Volunteer and Conservation Work

Sept 11 - Working With Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP) aka STINAPA

I wanted to provide an update on what happened with the chain at the Cliff dive site from the story listed below. Shortly after returning home, we received an email from a friend still on the island stating that STINAPA wanted to discuss this issue with us to explain why the chain was installed. We gladly exchanged email information, and it was not long before we were in direct contact with someone on behalf of the BNMP Park Manager. Here is a snippit from her email message directly so I do not misquote her:

"The work done in the last week of August involved necessary maintenance to the docking facilities at WEB/Curoil, the facilities that Bonaire, the Bonaireans and all our visitors rely on to have a fuel supply. In order to do any work in the Marine Park a very strict procedure of permitting is involved in which strict guidelines are set out.  

We at STINAPA do care very much about the reef, and our rangers too. Sometimes we have to undertake actions that are perceived as not being in line with our mission: protecting the marine environment."

This statement is totally understood. An oil spill in Bonaire would indeed be disastrous.

We have remained in contact with the representative who is offering to put us in touch with the Chief Ranger at STINAPA to explain the process used, and maybe why the chain was not routed to the sandy part of the reef instead of on the corals. If nothing else the chain could have followed the exact path of the old chain and laid directly on top of it if there was a need for this exact area.

I appreciate that she is willing to continue further conversations about actions STINAPA is going to take in Bonaire for reef conservation. I look forward to working with her and the several other agencies on the island following this story.

I will update here again once a plan is established.

Aug 25 - STINAPA dropped a huge chain on the reef !!

Today is August 25. Yesterday we dove at a site called "Cliff" at Hamlet Oasis. This site is well known to have sea horses (red, yellow, black and brown) that many divers and all of the staff know about. This is the same site where I took photos of squid mating and the female squid hiding her eggs. This is also a site where we have spotted both Green Sea Turtles and Hawksbill Sea Turtles.

Old Chain on foreground and new
one next to it in the background
One of the features of the site is a HUGE chain that runs from the top of the reef down to the bottom, long ago cutting through the corals. When we were there before, I took pictures of the chain and the growth of corals that were starting to recover ever so slowly. To our shock and horror, STINAPA, the agency that is supposed to protect the reef dropped another giant chain right next to the first one crushing all of the corals and life in it's path!

To help understand the impact of this in very general terms, big body corals tend to grow between 0.2 to 1 inch per year (depending on temperature and salinity) and some of the branching corals only grow 8 inches per year. This is why it is such a big deal to NOT touch/break corals. It takes a really long time for things to grow and heal, if it ever does.

New chain cutting through both
hard and soft corals
There were people we spoke to who were working nearby when STINAPA came in with a boat carrying the new chain. With seemingly little regard for the reef below - STINAPA themselves started lowering the chain into the water from the top of the reef, for the full run down. The impact was devastating.

New chain with broken corals
Thinking about how long it takes for a single coral to grow then looking at the massive corals smashed and destroyed represents decades of life wiped out in a single thoughtless action.

I am unsure why there was a perceived need for a new chain, especially when the other one was already in place. Additionally, if STINAPA had put their dive certified Rangers in the water to check a path, they would have seen that there was a sandy strip roughly 15ft to the north where zero corals would have been impacted.

New chain with more broken corals
So the question now is what can we do about this as tourist/short term residents and divers? We are very interested in seeing Bonaire live up to the reputation it has been working so hard for as the best conservation minded island in the Caribbean. We have a little time left on the island and will be inquiring about a few things, if nothing else - just so that the right people understand the devastation wrought on such a beautiful site.

Michele and I are just lone voices. I hope someone who is able to make a change takes a little bit of action to make Bonaire truly worthy of the title of being a "Protected Marine Park".

The location where 2 of the sea horses have been for at least the two months we have been here is in sight to the south of the new chains location. It could just as easily have killed them along with the corals. This seems totally senseless.

Both of these pictures were taken today within a few short swim kicks of each other:

Which would you rather see?

Aug 16 - Update on the baby flamingo we now call Murphy

At 8am this morning when STINAPA offices opened I called as instructed so they could come get the baby flamingo we rescued from the road (Michele had a dream that we named it Murphy). When the Rangers came to get Murphy, and took the box off, it was clear that something was wrong.

The Rangers transferred the flamingo back to the smaller box we had for transportation, and as the first lifted Murphy off the ground, I could see the bleeding wound under the left wing. That explained why Murphy did not put up any kind of struggle or show a lot of interest in getting off the road.

Once securely in the box, the Rangers said that they would take Murphy to "the flamingo doctor who was in Lagun". Lagun is a short drive from our house, so we asked if we would be able to check in and they said of course. We will of course be checking in to make sure Baby Murphy gets good care.

The last we saw was a lethargic Murphy being carried away by two rangers, who seemed well intentioned to get treatment for the wounded bird.

Thanks STINAPA for helping out a bird in need, Michele and I look forward to checking in on the wounded baby we now call Murphy.

August 15 - Baby Flamingo in the road

We were on our way home from a turtle nest monitoring with the STCB folks. It was night time and dark. Looking ahead in the road, Michele and I see what looks like a large duck - just sitting in the road. Well that's odd.

We were told earlier that occasionally baby flamingos get stranded away from their flock, and often get injured if not helped. The recommendation from that source said to put a towel over the bird to help keep it calm, then put it in a box. Well we didn't have a towel or a box. I took my shirt off and handed it to Michele, who worked as an ornithologist for a summer - so she had at least a clue on handling birds. We emptied a bag we were using as a makeshift cooler and prepared. As she moved toward the flamingo, it didn't move or try to leave or make any noises at all - something was clearly not right with this bird.

She gently placed the shirt over the bird, and barely put up a fuss. Michele picked up the birds as she did our chickens back home, careful to keep her sunglasses on (even though it was night) to keep her eyes protected if it lashed out. It didn't. I drove home, with Michele keeping the bird nuzzled on her lap so we could call STINAPA, the local wildlife agency. When we got home, we placed the flamingo in a box we had that was barely big enough to contain it - and called right away. We were shocked when they said keep the bird overnight and call again in the morning!!!! Michele began reaching out to friends with bird knowledge and reading literature they sent on how to help this bird.

Clearly the box we had was insufficient. I drove into town looking for anyplace to get a bigger box, maybe at a grocery store that was throwing them out? After trying several places, I found a small sandwich shop that was closing up. I approached them and explained the situation. These people were great! They went and found a box, reassembled it and gave me a large box. After cutting some good air holes, we transferred the flamingo to it's new overnight quarters shirt and all- maybe it can use it as a little comfort overnight. There is room now for the flamingo to stand up and move around a bit too.

All we can do at this point is wait until morning to have STINAPA to take it home to the rest of it's flock.

-pictures will happen tomorrow in the light, as well as the name of the store where the people were so friendly and helpful.

Aug 11 - Sea Turtles (yep -- more turtles)
This is another post promoting the work done by STCB and helping sea turtles here on Bonaire. Why do I keep posting about turtles? It is really simple - turtles are a key part of helping to keep both the reef and beach ecosystems healthy, and sea turtles are endangered. That's right turtles help 2 different ecosystems and - all sea turtles are endangered. Of the 5 reasons listed below of why they are endangered, people have an impact on the first 4 of them. Turtles struggle from the day they hatch, and it does not get easier from there:

Lifting this message directly from the STCB website:

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has identified five major hazards to sea turtles: 

Fisheries: Sea turtles virtually everywhere are affected by fisheries, especially longlines, gill nets, and trawls. The most severe of these impacts are death after entanglement, habitat destruction and food web changes.
Direct Take: Sea turtles and their eggs are killed by people throughout the world for food, and for products including oil, leather and shell.
Coastal Development: Sea turtle habitats are degraded and destroyed by coastal development. This includes both shoreline and seafloor alterations, such as nesting beach degradation, seafloor dredging, vessel traffic, construction, and alteration of vegetation.
Pollution: Plastics, discarded fishing gear, petroleum by-products, and other debris harm and kill sea turtles through ingestion and entanglement. Light pollution disrupts nesting behavior and causes hatchling death by leading them away from the sea. Chemical pollutants can weaken sea turtles’ immune systems, making them susceptible to disease.
Climate change: Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme weather events, result in loss of nesting beaches, and cause other alterations to critical sea turtle habitats and basic oceanographic processes. It may impact natural sex ratios of hatchlings and increase the likelihood of disease outbreaks for sea turtles.

I am not saying stop all coastal developments, and pollution is something that happens no matter how hard a society struggles to limit it. I encourage people to just be mindful of the impact of what is being done, and if possible limit your pollution personally. We as individuals can limit our plastic use and trash production- most of which ends up in the ocean. Take a cloth or recycled bag with you shopping for groceries, pay attention to packaging on products you buy, use recycle facilities. Every little bit either hurts or helps - our actions decide.

We can limit our seafood consumption and with that help limit by-catch. Shrimp trolling in particular has a devastating impact and is cited as one of the most negative impacting of the seafood industries. Learn more by reading any of the Sea Food Watch Reports. This one specifically discusses By-Catch impact.

I agree, shrimp is quite tasty - I for one have stopped eating sea food as much as possible. As a conservation minded diver I do not want to support an industry that is killing off the things I want to see underwater, and that I know are beneficial for the ecosystem.

And now another turtle to end this entry :)

July 24 - Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire at Work
Yesterday we met up with the STCB folks at Lac Cai. They have a great mission objective: "Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire's mission is to ensure that Bonaire's sea turtles have a secure future, and to connect people to sea turtle conservation in ways that inspire caring for nature."

The group that we connected with was comprised of volunteers and masters program students from all over the world. My main contact and field coordinator for this was Dr. Sue Willis who was on the boat with the others when we arrived. As luck and timing would have it they were just about to pull out and make another pass at bringing in any sea turtle that might need attention. We chatted for a bit and as they went out into the bay we stayed ashore and awaited their return.

While they were gone I grabbed a snorkel and poked around in the water here a bit to see what the big deal was for the turtles, as the majority of them on Bonaire seem to congregate in this particular spot. I grabbed the camera hoping for some good underwater shots here, not really thinking a lot about it, and once submerged it dawned on me: This bottom here is covered in sea grass - and the water is very cloudy from the nutrient rich waters.... duh. Of course this makes sense. This is a plentiful food source.

We spent a bit more time in and around the water awaiting the boat, and sure enough they came back with five turtles to weigh, measure, and check for disease or issues. Sue and her team pulled onto the shore and quickly set to work grabbing paperwork to document, scanning for ID tags, and checking shell integrity as well as quick examinations for anything of note.

The team was sure to keep the turtle as comfortable as possible, and while we showed up with the intent to help, I feared that we would just be in the way of the quick work they were doing.

While part of the team was working on one animal, another part of the team was working with another.

The larger turtle that was being worked first was indeed not in great health. Several notes about it were made as well as a clean-up of barnacles (an arthropod that acts as a parasite on the turtle). If left in place these could be quite harmful to the turtle.

Before long the first patient on the table was being released back into the water- cleaned, de-barnacled and hopefully a little better of for the ride.

Immediately the first release, the next turtle the other part of the crew was working with was released as well.

The team was operating like they had done this many times before.. and in fact they had. With this batch brought in to be examined, this made for roughly 38 turtles the team had seen to this week. Did I mention that this is a group that operates by volunteers and donations yet?

Michele, her mom, and Hannah had been on the side lines
watching, and talking with the team learning what they were doing. I was in the water discussing different aspects of the organization and getting to know some of the other team members from Wales and Germany.

The next thing I know, Michele was invited aboard the boat to help with the next turtle. Under the watchful eye of Dr. Sue, both Hannah and Michele took a seat with the sea turtles. This had been a lifelong dream for Michele.

In very short order all of the turtles that had been patiently waiting their exam turn were released back into the water cleaned up, examined and ready to go back to munching the tasty sea grass.

For those looking to donate to a worthy cause - you have certainly found one. This group operates completely on donations for medical equipment, and so on. If you feel like this is something you want to donate to- here is their direct donation link:


July 23 - Cleaning up the Island
A few day ago we went to meet the Sea Turtle Conservation team in Lac Cai to weigh and measure the turtles in the bay. Due to a number of factors we ended up missing them this time. We ended up taking the road south from Soroban toward a part of the island called 7 Colors. The story says that
there were 7 groups of people, or clans that were on the island and that they were represented by each of the colors. We did not know the story at the time and just drove past this marker.

We began seeing a lot of trash and debris on the sides of the the road along side the ocean, and more peculiar - we were seeing where it was piled up into pyramids, trees, tee-pees and other pieces of construction. Odd.

As we drove along the coast we saw a group actually out making one of the construction piles, so of course I had to pull over and ask what they were doing. It turns out that this was a group of teenagers from Belgium out with one of their mothers making "pre-lighthouse" warning towers for ships as was done in the early years of the island. Apparently this legend was on the post we drove by earlier- which we were re-directed back to.

They were kind enough to pose next to their construction so that there is good sense of scale.

We decided to head back to the marker post we drove by earlier and actually read the sign. We could not help but notice all of the construction pieces of trash at this point and the debris that littered the entire area.

We got to the post again and read the story of a mermaid named
Mamparia Cutu who would sit out on the Black Rock, marked at this colored pylon. Hannah of course climbed up and gave us her mermaid pose.

Although it is a fun idea to make warning signs from trash and debris on the side of the ocean, it would seem the same could be done with driftwood and other natural items. There seems to be a tendency for a lot of trash to just get dumped here on the island. Some say it is the locals using the ocean as a dumping ground. Some say it is the cruise ship traffic and uncaring passengers who disembark, or even the barge traffic dumping waste into the harbor. Likely it is a combination of all of this. Here is what I know; a lot of garbage is in the harbor and surrounding areas of the port where the ships come in. Based on the types of algae growth certainly there is waste dumping happening there.

I also know that the local have a free reign to do whatever they want to do. There does not seem to be any enforcement or regulation to fishing or littering or reef destruction at all from the authorities here. If there is, I have certainly not seen any evidence of it. In addition there is an article from a paper here where there was an incredible natural formation of a bait ball (huge swarm masbango fish) right near a major dive site. The locals took a drag net to catch the fish, and ended up destroying huge portions of the reef, killing other fish, and putting at risk mating / egg laying turtles in the process. For a direct read it is here on page 10 of the Bonaire Reporter:

ARCHIVE: The June-22-July 6, 2015 edition of the Bonaire Reporter is on-line  now at http://bonairereporter.com/news/015pdfs/06-22-15.pdf and available via Facebook.

We found this baloonfish skinned and impaled on a piece of driftwood in a marine park preserve. Certainly it did not impale and skin itself, and I seriously doubt that a cruise ship tourist drove out to where we found it to do so.

The amount of trash just piled around would take a significant effort and several truckloads to haul away.

With such beautiful coastlines, it seems a shame to let it fall to being a wasteland and dump site. Michele has already had a few conversations with the author of this article above who seem truly interested in helping make a difference for the better here on the island and we will be meeting with him later in the trip.

Hopefully more will pick up the baton to clean up trash across the island before it makes it to the ocean. I admire those youth from Belgium for doing at least a little bit to bring attention to this even if they were only helping to participate in an old mermaid legend. To me it also pointed out the difference everyone can make by just doing a little bit to clean up, and pick up what they can.
July 19 - Cleaning up Town Pier
Once per quarter, the government of Bonaire issues a permit for clean-up dives in their shipping pier. As this is normally a no diving zone due to the shipping traffic that comes into port being able to get involved with helping out and documenting was pretty cool for us.

For this particular cleanup effort we went out with the dive shop folks we have been working with here on the island called Dive Friends. It was sponsored by a number of other businesses on the island with giveaways as well.

A call went out to divers to sign up if anyone was interested in participating in the cleanup efforts, and of course Michele and I were there. In total there were 95 divers who answered the call and showed up for the briefing and a debris bag. We were told that we had an hour and a half to get as much debris out as possible. That was all the time alloted.

Divers crowded around anxious to get started, and after the briefing we were all given a tank of air as a donation then it was off to the water.

Divers lined the streets donned their gear and walked to entry point where again, the Dive Friends staff was standing by to assist people into the water. It was funny to watch the divers kicking off from shore, debris bag in hand, looking like a migration of sea creatures fading off under the barges.

A do Not Take Crusted Bottle
In our briefing we were clearly told that the goal here was for cleanup and to not disturb any the corals and life from old debris. Some old bottles have been there for a long time and were left in place.

Any of the debris found that was not encrusted was ok to take out.

Michele picking up litter underwater
Another diver with a bag of trash
Divers collected full bags of trash, that volunteers would later sort out to and determine to be over a thousand pieces of trash from the area directly at town pier.

It was a good clean up and some of the strangest things were removed.

We will note be here for the next clean up dive ... but I am sure things will be just as successful. It seems that with that much debris, maybe more than once per quarter would have some benefit.
July 10- Turtles and Jellyfish
As we connected with the CIEE folks to figure out what it is we can do to be of assistance, they encouraged us to keep our eyes open for upcoming classes and events.

Green Sea Turtle - ChaChaCha Beach
The first thing we went to was a talk on Sea Turtles Wednesday, given by the Sea Turtles Conservation Bonaire (STCB) group. The organization works very hard to protect turtles on and around Bonaire.

Bonaire has an active breeding population of Greens, and Hawksbill mostly. Although there was a successful hatching of Loggerheads a few weeks back. There are a few rare spotting of Leatherback, but that is super rare here.

STCB is a 501c organization that is pretty poorly funded as a whole but things are getting a bit better. Ideally it would be nice if they could afford the medicines needed to treat infections the turtles get, but they are not quite there yet.  One of the things they sold as a fundraiser were necklaces made by a group in Costa Rica that did turtle hunting previously. They started selling the hand carved necklaces and no longer need to hunt turtles- they instead make jewelry. A simple necklace purchase gave profits to the group here in Bonaire, and helped fund the Costa Rico group and got Hannah a nice reminder about conservation.
On Thursday there was The Jellyfish Jamboree led by Dr. Bud Gillan and CIEE. Little did we know that he is a big name when it comes to jellyfish. He and a group of students were participating in a world-wide event to collect box jellyfish, have them produce zygotes, then send the zygotes off to the Smithsonian.

As an odd factoid, Box Jellies seem to come into very shallow waters about 9 days after a full moon, and tend to beach themselves and die. This seemed like a good opportunity to scoop them up, and let science help them out. Hannah was given a net - and told what to do so that she was not stung, then she lay down on the dock and boom - she got one....

Pictures to come later of both Michele and Hannah holding Box Jellyfish.
July 7 Post
Today Hannah and I went to the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) research center to meet Dr. Rita Peachy who I have been exchanging a few emails with.

She told us about the upcoming Jellyfish Jamboree this Thursday and Friday evening. Apparently the Box Jellyfish come up into the shallows a few days after the full moon, and there is a lecture on the beach with the highschool students - so we are going with Hannah. Time to read up on box jellies so we are not behind the class.
Initial Post
While on the island we will be doing underwater conservation and clean up work with Hannah and Amanda. Some organizations we are on tap to work with are the Reef Environmental Education Foundation as well as the Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire organization.

As we do clean up and share information we will be posting pictures and updates here.

Stay tuned -----


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