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Drawing Board for Reef Ecology

Show me healthy reef administered by a progressive government and I'll show you a potential multimillion dollar industry whose income will generate sustainable development for an otherwise economically deprived island.

Captain Don, 1974

With this vision, Bonaire lunged forward like the true pioneer she is, into the new and exciting industry of diving tourism. Divine providence had supplied the bountiful reefs, the island people spurred the need for development and a wise government fortunately took an intelligent look at reef preservation to make tourism a plausible undertaking.

Bonaire's dive operators did what every other island is now trying to do. But Bonaire did it first. Our self-imposed conservation started in the mid-sixties. By '69, we no longer spear fished, anchored or removed coral from our sea. It was only a matter of time before we had permanent moorings to replace the unsightly debris that made up our early efforts.


Roy G. Biv, himself, would have approved of Don's mirror method for bringing light to the reef. In those days, he could only process black and white film. Even today, it's still Capt. Don's preferred medium and he has just installed a new darkroom at his kunuku

We were protecting the sea, of course, but the fledgling dive industry was protecting its own interests, and the reefs as the tools of their trade, as well.

The writing was on the wall and Bonaire had moved firmly into launching position. Nothing could keep her from her new destiny. Diving tourism had become very important to the island economy as early as 1968 and by 1972, the divers were coming like lemmings. With the addition of a totally diver-oriented hotel in 1976, the need for even more reef protection emerged.

But how do you limit the impact on our underwater environment? Not to have been cognizant of the dangers would have been lunacy. Sharp eyes looked down long noses and questioned: "Who, in the long run, is going to be the winner? The reefs or the hotel reservation maps?" We were betting on both.

In 1977, we formed CURO (Caribbean Underwater Resort Operators), with the objective "to proliferate reef/sea management, to maintain a productive underwater environment, and to guarantee the economic health of our community and our industry."

Within two years, CURO had members in 18 Caribbean islands and 16 associate members in industry. CURO's mandate is "to successfully use, manage and share from this natural littoral resource with the maximum consideration to be that our trespass shall leave no mark."

Today, Bonaire has come to realize her dream, having established both the first island-wide Marine Park in 1979 and the first comprehensive marine ordinance of any Caribbean island. The diving and tourism industries' dreams have become accepted law. The island is one of the top diving destinations in the world, with over 35,000 divers a year. All this while maintaining flourishing reefs below.

Bonaire was and continues to be the leader, the pace-setter, the hero and the world's drawing board for reef ecology.

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Content Donal A. Stewart 1996 - Copyright CaribSeek 2003 - All Rights Reserved - Web Published: September 26, 2003