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Scuba Diving

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Sunscreens Can Cause Damage to Reef Systems

A new study published this week in a toxicology journal has found that a chemical widely used in personal care products, such as sunscreen, poses an ecological threat to corals and coral reefs and threatens their existence.

It only takes one drop of that chemical, oxybenzone, to cause disaster.

Oxybenzone is found in over 3,500 sunscreen products worldwide, and pollutes coral reefs from swimmers wearing sunscreens and through wastewater discharges from municipal sewage outfalls and from coastal septic systems.

“The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory Virginia.

“We have lost at least 80 per cent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Everyone wants to build coral nurseries for reef restoration, but this will achieve little if the factors that originally killed off the reef remain or intensify in the environment.”

Between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion are emitted into coral reef areas each year, much of which contains between one and 10 percent oxybenzone.

The results of the study, which was conducted in the US Virgin Islands and Hawaii, come less than two weeks after NOAA declared the third ever global coral bleaching event and warned that locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that they will resist bleaching, or recover from it.

It demonstrates that exposure of coral planulae (baby coral) to oxybenzone, produces gross morphological deformities, damages their DNA, and, most alarmingly, acts as an endocrine disruptor. The latter causes the coral to encase itself in its own skeleton leading to death.

These effects were observed as low as 62 parts per trillion, the equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Measurements of oxybenzone in seawater within coral reefs in Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands found concentrations ranging from 800 parts per trillion to 1.4 parts per million. This is over 12 times higher than the concentrations necessary to impact on coral.

A team of marine scientists from Virginia, Florida, Israel, the National Aquarium (US) and the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, undertook the study.

It should be noted that some retail outlets on Bonaire do sell only ecologically friendly sunscreens.  When visiting Bonaire, be sure to only bring or purchase on island sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone.  (Source:  Caribbean360.com)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 23, 2015 at 10:36am AST
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Carib Inn Launches Weekly Photo Contests

With the proliferation of wonderfully small and high quality cameras these days, more divers than ever are taking their own underwater and travel images and coming home with great images.  Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn has just launched a weekly photo contest for their guests and divers to help showcase these wonderful images.

It’s very simple–post your favorite images taken during your stay on the Carib Inn Facebook page.  Images must be uploaded during your stay by Thursday each week.  The week’s winner will be announced on Friday and is awarded by the most number of “likes.” Each weekly winner receives a T-shirt (winner must be present to receive the prize), and each winner is automatically entered into the annual contest, with a prize of a shore diving package for two.

Images can be from above or below the water, and can be of guests, staff, flora, fauna, landscapes, or activities.  It’s only limited by your own imagination!  Be sure to submit only current images, those taken during your stay at Carib Inn or while diving with them.

Other terms and conditions do apply, so visit the Carib Inn web site for additional details. (Source:  Carib Inn)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 21, 2015 at 11:17am AST
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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Do Divers Impact Reefs--A New Scientific Study Gives Insight

Earlier this month, a group of past and present CIEE Bonaire staff, interns, and students published a research paper titled, “The effect of recreational SCUBA divers on the structural complexity and benthic assemblage of a Caribbean coral reef” in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. For many of the group of interns and students, the paper is their first peer-reviewed scientific publication, a major step in the path to becoming a scientist. CIEE Bonaire is very pleased to have been able to offer this opportunity to these first-time authors.


Guided dives have been shown to reduce diver impacts

The goal of this research project was to examine the specific effects that divers have on the benthic organisms (hard corals, soft corals, sponges, etc.) that make up tropical reefs. It has been known for quite some time that divers break, dislodge, and abrade benthic organisms. However, it is less understood how divers might affect the structural complexity of reefs and the relative abundance of different benthic organisms. The research project examined these two aspects through a series of underwater surveys conducted at areas that are heavily and lightly trafficked by SCUBA divers.


Benthic survey team

The results indicate that divers reduce the structural complexity of reefs (make them flatter), which is alarming because much of what makes coral reefs so diverse is their complexity. Additionally, in areas of high diving traffic, there was a shift from a reef dominated by hard corals to one dominated by sponges, soft corals, and rubble. This could be problematic for the future of corals because hard corals make up the structure on which coral reefs are built. The results of the paper indicate that more needs to be done to educate SCUBA divers on how to minimize their effect. This is crucial for island nations like Bonaire that rely on having healthy reefs to attract SCUBA tourism.

For those who would like to learn more, the scientific paper is available in PDF format by clicking here(Source:  CIEE Bonaire)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 08, 2015 at 3:19pm AST
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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn Launches Monthly Lionfish Removal Trips to Klein Bonaire

As most visiting divers to Bonaire already know, a battle against the highly invasive Pacific Lionfish has been waged for several years now.  Bonaire’s lionfish hunters have done an excellent job of removing these predatory fish from the waters.  Klein Bonaire, with only boat access, has proved to be more difficult, and so Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn has just launched monthly lionfish removal boat dives to help alleviate this problem on Klein Bonaire’s reefs.

These special removal dives are for certified lionfish hunters only (each hunter may bring one “spotter” as well)and will take place on the first Saturday of each month at 9:30 AM. The divers need to provide their own tanks.

Please note that only Bonaire residents with their own E.L.F. (Eliminate LionFish) from STINAPA may join the hunt.  Cost to cover expenses is $10.00 per person, and there is a 6 person minimum and a 12-person maximum for each trip.  It’s the desire of the crew at Carib Inn that these efforts help to keep Bonaire’s reefs healthy by eliminating as many lionfish as possible.

Upcoming lionfish removal dives are Saturday, November 7th, 2015 at 9:30 AM and Saturday, December 5th, 2015 at 9:30 AM.

Email info@caribinn.com to reserve space.  Dates are also posted on their web site at www.caribinn.com.  And lionfish on Bonaire are never wasted, so be sure to check out Lionfish Recipes for after the dive!  (Source:  Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn)

Posted by Susan Davis on October 07, 2015 at 11:40am AST
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Monday, September 21, 2015

The Heat is On--Divers Can Help Monitor Coral Bleaching

STINAPA and the Bonaire National Marine Park are asking divers for their assistance and cooperation during the next months, as seawater temperatures heat up.  NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has just added the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) to their Coral Bleaching Warning areas. 

On Bonaire, divers are asked to report any suspected bleaching by submitting an image to STINAPA (marinepark@stinapa.org) along with the following information:
◾Dive Site
◾Depth
◾Severity of bleaching
◾Date
◾Anything else that might be relevant.

Divers are further asked to be especially careful during this time to avoid any contact with the reef, as the corals can be extremely vulnerable.  Be sure to control buoyancy and avoid touching corals.

When corals are under stress, often caused by rising sea surface temperatures, the symbiotic relationship between the corals and their zooxanthellae (unicellular algae) breaks down. The zooxanthellae, which give pigments to the corals, slowly leave causing the coral to become paler and paler. In severe bleaching events, all of the zooxanthellae leave and the coral becomes white, thus the term bleaching. On coral reefs, zooxanthellae contribute food in the form of sugars to their coral. When corals bleach, they are not getting enough energy. Coral may live for several weeks in this condition, but if the stressor doesn’t go away (i.e., if the sea surface temperature doesn’t decrease), then the coral will slowly starve to death. If however, the stressor does go away, the zooxanthellae may repopulate the corals and the corals may survive. It is thought, however, that corals are more prone to disease shortly after recovering from a bleaching event.


Caption:  Comparison of healthy (left), paling (middle), and bleached (right) brain coral, Colpophyllia natans.
Image: Mote Marine Laboratory

Bleaching is often a result of elevated sea surface temperatures but may also be caused by chemical pollutants, high light levels, exposure to air, or other stressors. An extremely severe coral bleaching event occurred in the coral triangle in the Pacific Ocean in 1998 due to high sea surface temperatures. Similarly, the Caribbean suffered an extreme bleaching event in 2005, where some reefs lost as many as 30% of their shallow corals.


Caption:  Caution: If the coral is complete white and the surface looks damaged or abraded, then it’s probably parrotfish biting instead of bleaching.

To help provide more information into how a bleaching event can affect Bonaire’s corals, Caren Eckrich (a biologist with STINAPA), will be giving a lecture titled, “Coral Bleaching, Disease and Parrotfish Biting – What’s What on the Reef.” In her presentation, she will discuss a short history of recent bleaching events, the causes and biology of bleaching, and how to identify bleaching. She will discuss other disturbances such as parrotfish biting, disease, etc. that are often confused with bleaching and end with a short description of STINAPA’s monitoring protocol.  This free, public presentation will take place at CIEE’s headquarters at Kaya Gobernador N. Debrot #26 on Thursday, September 24th, 2015 from 7:00 to 8:00 PM.

(Sources:  STINAPA, CIEE)

Posted by Susan Davis on September 21, 2015 at 3:13pm AST
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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Long-time Bonaire Visitor, Alan Zale, Places Again With His Bonaire Photography

Longtime Bonaire visitor, Alan Zale, just took third place in the Canvas Press Close Up Photo contest, with his photo of a Spotted Cleaner Shrimp on Bari Reef. Alan’s photo was one of a hundred images submitted for the competition.

The photo was shot with a Nikon D200 and Nikkor 105mm lens in an Aquatica underwater housing, equipped with a pair of Nikonos SB-105 strobes for light.

Alan’s underwater photography of Bonaire has also appeared in the travel section of The New York Times where he spent most of his award winning photojournalism career as freelance photographer. He started his career at The Riverdale Press and he continues to shoot for his local paper, The Scarsdale Inquirer. Alan also worked on a special photo project for The Drug Enforcement Administration, that is now on permanent display in their headquarters. Alan has been coming to Bonaire for twenty years and has made forty trips to the island.

Congratulations, Alan!  (Source:  Bonaire Insider Reporter)

Posted by Susan Davis on September 17, 2015 at 2:42pm AST
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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Bonaire Says Goodbye to Yet Another Diving Pioneer, Ebo Domacasse

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of another Bonaire diving pioneer, Ebo Domacasse, who passed away last evening.

Ebo was a member of the elite group of locals who originally worked within the fledgling dive industry on Bonaire, and many old-timers to the island will remember him well.  Ebo was a favorite dive guide, working side-by-side with Bas Marin, and, of course, Captain Don, who was operating the first Aquaventure dive shop back in 1973.  Diving was in its infancy back then, and these gentlemen brought it the forefront of Bonaire’s tourism.

As thanks for his many efforts, two dive sites were named after Ebo, and many divers for years have enjoyed Ebo’s Reef and Ebo’s Special/Jerry’s Jam, both located on Klein Bonaire.

One of Ebo’s sons, Herbert, grew up to become one of Bonaire’s Lt. Governors, while another son, Jopie, followed in his footsteps, working within the island’s dive industry for many years.

The Bonaire Insider sends its condolences to the entire Domacasse family.  (Source:  Bonaire Insider Reporter)

Posted by Susan Davis on September 03, 2015 at 12:31pm AST
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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

New Shark Reserve Launched on Bonaire

It was a great way to end Bonaire’s first Shark Week, when State Secretary Dijksma of Economic Affairs opened a shark reserve during her recent visit to Bonaire and Saba. Shark populations are plummeting worldwide and therefore need extra protection against illegal fishing and the bycatch of regular fisheries. The local nature and fisheries organizations are involved in this protection and The Netherlands will actively protect sharks in the Caribbean Sea with the eleventh shark reserve.

“This special reserve will ensure the conservation of the animals in the waters surrounding Saba and Bonaire. Sharks are not only important for tourism but also for fishery. When there are more sharks, there also are more fish – contrary to what one would expect,” stated State Secretary Dijksma, who stated further, “The reserve will work closely with local nature and fisheries organizations to protect sea mammals and sharks.”

Proponents of shark reserves in Dutch Caribbean waters are happy that the governments of both Bonaire and Saba, along with the government of the European Netherlands see the importance of this issue and the beneficial effect the reserve can have for the islands and the region as a whole.

Research by Imares has shown that a decrease in sharks as apex predators leads to a disturbed natural balance in the sea. This could have consequences for the total fishery stock.

A good fishery stock is also important for the fishermen on the islands, who are dependent on fishing. Tourism also benefits from coral reefs with sharks. (Source:  RCN)

Posted by Susan Davis on September 02, 2015 at 10:38am AST
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bonaire’s Lionfish Population Takes a Big Hit During Marine Reserves Hunt

Last Saturday in the area between Karpata and Slagbaai, 288 invasive lionfish were removed from the reef by 31 certified hunters.

On Saturday afternoon, August 22nd, STINAPA Bonaire organized a two-tank dive in the marine reserves where divers are normally not allowed. The 31 divers were split between two boats, both of which returned before dark with a huge load of lionfish. A total of 288 of this invasive species were taken out in one afternoon.

Lionfish ready to be cleaned and eaten!Until 2009 the lionfish didn’t exist in the waters surrounding Bonaire. Because of this, lionfish do not have natural predators and are not being hunted by any marine creatures. Since the first lionfish was spotted in October 2009, they have reproduced rapidly and have spread throughout Bonaire and the rest of the Caribbean. Lionfish specifically target the young marine animals on our reef and can very quickly eat a lot and reproduce often. The lionfish is a threat to the biodiversity on our reefs and should be removed as thoroughly as possible. They are very tasty and several restaurants on Bonaire have lionfish on their menus.

The fish caught during this hunt will be offered to Rum Runners and the Bonaire Culinary Team as their specialty dish “ceviche” at the event Smaak of Bonaire (Taste of Bonaire) on September 10th in Scheveningen, Netherlands.

Scores:

Three STINAPA rangers ended up catching the most fish. They caught more than 25 fish per person during two dives! They were not participants in the competition so prizes went to:

Most fish:  21 caught Susan Porter

Largest fish:  44 cm Kevin O’Brien

Smallest fish:  7.5 cm Cassandra O’Neal

(Source:  STINAPA)

Posted by Susan Davis on August 25, 2015 at 3:25pm AST
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Shark Week Premieres on Bonaire, Starting Saturday, August 22, 2015

It’s a new “first” for Bonaire, and it’s part of an international effort to give protection to the sharks which inhabit the waters of Bonaire, as well as all the Dutch Caribbean islands, and even Holland itself.  “Shark Week” will begin on Saturday, August 22, 2015, and there’s activities all week that will offer educational and fun things to do.

For some background information, it’s long been acknowledged that a healthy shark population equates to healthy reefs, as apex predators, such as sharks, keep other reef species genetically “fit.” In other words, the hardy survive and continue to breed, while those which might be a little weak, normally do not survive to breed.  But, unfortunately, since the days of the movie, Jaws, the hunters of the world’s oceans have become the hunted.

It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries, and it’s thought that this is a conservative estimate.  This represents a rate of fishing about double the rate of reproduction, which is why the world is seeing declines in most populations for which data exist.  These populations for which we have detailed information, are called “assessed” species, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of threatened or near extinction assessed species includes 27 Caribbean species, of which six species are found in Bonaire’s waters (bull, blacktip, Caribbean reef, tiger, lemon, and whale sharks).

Bonaire, along with Holland and other Dutch Caribbean islands, are formally beginning an educational effort to increase shark awareness.  Next week’s launch will bring some fun get-togethers, but also the airing of educational videos.  View Shark Week’s schedule by clicking here (available in PDF), and be sure to stop by and become aware!  (Source:  STINAPA)

Posted by Susan Davis on August 19, 2015 at 9:49am AST
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