Almost any mention of the beautiful island of Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean includes a remark about the underwater environment. Bonaire boasts one of the first protected marine parks in the world, a park which has recently been granted National Park status in the Netherlands and Netherlands Antilles. The park extends from the high tide mark to 200 feet (65 meters) below the surface and surrounds the entire island Bonaire, and our sister island, Klein Bonaire.
The coral reefs of the Bonaire Marine Park have made Bonaire a favorite with scuba divers and snorkelers. And, many of the local divemasters are amateur naturalists. They can help you identify many of the underwater inhabitants and show you some of our more unique ones like the Long-lure Frogfish. Special courses and programs are available for any fish or coral lover. Information about the Bonaire Marine Park is available at www.bmp.org.
Our island government has made great strides in legislating protection for sea turtles, the coral reef, conch, and the Lora parrot. In addition many non-profit groups have formed to safe guard certain creature or to protect the environment through efforts like cleanups. The Sea Turtle Conservaton Bonaire has been making great strides educating the public and conducting research. Tene Boneiru Limpi ("Keep Bonaire Clean") organizes an island wide cleanup. Volunteers are gladly accepted by all environmental groups on Bonaire.
Yet most people know very little about the above water environment of Bonaire. Bonaire is not the tropical island many people envision as typical of the Caribbean. There are some palm trees, but the lush vegetation is usually relegated to the heavily watered grounds of hotels and private homes, as Bonaire has primarily desert conditions. Large 'Kadushi' cactus dot the landscape with an almost impenetrable scrub of divi trees, thorny shrubs, and paddle cactus. Goats and donkeys munch their way through the ground cover. In many places you can see the traditional cactus fences made from living cactus to keep out these omnivorous trespassers.
The Donkey Sanctuary offers a great place to meet Bonaire's donkeys up close. The sanctuary provides medical attention, food and water to about 40 donkeys at a time. Bonaire's donkeys first came to Bonaire as working animals but were freed with the arrival of the automobile. Bonaire's desert environment is much like their original home in Africa.
Salt pans of the sea salt company as well as naturally formed "salinas" make up much of the rugged, flat southern end of the island. The Flamingo Sanctuary rests within these safe environs. No one is allowed in the sanctuary as this is one of the few breeding places left of the flamingo. With a strong pair of binoculars, you can see the nesting grounds. The adult flamingos flying in "V" formations can be seen at dawn and dusk. They fly between Bonaire and Venezuela where the most feeding grounds are. Flamingos can also be seen at Goto Meer in the northern part of the island or in Washington/Slagbaai park.
The remarkable mangroves of Lac Bay house a surprising number of birds. Some are full-time residents like the brown pelican, egrets, and the beautiful bright orange breasted trupials, but many stop by for a rest and feeding during migratory flights. Birders should bring their binoculars for this special opportunity. Lac Bay is also a breeding ground for the endangered Queen conch and the sea grasses provide a favorite feeding spot for sea turtles.
Journey to the north and the foliage becomes lusher and the terrain steeper, but only to the maximum of 754 feet on Mt. Brandaris. The northern third of the island is Washington/Slagbaai park. The land which makes up the park was formerly used as plantations for aloe and goats. However, since its conversion to a park in the mid-1900s, the park's land has quickly reverted back to its natural state. The mostly dirt roads of the park can be traversed by car or guided bicycle tours, with lizards of all sorts, including large iguanas, among the roadside attractions. Among the park's special features are several secluded beaches, a lighthouse, and old plantation buildings. Here is where you might catch a glimpse of our parrot, the Lora, a sub-species of the green shouldered Amazon. A more common sight is the smaller parrot look-alike, the Prikitchi, which is really a parakeet. The park is a fabulous area for bird watching or just absorbing nature.
Natural cave formations abound in the northern half of Bonaire. These caves and alcoves for homes for many of our fauna. On the tourist road north, you can see prikitchis perched in the cliff faces. Several species of bat call Bonaire home. Some eat fruit and others insects. Please don't enter any caves you may happen upon. Many of them are home to these very shy bats.
Whether you're snorkeling, diving, hiking, walking, cycling or driving, Bonaire's nature is right where you can experience it. Various guides to the plants, animals, fish and coral Bonaire can be purchased at local hotels and shops plus at the Bonaire Marine Park offices. If you are interested in picking some up books before you arrive, try our bookstore selections.
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