Marine Life

You can reasonably expect to see more than one of the 355 species that live on our reefs, but weather and sea conditions will have an influence on the number and types of creatures that you will see.


Every trip is unique!



History Bonaire Marine Park:

In 1961, while most places were still nailing turtle shells to the wall and slurping turtle soup, Bonaire was enacting legislation to protect sea turtle eggs and nests. In 1971, at a time when divers carried spear guns in much the same way that divers today tote underwater cameras, Bonaire banned spearfishing from its reefs. In 1975, the island made it illegal to break coral, take it from the water, or sell it--activities that are still practiced today in the Indo-Pacific. It was no wonder, then, that the government of Bonaire decided to create the Bonaire Marine Park, the next logical step in the island's conservation efforts. With the generous financial support of the World Wildlife Fund of Holland, the Marine Park was established in 1979. The park's purpose is to ensure that Bonaire's marine resources-its magnificent coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves-remain intact so that everyone can enjoy our wonderful coral reefs for years to come, just as they are now.

Exploring the Marine Park:

The Marine Park encompasses approximately 2700 hectares and extends all the way around Bonaire, from the high water mark to the 60m depth contour. Bonaire's narrow, fringing coral reefs encircle both Bonaire and Klein Bonaire. The reefs are very well preserved, very diverse, and support a truly amazing array of reef fish. Recent studies by Dr. Callum Roberts and the volunteer group REEF have shown that Bonaire's fish population is the most diverse in the Caribbean and ranks among the best in the world.

Typically, the reefs start right at the water's edge and shelve off gently to a depth of about 32 feet (10m). This area, known as the reef terrace, is very narrow along the north coast (as little as 20m wide) and much wider in the south, where it may reach widths of 200m. In very shallow waters are encrusting coral formations, which grow close the bottom to avoid wave action. On the reef terrace, you will find amazing stands of elkhorn and staghorn coral, often with fire coral, patch reefs, and dense stands of soft corals--all inhabited by a dazzling spectrum of reef fish. The tangs and parrot fish will be out in force, grazing and keeping the algae stands under control. Expect to see lots of damsel fish, with butterfly and angel fish amid grunts, coneys, rock hinds and their relatives--goatfish, hogfish, and an abundance of wrasse. On the bottom, look for peacock eye flounder, lizard fish, and scorpion fish, all of which are so well camouflaged that you may easily overlook them.

Then comes a transition to a zone dominated by the mountainous star coral, which may form huge pagoda-like structures, pillars, mounds, or even sloping, overlapping, shingle-like structures. This zone is known as the drop-off zone, and it starts almost uniformly between 10-12m. There may be an abundance of soft corals and beautifully colored sponges, as well as Byzantine stands of mountainous star coral interspersed with clouds of radiant fish. Don't miss the fierce sergeant major fish (they are actually harmless and approximately 8 inches in length) defending their eggs, and moray eels hiding out in crevices. Solitary grouper, large parrotfish, and various snapper can be seen swimming the reef; you can also expect to see yellowtail snapper, and passing schools of various jacks cruising by in blue water.

Below the drop-off, the reefs descend sharply, and the mountainous star coral communities described above yield to leaf or scroll corals, which cover the sloping bottom like a beard. This area, known as the reef slope, is also where you will find fine stands of black coral. Beware, the reefs on Bonaire slope down and down and down. The fish here are similar to, but less abundant than, those in the drop-off zone.

Park Management:

The park is managed by STINAPA, a non-governmental, not for profit organization run by a board of dedicated local professionals who donate their time to protect and conserve the island's natural flora and fauna. In addition to the Marine Park, STINAPA also manages Washington Slagbaai National Park, the Barcada cave system, RAMSAR sites and Klein Bonaire. More than and 60,000 visitors annually keep the personnel very busy.   
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