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What is coral?

 Many snorkelers and divers on Bonaire may already know the answer to this question but not everyone is aware of what coral actually is.
This article will teach you all the basics about the coral reefs around Bonaire.

Corals are a marine invertebrate in the phylum Cnidaria. They typically live in colonies of many individual polyps. There are over 2,500 species of coral split into two major groups: hard corals and soft corals. Most coral species can be found on the largest coral reef in the world, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In the Caribbean, there are only about 60 different species, all of which can be found on Bonaire!

Hard corals make up about half of the total number of species with approximately 1000 different types of hard corals. They secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton, which ultimately makes up the foundational structure of coral reefs. Soft corals, or gorgonians, have skeletons that are flexible and can bend with the water movements. One of the most recognizable examples are the sea fans.

Below you will find a guide to some of the hard corals found at most of your favourite Bonaire dive sites. It’s always a great dive when you see large huge mega-fauna like whale sharks, turtles and eagle rays but the corals are homes to many different species of fish, shrimp and eel. They also house the cutest fish on Bonaire, juveniles! The next time that you head out for a dive, see if you can identify these types of hard corals. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll see them in the shallows during your safety stop.


Scientific name: Madracis auretentra     Common name: Yellow Pencil Coral

Key features:

Colonies form densely packed assemblages of small pencil size branches with blunt ends (“finger-like”)

Colouration: Cream to yellow

Funny fact to remember: looks like McDonalds French fries on the reef

Scientific name: Montastrea cvernosa
Common name: Great Star Coral

Large round polyps (“outies”)

Can form either large mounds/columns or flattened massive plates/crust

Colouration: Brown, yellow-brown, green to grey

Funny fact to remember: the colonies resemble doughnuts! Everyone loves doughnuts

Scientific name: Meandrina meandrites      Common name: Maze Coral

Can form hemispherical dome, flatten plates, columns and/or crusts with deep narrow valleys

Colouration: pale yellow to dark orange or dark brown

Funny fact to remember: Looks like a maze

 

In July 2017, Netflix released an original documentary Chasing Coral. It was filmed at three different locations on the Great Barrier Reef and documents the effects of rising sea temperatures on the corals. The film is a sober wake-up call for everyone; especially for those who live and work in the ocean environment. Coral reefs are threatened not only by human activities but also by Mother Nature herself.

 

What can you do? How are you able to help? How can you slow the process down? Bonaire is very fortunate that our reefs have been protected since 1979 and are therefore some of the healthiest in the Caribbean. All the waters around Bonaire, from the high-tide line to 100 m from shore and 60 m deep, are protected under the Bonaire National Marine Park managed by STINAPA. Within the marine park, you may not touch, tease, or take anything with you. Furthermore, Dive Friends Bonaire sponsors free quarterly clean up dives around the island of Bonaire to help keep the reefs clean and healthy. We also have the Debris Free Bonaire program: Going for a casual walk on the beach? We can provide you with a mesh bag to fill with plastic debris and you will be rewarded with a free drink! A little bit goes a long way.

 

By Zara

An Interview with Dee Scarr


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It’s all about feeling a connection to the underwater world. An Interview with Dee Scarr.

I meet Dee Scarr at the Dive Friends Bonaire Hamlet Oasis location, where she pulls up with a pick-up truck bed full of trash! I’m immediately ecstatic to meet her, we had discussed meeting here so she could make use of the trash disposal unit at the location. It’s one of my biggest passions and lifelong projects: the fight against pollution- marine debris. Soon to be spear-heading the Debris Free Bonaire program, I’m very keen to gain some insight and advice!

When Dee Scarr first arrived on the dive scene it was a very different place. She explains to me that there was a general fear of most creatures underwater, and even going near the water was not terribly popular. She wanted to create a way for people to overcome these fears and dispel any preconceived notions of the underwater world. Dee started her program, Touch the Sea, in 1982; 2 years after arriving on Bonaire. What began as a very hands-on experience, (‘Stroking a scorpionfish’ or ‘tickling an octopus’); changes in attitude led her to evolve the program to focus on education on a very personal level.  She guides both divers and snorkelers on to experience things from her perspective; creating a sense of belonging to the sea. This in turn creates a desire to help protect the marine ecosystem.  Admittedly, it was a strange notion for me to imagine a time when it was OK to touch the creatures and corals; but the message behind it has my full support. Before our sit down, Dee graciously gave me a copy of her three books: Touch the Sea, Coral’s Reef, and The Gentle Sea to gain some understanding of her background and the messages she has been trying convey. She also instructs me to visit her website;  to gain more information on all her various projects. I’m greatly intrigued by her programs, but we agree: these are all things I can research.

Our conversation begins to focus on two topics: being a woman dive professional; and conservation in the here and now. Dee was one of the first females to make an impact on the scuba diving industry; she became in instructor in Florida in 1974 and began her career on the island of San Salvador. She noted that back then women were hardly allowed/expected to move tanks around or set up boats. Interactions on the boat always varied, but Dee was determined to share her passion.  Without going into specifics, she described a few of the stories where she received judgment as a female diver; and I related back with her some of my encounters. While we both find it frustrating, it has not deterred us to carry on with our desires or goals. After listening to her stories, I thank her for everything she has done both as a female and as a conservationist. If it was not for women like Dee Scarr, the opportunities I have today could not be here. The first major recognition of Scarr’s work was in 1991, when she was the second recipient (after Jacques Yves Cousteau) of the PADI/SeaSpace Environmental Awareness Award. Her most recent recognition is this 2008 Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences NOGI Award for Distinguished Service. She’s received the Boston Sea Rovers Diver of the Year Award, the Beneath the Sea Diver of the Year Award, and the Underwater Club of Boston’s Paul Revere Spike (2007.)  She was an inaugural member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and SSI’s Platinum Pro Divers (those with more than 5000 dives; Scarr has logged over 7000 dives).

Chatting away, we almost lose track of time. We discuss the state of corals, weather, fishing, cruise ships, and come back to the topic of marine debris. She explains she always carries a mesh bag with her so she can collect rubbish on her dives. The problem is everywhere she dives, and it’s only getting worse. Divers and scientists need to increase their awareness of how much impact they have by their choices and behaviors in and out of the water.

Dee has an enthusiasm of action, she wants to make things happen; and the best thing is she will explain why and how she wants to get it done! It’s very infectious.