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About Bonaire::: Nature & Conservation

Bonaire HummingbirdThe living and breathing life on Bonaire is a population noted for its diversity, granted, most people are thinking of the aquatic offerings rather than her impressive donkey community. But that's besides the point. Bonaire meets the needs of divers, birders, horticulturalists and the good 'ole animal enthusiast. The island of Bonaire contains ecosystems fighting to reestablish amongst the invasive and non-native plants that have been introduced throughout the centuries of trade and immigration. Organizations have been founded to support these ecosystems and raise awareness.

What on Earth?: 100 of Our Planet's Most Amazing New Species which include our own Bonaire Banded Box Jelly fish

The largest is Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire (STINAPA Bonaire), a non-governmental, not-for-profit foundation commissioned by the island government to manage the two protected areas of Bonaire: the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP) and the Washington Slagbaai National Park (WSNP). There are also a number of smaller not-for-profits that are working in specific areas on the island to raise awareness, increase educational opportunities, and work towards sustainability.

The Reefs at Risk analysis suggests that almost two-thirds of the 210 square kilometers of reefs around Bonaire and Curacao are threatened by human activities. The major impacts on the marine ecosystem are direct and indirect results of tourism. Most of the tourist activity associated with Bonaire’s reefs is restricted to scuba diving. Dive tourism began in 1963 and by 1994, visitation had risen to approximately 57,000, of whom 25,000 were divers. The direct impacts include occasional illegal anchoring, groundings, and direct contact damage by divers and snorkelers. Indirect results, which are a greater threat and more pervasive, include increased nutrient loading from hotels and increased sedimentation through land clearance and poor construction practices.

There are a number of groups combating this destruction, such as Progressive Environmental Solutions, Sea Monitor Foundation Bonaire and Fundashon pa Bon Koral (Coral Resource Management). These organizations make sure there's clear water and healthy organisms when, for example, spying on the Spotted Moray or floating along with a school of Blue Tang. Divers and snorkelers alike will find fish aplenty throughout the waters of Bonaire. There is little risk, if any, of meeting a shark. The largest ocean predators you'll come across are Tarpons, Barracudas, and Groupers. If you're wanting some starlight adventure, night diving is a thrill in and of itself, and will also reveal bioluminescence (flip your torch off), sleepy fish, octopi that morph and twist in attempts to evade the light, and Tarpons and Groupers that slide past your head as they use your torch light for hunting.

Moving out of the sea and into the sky...

Bonaire FlamingoThe birds on Bonaire are awesome. And while the author is biased, the fact still remains. Over 210 species of bird have been recorded on Bonaire though only 55 of these species are resident (current or former) breeding species, the vast majority either winter here or stop during their migrant routes. Bonaire boasts one of only four Flamingo sanctuaries in the world. Establishing the sanctuary was one of the first actions of STINAPA Bonaire. It's off limits to humans, a no-fly zone, and the water levels are carefully controlled by the salt company. The island has six Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that cover 23,830 hectares (including their marine extensions); it's approximately 55% of the island’s land area. The IBAs were created with 10 at-risk bird species in mind and the majority appear in 2 or more IBAs. The problem is there are endangered birds that breed in areas outside of IBAs, such as the Royal Tern and Caribbean Coot.

Bonaire BirdsWashington-Slagbaai National Park encompasses the very northern end of Bonaire. Established in 1969, the park's 13,500 acres is home to Tropical Mockingbirds, Black-faced Grassquits, Yellow Warblers, Bananaquits, Brown-throated Parakeets, Scrub Flycatchers, and Troupials, (introduced to Bonaire from Curacao in 1973) to name a few. The park is best known as one of only a few locations in the world still supporting a native breeding population of the now globally threatened Yellow-shouldered Parrot. Finding one of these parrots may not be straightforward especially in dry years when many of the birds fly down into Kralendijk to feed in backyard fruit trees or on fruit set out for their benefit.

(Trip Reports from birding vacations can be read and submitted here.)

As one drives around the island of Bonaire he or she might begin to discern a pattern. That pattern is the misguided, highly popular and socially expected trend of laying a gravel yard. These gravel yards usually have non native palms and a token succulent, typically an aloe. But if you look hard enough you'll find the rare garden that inspires green thumbs and opens up a world of lawn-growing possibilities. Some examples of local flora are cacti species like the Candle and Prickley Pear, as well as trees and bushes including Brasilwood, Divi Divi, Mesquite Acacia and Calabash. The Bright orange Flamboyants, Bougainvilla, and Oleanders have beautiful flowers that burst color into the arid landscape. Additionally, Century Plants, Rock sage and Aloe grow to their full glory when given the space and time (there is nothing compared to fresh Aloe Vera used medicinally as an after-sun gel, for burns, and as relief from itchy or swollen mosquito bites, simply take off a lower leaf, drain the sap, slice it open, and apply).

The flora of Klein Bonaire has undergone severe degradation in the past due to intensive grazing by goats. Historical photos from the 1930s show vegetation consisting of large, full-grown trees and the absence of a shrub layer. At the time the island was heavily populated with goats, which while largely not affecting adult trees, affected regeneration of new plants. The absence of goats for over forty years has allowed the natural flora of Klein Bonaire to make a comeback, so that it has become home to many varieties of plants and animals, some not even present on Bonaire itself. Nevertheless, if unaided, the recovery of the vegetation as a whole will take many decades more.

In 2006 with the assistance of CARMABI, the agriculture department of the Island government and STINAPA’s Bonaire National Marine Park, a reforestation program was initiated. Several hundreds of native plants have been planted to date. (Many locals take it upon themselves to aid in the recovery and boat over to Klein Bonaire to either water trees or plant new ones.)

So we've explored the animals of the ocean, the animals of the air, and Bonaire's plant offerings, but what about those whose stomping grounds are on the mainland? Those animals that roam the streets of Bonaire have just as a profound impact (if not more) than the winged and finned wild life. There are iguanas, lizards, goats, donkeys, cats, bats, and dogs.

Bonaire IguanaThe Bonairian iguana is not yet listed as endangered but their numbers are rapidly decreasing. The Iguana Preservation Society (IPS) was recently formed to raise awareness of the Iguana's dwindling population, to install “Iguana Crossing” signs on roadways, and address the use of Iguana in a local soup. In the previous discussion on Klein Bonaire, it is perhaps clear the impact donkey's and goats have had on the island. They were brought over by Juan de Ampues, governor of Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba, in 1526. He began to raise cattle on the island and within a few years cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, and horses were being raised on the island as well. Valued less for their meat than for their hides, the animals needed little tending and were generally let loose to wander freely around the island.

A good example of the destruction caused by these hoofed animals can by seen at Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Visitors will notice a dramatic difference between the landscape of Washington, in the north, and that of Slagbaai in the south. Vegetation in Washington is sparse while Slagbaai is more lush. This is partially a result of Washington's soil (predominantly limestone) and the salt-laden trade winds, both of which are inhospitable to trees. Those hardy seedlings that do take root despite the winds and soil are soon eaten by goats, which still forage freely in the northern part of the park. Slagbaai, however, is closed to goats (the fence keeps them out), thereby protecting young plants. Slagbaai's soil is also more fertile, and the land is protected from the wind by a series of hills.

The Bonaire Animal Shelter was established to meet the needs of stray dogs and cats, of which there are an abundance on Bonaire. There is also the Donkey Sanctuary that provides a sheltered, protected life to all the donkeys on Bonaire and currently houses over 400 braying beasts. If you spot an injured donkey, make sure to call their volunteer rescue team.

And there you have it, an adventure through Bonaire's water, her sky and across her soil. Come to Bonaire and experience the diversity first hand.

Author S.J Rendall - Travel writer.




Outdoor Bonaire




   
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