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Diving in Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles - Part 2

Updated on April 27, 2010

Terraces, Buttresses, and Double Reefs

With 86 marked dive sites (including 26 on Klein), it's natural that some locales are topographical clones of others. When you arrive on Bonaire, get a handy map of the island's sites at any dive shop. For now, let's go underwater and take a look at three representative sites, keeping in mind that each shares biological similarities with a number of others.
 
South on the coastal road from Kralendijk, you'll find the Windsock Steep opposite the airport runway. Like other sites accessible from shore, it is marked by a small concrete pillar with its name. Windsock is typical of the approximately 20 terrace-slope sites near the center of the island, although it is far less commonly dived.

Enter from the beach and swim over a terrace covered with elkhorn, sponges, sea whips, and fans. Stands of staghorn coral mark the area where the terrace begins its slope into deeper water. Look seaward and you're likely to see four-foot-long barracuda, ocean triggerfish, and large tiger groupers along the reef's edge. Like other sloping shore reefs, the coral falls away into sheet corals shaped like miniature pagodas. Here you're likely to find rock hinds, and queen and French angels — including their brightly colored juvenile versions. Peek in the cavities between the living corals for the heads of moray eels, mouths endlessly opening and closing.
 
For a look at the buttresses that characterize some 12 sites, hop a dive boat to The Forest off the southwesterly tip of Klein Bonaire. Most boats drop divers just landward of the drop-off, so you simply descend to the reef crest and fin across mountainous star corals, which give way to a wall packed with giant brain coral, patches of yellow pencil coral, and club finger coral. The wall flares out into a series of buttresses separated by distinct valleys.

Noticing the Details

In terms of fauna, there is a lingering belief that sites more distant from the midsection of the island contain a more diverse selection of fish. It's not true. Veteran divers report identifying just as many kinds of fish mid-island as they do on the more remote sites. What you will find off the more heavily used mid-island are voracious yellowtail snappers the size of dinner plates. Protected by law and chummed into a Pavlovian frenzy by years of hand-feeding, these fish will nibble anything that looks remotely like food, including the hair on your head.
 
Beyond ecological soundness and accessibility, the other enduring charm of Bonaire is the sheer placid nature of its warm tropical waters. While currents swirl more ferociously at the north and south ends of the island, Klein and the middle island remain nearly always pond-calm. And because of the southerly latitude and balmy trade winds, winter chills seldom nudge the temperature too far away from the 82°F average. With little freshwater run-off, industry, or coastal development to cloud it, the water visibility frequently hits the triple digits. Wherever you submerge in this gentle Diver's Paradise, you'll find all the inhabitants still here — the jungle of hard and soft corals, the photogenic invertebrates, and the fish — doing what they did centuries ago when the Caiquetio Indians lived on a low and arid tropical island they called bajnaj.
 
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