When I arrived on Bonaire nine years ago, I did not have a clue about marine life. I had lived in the Dominican Republic for a couple of years and became a dive master there. I loved my job and the island, but the diving there was just OK. A combination of worries about future liver problems (I worked in an all-in resort where we partied 7 nights a week) and the idea that diving would be better somewhere else, brought me to Bonaire. Up till today I’m not quite sure that I solved the virtual liver problem, but the marine life surely is a lot more spectacular here on Bonaire.
I was lucky to find a job at Andre Nahr’s Bonaire Dive and Adventure. Lucky, because finding a job as a dive master is not easy on Bonaire, but especially lucky because an American guy named Jerry Ligon worked there. Jerry was, and still is, a biologist who is just crazy about marine life. He is a walking encyclopedia on the subject, and he loves to teach.
He told me that the geographical position of Bonaire, not far off the coast of Venezuela, gave it the most diverse marine life in the Caribbean. More than 500 different species of fish live around the island, and that’s a lot for this area. And although, like in the rest of the world, the corals are alarmingly declining, the reefs of Bonaire still are one of the healthiest in the Atlantic. Jerry pretends that he knows all 500 species, and I would not be surprised if that is true. He taught me all I know now about Bonaire marine life. Not all 500 species, mind you, but I think 60 percent is not a bad score. Jerry made me see the beauty of small things, and now my favorite way of diving and snorkeling is just hanging out and looking around me. The reef is a fascinating theatre with ever changing actors. The longer you look at one spot, the more you see.
Jerry did not only teach me to identify fish species, but also showed me behavioral patterns in the water. So now, when I see four or five Graysby hanging around a coral head, I wait until a Moray Eel comes out. An example of interspecies cooperation in hunting. The more you know about marine life, the more you see when you are snorkeling or diving. I like everybody to be able to enjoy it, so now I teach about marine life too. With the help of the fantastic Reef Net interactive program ‘Reef fish ID’ I bore the guests of my apartment with my knowledge and show them the associated pictures on my computer. Taking them snorkeling or diving after the academic presentation is very rewarding. Even veteran divers and snorkelers see critters they never noticed before, and get enthusiastic to learn about marine life. Fortunately they all are tourists, so I don’t need to have competition fears.
The pictures are taken from the ReefNet DVD.