The myth behind the Lionfish in the Caribbean is that they were brought to this side of the world in the bilge of a freighter and got released into the water. They have no natural predators in the Caribbean, so they are thriving. They are voracious hunters and eat many different types of fish. Many Caribbean islands mandate the hunting and killing of the Lionfish to get rid of them. Restaurants even offer Lionfish on their menus. They are pretty but, unfortunately, have a bad name in the Caribbean.
The spines on a Lionfish are venomous, so a diver doesn’t want to get too close.
Along with fishes and creatures, I like to take pictures of what could be called art. If I see cool lighting of a coral, or a mixture of colours, I will snap a photo. Here are some of my creations from this trip.
Trumpetfish are one of my favourite fishes. They are long, sometimes almost a metre, and have a snout that almost looks like a horse. They belong to the same order as seahorses and coronetfish. They come in an assortment of colours. My favourite is the one with the blue snout, pale body and blue tail.
They often hover in the water vertically and can move into a gorgonian sponge vertically, deftly avoiding the branches.
When we dive, we are always on the look out for crabs. Tiny ones, large ones, hairy ones and hiding ones.
This Batwing Coral Crab was sitting out in the open on a piece of coral when we swam by. He wasn’t disturbed by my camera light or photo taking. Such a cool guy!
The Channel Clinging Crab was deep in a hole when we saw him. This large crab likes to reside in recesses. Look at his large claw! He’s not as willing to sit for a photo.
We see many small crabs hiding in coral heads, their legs poking out. Hermit crabs, in their chosen house shells, can be seen inside sponges. Sometimes they are on the move and sometimes they are just hanging around.
It’s fun to search for crabs as we never know what we will find.
Peppermint Shrimp are usually found inside tube sponges. I swim over a tube and peer in and there is this little fellow staring back at me, swaying from side to side. They are named for their bright red stripes. Cute!
Today we do our only boat dives while on Bonaire. We have spots booked with East Coast Divers, the only dive operator that dives the “wild side” (or east side) of the island. The reasons to dive the wild side are turtles and rays.
Our first dive is Fungi Reef, or the turtle highway. Lac Bay is a secluded bay where there is a ton of sea grass. The Green Turtles go into the bay at night and early morning to feed and then swim outside the bay, into the open water to sleep. They use Fungi Reef as the highway to get to the area where they like to sleep. As we make our way along the reef, we look for turtles, but we also look out into the blue for other sightings. We see a Spotted Eagle Ray glide past us way down deep. We see another large stingray on top of the reef.
We come across a sleeping turtle who has his head tucked deep into a hole. This guy is huge! Once back on the boat, we discover he is a Loggerhead Turtle. The turtle gets its name from the large head it has to support powerful jaws. They use these jaws to crush the shells of sea urchins and clams. They can weigh up to 400 pounds!
On the second dive, we go to The White Hole and then Turtle City. The White Hole was a cave that had the roof collapse, so now looks like a bowl. There is a group of tarpon (large, ugly silver fish) hanging out at the side of the bowl.
Turtle City is what we have come for. The depth here is a little shallower than the turtle highway so the turtles come here to sleep. I lose count of the number of Green Turtles we see. Most of them did not like the group of divers and headed to the surface when we approached. Took photos of any turtle that swam my way. They are such lovely creatures.
It was a great day boat diving and spending time with the turtles.
We have now scuba dived up and down the west coast of Bonaire. The daily routine, from breakfast to packing lunch to loading tanks and gear into the truck, is done efficiently. As we climb into the truck, we ask “Where shall we go today?” More and more we are going south, past the kite surfers, to unmarked dive sites where not many divers go.
Most of the popular dive sites have yellow rocks indicating their location and name and a yellow buoy out in the water to also mark the dive site. Most divers head to these sites. Murray and I are touring the sites with no yellow rocks or buoys. These unmarked dive sites are described in our Bonaire Shore Diving book. The trick to these sites is that there is no buoy, so divers need to know how to work a compass.
As we stand on shore, all geared up and ready to enter the water, Murray takes a compass reading straight out from shore. Once in the water and masked and finned, we flip on our backs and kick out on the surface to the drop off, with Murray keeping an eye on the compass direction, or just staying in line with a point on the shore.
We then descend, and swim down the drop off, on the compass direction to about 30 feet. We look for two or three markers to pin point where we need to come up to the shallows. Choosing markers is a tricky business. The prime marker HAS to be distinctive. Tall, weirdly shaped, leaning, anything that makes it stand out. A bland marker looks just like all the other coral heads and sea fans. Once a prime marker is chosen, then one or two secondary markers are picked to correlate with the prime marker. This way if we think we have come back to our prime marker, we can double check by seeing the secondary markers. Trust me, this is needed and does work. A couple of dives early on, we missed our markers because they didn’t stand out enough.
Once we choose markers, we descend to 60 feet and swim into the current along the reef. At about 1,600 psi of pressure, we turn around and swim back, slowly working our way to 50 feet depth, then 40 feet then 30 feet. Once at 30 feet we start keeping an eye out for our markers. Almost every dive, I have to tell myself “Just a bit further” as I think we should come to the markers earlier than we do. And just a bit further along we do find them.
Once at the marker, Murray takes out the compass and we follow the reverse compass direction into shore. We usually are within spitting distance of where we should be. It’s a pretty good system and works well for us and allows us to dive where most people won’t.
The hardest part of the dive for me is getting out of the water. We have been horizontal for just over an hour so standing on wobbly legs is okay but now we are getting battered by waves and walking on uneven rocks and sand with 30 lbs on our backs. We both have had spills in the surf but have managed to right ourselves and get onto land. One of our first dives I ended up turtling myself, laying in the surf on my back on my tank with my arms and legs helplessly up in the air. Needless to say, Murray had to come rescue me.
Once back at the truck, we take our dive gear apart and take off our wetsuits, stow everything, grab a snack and a drink and head to the next dive site. Such is life on Bonaire.
The are a number of types of moray eels in the Caribbean. On this trip we have seen one huge Green Moray (sorry, no photo) and a few Spotted Moray. They like to hide in holes during the day with only their head sticking out. Some eels will hunt during the day and we have come across them out of their holes.
Their mouths are usually open as that is how they breathe. They pass water through their mouths past their gills. They look intimidating and ready to bite! Eels have two jaws with teeth on both, so you definitely do not want to get bitten!
The flounder is the fish that evolution has left behind. One look at it laying in the sand or on a coral head, with its eyes on top of its body, and you would agree with me. An odd looking fish, but a pretty pattern on the body.
Apparently, the juveniles have eyes on both sides of their body and swim upright and as they mature into adults, the right eye creeps toward the left and they lay down to swim. They are great at camouflage and their eyes move independently which helps them hunt.