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Friday, October 31, 2008

Insel Air to Begin Non-Stop Service Miami to Curacao

Insel Air, based in Curacao, recently announced that they will begin non-stop service between Miami and Curacao on November 21st, after receiving the green light by the Federal Aviation Administration. 

The company plans to utilize MD-aircraft, and Insel Air pilots are currently conducting test flights on the aircraft to be sure everything is ready for the inaugural flight.  There will be four flights each week on Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays.  The flight from Miami to Curacao will depart at 3:00 PM and will land in Curacao at 6:00 PM.  The return flight from Curacao to Miami will depart at 10:30 AM and arrive in Miami at 1:30 PM.  These flight times provide ample connection time for flights to and from Bonaire in either direction without a necessary stopover.  (Source:  Amigoe)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 31, 2008 at 1:35pm AST
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bonaire’s Dee Scarr Receives Coveted NOGI Award at DEMA Show 2008

Last Thursday evening at the 49th Annual NOGI Awards Gala, held in conjunction with DEMA Show 2008, Bonaire’s Dee Scarr of Touch the Sea was honored with the presentation of the 2008 NOGI Award for Distinguished Service by the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences (AUAS).  The “NOGI” is the oldest and most prestigious award in the diving industry, and is given to four divers and undersea luminaries who rank at the top of their fields in Arts, Science, Sports/Education, and Distinguished Service. 

Accepting the Award from Bonaire’s Director of Tourism, Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes and Cathy Church, a long time friend Scarr commented, “When I came to Bonaire as a dive instructor in 1980, I learned the joys of guiding divers on protected reefs.  It’s a real privilege for me to work in the Bonaire National Marine Park and to be able to discuss the wonderful residents of our Marine Park--and how they’re protected--in my presentations.”

Since her arrival in Bonaire in 1980 and founding of Touch the Sea in 1982, Scarr has logged thousands of dives and introduced hundreds of divers to dozens of marine animals. The significance of this is great: once introduced to Scarr’s very personal perspective on marine animals, divers feel a sense of belonging in the sea rather than simply visiting. Their instinct to protect marine ecosystems is enhanced.

Scarr’s current project is her first that is primarily educational rather than hands-on. She created Action in Behalf of Coral in 2005, when she realized that dive training agencies don’t provide critical information about living coral to their students: the information that explains why coral is fragile. Dee’s website, www.touchthesea.com, provides more information about the ABC Project, as well as the Living with a Razor Sharp Skeleton sticker. 

Between 1988 and 1991, Scarr and her buddies tied more than 600 sponges back onto pilings beneath Bonaire’s Old Pier (aka North or Town Pier) in Touch the Sea’s Sponge Reattachment Project. In the mid-90’s she surveyed Bonaire’s harbor area (from the marina to the piers), removing recent trash, establishing which areas were being misused, and communicating this information to the Bonaire Marine Park for the education of the mis-users. She promotes the carrying of a small net bag she calls a Pocket Cleaner Station, so on the occasions divers see trash, they can bring it up right away rather than waiting for a dedicated cleanup dive.

Scarr has written three books: Touch the Sea, about interactions with marine animals, The Gentle Sea, a personalized look at the undersea creatures divers are likely to encounter, and a children’s book, Coral’s Reef, about two children and what they learn from snorkeling – and from an octopus named Oliver. Dee wrote monthly articles about marine animals and their behaviors for Dive Training magazine for more than a decade, and currently writes about marine animals for The Bonaire Reporter. Dee was the photographer for the original Guide to the Bonaire Marine Park and contributed to the second edition of the guide. Her work has appeared in numerous publications.

The first major recognition of Scarr’s work was in 1991, when she was the second recipient (after Jacques Yves Cousteau) of the PADI/SeaSpace Environmental Awareness Award.  She’s received the Boston Sea Rovers Diver of the Year Award, the Beneath the Sea Diver of the Year Award, and the Underwater Club of Boston’s Paul Revere Spike (2007.) Dee was an inaugural member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and SSI’s Platinum Pro Divers (those with more than 5000 dives; Scarr has logged over 7000 dives). She received Captain Don Stewart’s Accolade Award in 2006 for “making knowledge of the sea fun and spreading desire in others to learn and become themselves part of our sea.”

Scarr’s presentations teach about marine animals in an entertaining way. She speaks weekly on Bonaire at Captain Don’s Habitat; she has spoken before dive clubs, dive symposiums, and even non-diving audiences – including school groups – in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Curacao, and Antigua, to name a few.

Scarr received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English and Rhetoric and Public Address from the University of Florida. She taught high school English, public speaking, and debate before beginning her diving career on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. Dee became a SCUBA instructor in 1974. In 1985, she married David Batalsky; they adopted Sweetie Pie, a very special Bichon Frise, in 2005.  (Source:  TCB-NY)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 28, 2008 at 5:00pm AST
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Caribbean Wind and Sun Vacations Announces Next Singles Weeks

The 5th Annual Singles Weeks will be held March 7-22, 2009 on Bonaire. Activities including diving, kiting, or windsurfing by day, dining and dancing by night.

Prices start at USD $800* per person for a single accommodation (7 night stay), rental truck, and 6 days unlimited shore diving with a free Nitrox upgrade.  Windsurf and kite packages are also available. Optional activities included guided hikes, birding, snorkeling, kayaking, and mountain biking.  Rates are subject to availability; other restrictions may apply. Taxes and insurance are not included in the quoted rate.

Singles month was created by Caribbean Wind & Sun Vacations to meet the needs of the independent traveler who seeks to meet other like-minded adults. There is ample time for solo ventures such as shopping and exploring. It’s a freestyle week to do what you’d like when you’d like, knowing there are others to join you for activities and dining.  For additional information, call 800 219-0118 or email ann@bonairecaribbean.com. (Source:  Caribbean Wind & Sun Vacations)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 28, 2008 at 11:03am AST
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Bonaire’s Government Passes Fully Integrated Law on Nature Protection

Earlier this month, Bonaire became the second island of the Netherlands Antilles to pass a law that provides a comprehensive framework to protect its nature both on land and in the sea, taking into account all international agreements to which the Netherlands Antilles has agreed.

All islands of the Netherlands Antilles are required by national law to pass such legislation, but until now only St. Maarten did so, back in 2003, and that island has not subsequently established any marine or terrestrial protected areas. Bonaire, of course has had a well managed marine protected area for more than twenty years, as well as the Washington Slagbaai Park on land. The new Bonaire Island Nature Ordinance will allow the island to update and strengthen the regulations that protect those areas.

For more details on the new law (available only in Dutch), click here, where you will also find a link to the full text of the new ordinance as well as its Explanatory Memorandum (also only available in Dutch).  (Source:  VOMIL)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 24, 2008 at 4:42pm AST
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Status Report (2) on Reefs from the Bonaire National Marine Park

About 3:00 AM on October 14, 2008, the effects of TS Omar began to reach Bonaire and lasted approximately 48 hours.  Wind speeds averaged 18 to 20 knots from the southwest; the minimum distance between the center of the storm (to Bonaire’s northwest) and Bonaire was 200 kilometers (125 miles) and the maximum wind speed at the closest point was approximately 32 to 33 knots.

On the afternoon of Thursday, 16 October, 2008, Bonaire National Marine Park staff, interns, and volunteers began underwater surveys to ascertain the status of the reefs surrounding Bonaire; these surveys continued throughout Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  In all, a total of 31 sites were surveyed.  On Bonaire’s leeward (west) coast, 24 sites from Karpata in the north to Vista Blue in the south were included, and seven sites around Klein Bonaire were also surveyed.

The methodology used for these surveys was the “quick survey method” which is based on visual estimations of 1) the percentage of silt coverage, 2) the percentage of capsized coral heads, and 3) the counting of capsized coral heads in three different classes of size.  The method employed a ten-minute swim at each depth of 30 meters (98 feet), 20 meters (65 feet), 10 meters (33 feet), and shallower than 10 meters (33 feet).  Results were recorded on a specially-designed underwater spreadsheet.

Most observations indicate that in all sites surveyed, 75% of areas deeper than 15 to 20 meters (50 to 65 feet) were covered with silt.  However, surveyors report little to no mechanical damage in these deeper areas of the reef.

In the shallows, approximately 0 to 15 meters (0 to 50 feet), most of the observations report less than 25% siltation on corals or sponges, and many reports indicating no silt covering of the reef in the shallows.  Furthermore, surveyors report less than 50% of the coral damage in the shallow waters, with many observations in the 0% to 25% range.  The size classification most affected are corals between 30 and 100 cm (12 to 40 inches) with a significant number larger than 100 cm (40 inches) capsized in the central and northern part of the island.

Between the rocky shoreline and the drop-off, sand has been completely removed by the waves in areas which were traditionally sandy, thus exposing a mesh of coral rubble that has cemented together over time.  This rubble, although visually disturbing, is not a consequence of TS Omar.  A large number of coral recruits (juvenile corals) began growing on this substrate after previous storms Lenny and Ivan.  A high percentage of these juvenile corals have survived and are still attached to the substrate.

As previously reported, restoration efforts continue with BNMP staff, volunteers, and dive facility staff righting any capsized coral heads.  These corals are still alive and can recover.  The next step will be to remove debris from the reef, as this can pose a high risk of further damage should the island experience another wind reversal before the debris is removed.

All in all, when taking into consideration the wind speed and orientation along with the duration of the storm, the damage produced by TS Omar was far less than first predicted.  However, the reefs surrounding Bonaire have suffered significant damage while already in a stressed situation, as a significant part of the adult coral population, especially in shallow waters, were lost.

Caribbean reefs have been exposed to tropical weather systems for millions of years, and the storms are an important force in coral reef evolution.  All scientific evidence shows that these meteorological events, combined with bleaching events, will become more frequent and strong with global climate change.  Due to this, the most important actions that can be done to ensure long-term sustainability of Bonaire’s reefs are to manage water quality and minimize damage by herbivores. (Source:  TCB-Bonaire)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 23, 2008 at 5:58pm AST
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bonaire’s Annual Eco-Swim is Saturday, December 6, 2008

This one-day swimming event will include a 10K, 5K, 3K, and 1K solo swim along the coast of Bonaire to Klein Bonaire and back, rounding a fixed buoy.

Additionally, there’s a kids’ pier-to-pier fun swim and, new in 2008, is the 2K 2-person relay, where each swimmer swims 1K with the relay exchange taking place at Captain Don’s Habitat’s dock. All events will start and finish at the dock at Captain Don’s Habitat. The races will take place in the morning with an awards ceremony that afternoon. The entry fees for the 10K, 5K, 3K, 1K, and relay swims are $89 per swimmer, if received on or before November 1, 2008. The cost includes one ticket to the welcome dinner, a t-shirt, swim cap, and swimmers permit to the marine park. The cost for entries received after November 1, 2008 is $109 and the t-shirt, swim cap, and dinner will be subject to availability. There is no cost for the kid’s pier-to-pier fun swim. For more information on the event, click here.

Posted by Susan Davis on October 22, 2008 at 4:07pm AST
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Pacific Lionfish is an Invasive New Species Spreading Within the Caribbean

The Pacific Lionfish or Red Lionfish has been rapidly spreading throughout Caribbean waters. It was first sighted in the Florida Bay in 1992, possibly escaped from an aquarium during hurricane Andrew or released by aquarium enthusiasts. 

Over the next ten years, it spread along the southeastern coast of the United States and then jumped to Bermuda. In 2004, it was reported in the Bahamas where it quickly spread. In 2007, it reached the Turks & Caicos Islands and Cuba, and this year it reached Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the Dominican Republic. It was thought that it could not cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico, as this appears to be a natural barrier to larval transport, but in June this year many juveniles were reported from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Now it appears to have been sighted in St. Lucia.

It is only a matter of time before it arrives in the Netherlands Antilles, either in Bonaire and Curacao or in the Windward islands. The species can be very dangerous to our local ecosystems, eating fish that are not adapted to avoid these ravenous predators. It grows to 45 cm (about 18") and it is also dangerous to humans because of its long and sharp spines that inject a poison that is excruciatingly painful, similar in effect to a scorpionfish sting. It has no natural enemies in our waters, although reportedly groupers may eat it. 

The Red Lionfish inhabits coral reefs in depths of about 10 to 175 meters (30 to 575 feet). If you spot this fish, please report it immediately to the Bonaire National Marine Park at 717-8444. Take a photograph, if possible. For more information on this invasive species, click here (Source:  VOMIL)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 21, 2008 at 3:49pm AST
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Status Report (1) on Reefs from the Bonaire National Marine Park

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 16, 2008, Bonaire National Marine Park staff began underwater surveys to ascertain the status of the reefs surrounding Bonaire after the tropical weather system Omar passed near to Bonaire on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 14 and 15, 2008. Additional surveying was planned for Saturday and Sunday, 18 and 19 October, 2008.

From Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning, a total of 18 sites were surveyed, mostly in the central area of the western coast of Bonaire and surrounding Klein Bonaire. At this time, there’s no indication that areas south of Kralendijk have been impacted in a different manner, but there are plans in place to survey more southern sites.

Initial results indicate that coral cover below 15 meters/45 feet has not been measurably affected and there’s no significant damage. It appears that this weather system impacted the middle areas of the reef to the greatest degree. In deep waters, (deeper than 15 meters/45 feet) 50% to 60% of corals have experienced siltation and suffered minimal mechanical damage. In the shallows approximately 30% to 40% of the medium size class (30 cm to 1 m) coral heads in this area have been toppled over and no major siltation was recorded. Corals which have been toppled over can be righted and saved since these corals are still living; staff from Bonaire dive operations are assisting the Bonaire National Marine Park with this effort.

It appears that most of juvenile corals in the shallow waters (down to 15 meters/45 feet) have survived.

There is new coral rubble debris deposited in many of the areas of the inter tidal zone which before had sandy areas. This is not new or worrisome, as it is a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens during Caribbean storms.  Over time, sand will come back and fill in the areas between the coral rubble, thus returning these areas naturally to beaches.

In summary, all initial indications show that the impacts are far less than originally expected and appear to be much less drastic as occurred in prior storms (i.e., Lenny, November, 1999) when many more corals were stripped away in the shallows. Restoration efforts have already begun.  However, it is difficult to estimate exactly when all will be back to normal, as other factors, such as coral bleaching due to extremely warm water temperatures, do also play a role.

Visiting divers who wish to help in restoration efforts are asked to help clean sand from sponges by gently fanning the area near by without actually making contact. Currents will also naturally help cleanse corals and sponges over the coming days. (Source:  TCB-Bonaire)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 20, 2008 at 9:08am AST
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Bonaire’s Teens Get the Opportunity to Try Diving

Last Sunday, it was a memorable day for several of Bonaire’s teen youth, who were able to try out scuba diving for the first time, courtesy of Dive Friends Bonaire.

Dive Friends has just launched a new program for teens living on Bonaire.  After interactive presentations on diving at some of the island’s schools, a group of adventurous teens met last Sunday for their first dive.  Eligible participants received a free Discover Scuba Diving experience at the Dive Friends @ Yellow Submarine facility, making their first dive on the house reef under the supervision of a PADI instructor.  All participants were also eligible to enter a contest for a free open water course, compliments of Dive Friends.

Their goal is to stimulate interest among the island’s youth to learn more about diving and why it’s such an important component to the island economy.  Further, it’s hoped that some of these young men and women may seek careers in the diving industry and further their diving education. (Source:  Dive Friends Bonaire)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 17, 2008 at 4:45pm AST
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Bonaire is Back to Business Following Tropical System Omar

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the tropical weather system Omar passed close to Bonaire, causing some wind, rain, and heavy seas.  Now, just days after the storm has passed through the region, the island remains open for visiting tourists. 

Flamingo Airport Bonaire did not close and is fully operational with slight disruptions in flights. Hotels are operating and report minimal damage beyond beach erosion, trees down, standing water in low-lying areas and loss of planking on docks. A report on reef conditions is pending receipt of data from the Bonaire National Marine Park.

All roads are accessible and island-wide clean-up continues. Structural damages to public areas are being evaluated and technical assistance is already in place to repair their infrastructures.  Diving activities resumed today in force throughout the island.  Underwater visibility is reported at near 75 feet, and is getting better each day.

Travelers who are scheduled to arrive on Bonaire in the next few days and have specific questions about airline schedules or hotel accommodations should contact their travel professionals, airlines, and hotels directly for information.  However, the Bonaire Insider has received the following reports from tourism entities on the island:

Dive Friends Bonaire reports that some minor damage was done to their piers at Yellow Submarine and Dive Inn.  One pier has already been repaired, while the second pier will require a bit more time to make proper repairs.  In the meantime, both piers are operational, and all their facilities are operating at 100% capacity.

Woodwind Sail & Guided Snorkel reports that they are open for business as of Sunday, October 19th.  Departures are now from the north pier at Divi Flamingo Beach Resort and Casino.

VINIBU at Bellevue reports no problems or damage other than there’s a little less sand on the beach now, which should return in the coming months.

Black Durgon Inn reports that no diving was missed as their divers dove the east side during the wind reversal. Today they are back diving out front of the Black Durgon with reports that, although there is sand covering some of the corals, visibility was over 60 feet and they viewed normal marine life.

Bonaire Dive & Adventure, Den Laman Condominiums, and Sand Dollar Condominium Resort are pleased to report that the Bonaire Dive & Adventure pier, which was closed during September 2008 for routine maintenance, was unaffected by the storm, and is “open for business” as usual for all Sand Dollar and Den Laman guests.

Den Laman Condominiums and Seaside Apartments both report no damage to their properties and they are fully operational.

Coral Paradise Resort reports that after a light cleanup, they are fully operational.  There’s no damage to the hotel and all diving activities are continued at this time.

As additional reports are received, we’ll be sure to post them. (Source:  TCB-NY, Bonaire Insider Reporter)

Note Update October 18, 2008: Captain Don’s Habitat also reports that they returned to normal operations on Friday morning, October 17th, 2008 and conducted their three regularly scheduled boat dives from Papa Dock. While some repairs are needed to Baby Dock, shore diving is being conducted from the new walk-in coral beach directly in front of the equipment locker area.  A ladder has also been placed on the north side of Papa Dock for those wishing to enter and exit the water in that manner.

Posted by Susan Davis on October 17, 2008 at 4:16pm AST
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