do heavy labor) and flamingos (native.) The last morning, before catching a flight back to Miami, we kayaked through the mangroves and snorkeled with thousands of “upside down jellyfish” with a guide from the Mangrove Information Center.
Look for my upcoming story in the Austin American-Statesman.