Bonaire, “the divers’ paradise,” is located about 113 kilometres/70 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Thirty-eight kilometres/twenty-four miles long and between about 4.8 kilometres/3 miles and eight kilometres/five miles wide, Bonaire is mostly flat with its highest point just under 245 metres/800 feet. As it was originally part of a vast reef chain, you can see visible coral skeletons all around the island.
Watch this beautiful video by Rick Coleman
Commonly ranked one of the Caribbean's top dive destinations, Bonaire is the exposed top of a submerged mountain, with world-class diving 200 metres/yards from shore. Considered the world’s premier shore diving location, you can access 53 of Bonaire’s 86 dive sites without a boat. Less than 1.6 kilometres/1 mile west of the island is Klein (Little) Bonaire, a small islet whose dive sites are only accessible by boat. Klein Bonaire also shelters much of Bonaire’s western shore, affording lake-like surface conditions for some sites most of the year.
Bonaire has been a leader in marine protection since 1961, when it passed legislation to protect turtles. Spearfishing has been banned since 1971 and no anchoring on coral reefs is allowed. In 1979, the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP) was established. The park’s mission is to protect everything - living or dead - from the high water mark to a depth of 60 metres/200 feet while facilitating responsible use. To help support its protection mission, all users, including tourists, are required to purchase an annual nature tag ($25 US for diving and $10 US for all other uses). Another reason that Bonaire’s reefs are in such excellent condition is that all divers who visit are required to attend a briefing, followed by a “check-out” dive to demonstrate their buoyancy control before being allowed board a dive boat or dive from shore on their own.
The variety and abundance of marine life is staggering. More than 470 fish species are found in Bonaire’s waters – angel fish, parrot fish, groupers grunts and blue tangs are everywhere. Don’t be surprised to see frog fish, sea turtles or eagle rays. If you are especially lucky, dolphins, manta rays or even a whale shark may swim by.
Just about everyone knows that "SCUBA" is an acronym for Self Contained Under Water Breathing Apparatus. The sport has become extremely popular in the last two decades, due in part to places like Bonaire, which has taken great pains to preserve the underwater world by establishing one of the first marine parks in the Caribbean. The other reason Bonaire has become such a popular destination is the wide variety of fish life and the ease of diving that the island offers.
Diving is easy
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Bonaire's pristine reefs and diverse marine life are unique to the Caribbean. Because the waters around Bonaire have been protected by an actively managed marine park for the past 30 years, Bonaire today ranks amongst the top four best diving destinations in the world*. The island's location in the south Caribbean gives it an arid climate with little rain fall; consequently, the waters are exceptionally clear of silt, calm, and diveable year round. It is an ideal destination for underwater photographers.
Water temperatures average a warm 78-84°F (25.6-28.9°C), with visibility averaging over 100 feet (30m), and frequently reaching up to 150 feet (50m). Water temperatures do vary widely by season and location. Unless planning deep, technical dives, it's doubtful that any thermoclines will be felt within normal recreational diving depths. Water tempertures are normally at their lowest in late December and January. By March and April, the waer begins to warm up, usually peaking at its warmest from late August through November.
Most Dive Operators are members of CURO, the Council of Underwater Resort Operators. As members, they participate in establishing standards and uniform practices that, along with the Bonaire Marine Park Rules, have worked to preserve our reefs and the fragile ecosystem of the reef.
Bonaire Dive Orientation
If you are planning a trip to Bonaire that includes diving, you will be required to attend a Bonaire National Marine Park Orientation/Briefing prior to your first dive on the island. Check with your dive operator for times. One of the Bonaire Marine Park Regulations is for all visitors to do a check-out dive as part of the briefing process before taking off on their own to shore dive or going on a dive boat. The main reasons for this are to have each diver check buoyancy so that damage to the reef is minimized or eliminated and also to check out their dive equipment, whether it be rented or owned. Also, every diver on Bonaire must purchase a Marine Park Tag valid for one calendar year. Orientation procedures vary from dive center to dive center, so it's a good idea to check in early.
During your dive orientation, you will learn about a new, invasive species, the Pacific lionfish, which is now found on Bonaire. Click here to learn more about this fish and the efforts which are being taken to contain its spread.
Purple Tube Sponge
of Julie Morgan
Recompression Chamber and Diving Medical Services
In case of a diving accident or emergency, Bonaire has one of the Caribbean's best staffed recompression chambers. The chamber is located behind Centro Medical Central, and people in need of treatment must go to the hospital to gain access to the chamber. Additional, Dive Medical Bonaire (download a coupon) offers expertise in diving medicine for either pre-dive evaluations or post-dive situations.
The Bonaire Marine Park
The fringing reef which surrounds Bonaire is a National Marine Park from the high water mark down to a depth of 200 feet/60m. Every diver who has not dived on Bonaire within the last calendar year must attend a diver orientation dealing with Bonaire Marine Park regulations and information. These orientation sessions are usually held at around 9AM the morning after you arrive on Bonaire, and you are required to attend and to obtain your Marine Park tag, which is necessary to legally dive in Bonaire's waters. The cost of the tag is US$25, and proceeds help support park management and services.