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  1. #11
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    Ahhhhh the good Ol' Brit humour really making me chuckle, thanks again Nicnac.

    Live blogging at its best.
    PRA & ET Inc
    Proof Readers Anonymous & Extreme Testers

  2. #12
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    Day 4: Not my circus, not my monkeys

    Think my body clock might finally be resetting! Today I awoke at 6.30am rather than 4.30am, and as I type this it is now 11pm and I’m still conscious!

    Today began with the aforementioned lionfish training. This phrase amused me, as I had visions of dozens of lionfish being trained to fetch, beg and roll over, rather than me being taught the most effective way to plunge a trident through their innards. In a group of six, we were each given an ELF (Eliminate Lion Fish) tool, especially designed for catching lionfish as it causes less collateral damage to the reef than traditional spear guns. It’s a long steel rod with a spring loading mechanism on one end that enables it to be drawn and set to fire, with a shaped piece of wire that acts as a trigger and causes the rod to shoot forward when pressed. The screw-on tip is a small, but wickedly sharp trident. Sensibly, we were given the blunt version to play with initially.

    Our instructor par excellence, Menno, taught us how to draw our weapon and fire it in the Goodive car park. I only needed to trap my hand once in the heavily loaded spring to learn to take more care. I was given the girly version at first, as it requires quite a draw, but after some practice I concluded I could handle some more load, which Menno was happy to arrange. It does cause quite a strain after repeated use, though, and I can now feel the after effects in my bicep and shoulder. We then talked about placing the fish in the containment unit and I learnt that they generally aren’t dead at that point. I wasn’t so happy about that, as I hated the idea of them suffocating to death on the boat. Menno made a good point, though, which was that if it’s a choice between the reef being decimated, him being stabbed by a venomous spine (agony for several hours) or the fish suffering, he’s gonna go for the latter. After some inward deliberation, I accepted this.

    Then we trooped off to the Something Special dive site, Gooodive’s house reef, and practised what we had learnt on our own individual plastic bottles in just a few metres of water. At this stage we were still using blunts. I did pretty well, hitting more times than missing, but got distracted by a couple of tarpon who came over to have a nosey and was chastised for my lack of attention. We then moved in a circle around all the bottles in turn and practiced approaching, establishing buoyancy and hovering over each, then shooting. When we had mastered that, Menno screwed on the trident, the sharp end of the spears, and took us each off individually. Our test was to ‘kill’ a bottle and then pass it to Menno to place in the containment unit. We all passed with flying colours.

    I’d asked on Facebook the number of lionfish that my friends thought I would a) attempt to kill and b) actually kill. Responses weren’t encouraging overall. Patrick thought a) 25 and b) 0 and Graham said a) many and b) none. Kim had rather more faith in me with an estimate of a) 3 and b) 3, but my own dear sister said a) 20 and b) 0. Cheers, sis.

    After a break for lunch, we hopped onto Me Jadato, Gooodive’s gorgeous boat, and headed out to Klein Bonaire, the small island to the west of the main island of Bonaire. Being back on Me Jadato was just lovely, and I enjoyed the sun and seaspray. It’s a great boat to dive from, with plenty of elbow room to kit up, and there is even an onboard fresh water shower to rinse off the salt afterwards. The first site was Sharon’s Serenity, reported to be lousy with lionfish the previous day. I travelled in a group of three, with Menno supervising, spaced two metres apart over the reef. Lionfish are generally to be found pretty deep, so we swam at 30m, 28m and 26m. I say generally because we didn’t spot any! Gordon, the DM on Me Jadato, made me laugh by saying “That’s why it’s called fishing, not catching.” Clearly this was a bit of an anti-climax after our minutes of careful training, but it did serve to make me realise that hunting changes the way I dive in two ways: 1) I noted that the coral was pretty, but couldn’t tell you what creatures were there as I didn’t ‘see’ them – my brain was so busy looking for lionfish that it just didn’t compute anything else. 2) I sucked air like a hoover – a full tank only lasted 35 mins! Granted a large chunk of that was spent at 26m, but still…

    The surface period was interesting, as I learnt all about what actually happens when stabbed by a lionfish by listening to Gordon and another guy swap stories about What Happened to Them. Basically the upshot is agony for several hours and potentially massive swelling of the affected limb, depending on one’s reaction. Warm water denatures the venom and apparently helps a little with the pain. Gordon was stabbed in the thumb, which was numb for four months, and then went black and necrotic and the skin sloughed off. After this delightfully enlightening conversation ended, we moved between sites and I amused myself by tossing pieces of dive biscuits high into the air to gulls following in the wake. They caught them on the wing nine times out of ten, pretty impressive.

    The second dive was also on Klein Bonaire and was a drift between Ebo’s and Jerry’s. We dived in a triumvirate again, this time with Gordon supervising as Menno was driving the unmoored boat. Again we covered 6m of reef, but shallower this time, ranging from 14m to 20m. This time I saw lionfish, including an absolutely huge monster, but they were deep in the coral and there was no way at all of getting a clear shot. The main instruction I took away from Menno’s training, apart from don’t stab yourself, was that the purpose of lionfish hunting is to help the reef, and it doesn’t help the reef if we’re trashing the coral. The rule was that if taking the shot meant damaging the reef, don’t take it, so my spear remained unblooded. The other two each took a shot, but one missed and the other scored a partial hit, but lost the fish. Again with the not noticing anything else, this is normally a dive on which it is good to see turtles, but an entire bale* could have done the conga past us whilst singing the Star Spangled Banner and it wouldn’t have registered because I was so focused on finding pests.

    So, of the guesses put forward by my Facebook friends, it turned out Richard was closest with a guess of a) 4 and b) 0. I announced he was the winner, and he enquired what he had won. I said “I'll name the first lionfish I shoot after you, Richard, and will praise you for your firm, delicious, lightly seared flesh.” He liked the comment, so presumably that was an adequate prize.

    We arrived back at the pier at 5.45 pm, which left just enough time for a quick proper shower and change of clothing back at the ranch before heading back into town to meet with my lovely friend Elisabetta, formerly the second most normal dive instructor on Bonaire, and now the first most normal yoga instructor on Bonaire, and her enormously talented husband, Lorenzo. He takes amazing photos of underwater Bonaire, and his work has been on the cover of the Smithsonian and National Geographic, and featured in an exhibit in the Louvre. Check out http://lorenzomittiga.com/. There were big hugs and much squealing, then we settled down to drink Mojitos at Bistro de Paris and catch up on island gossip. Last time I was on the island I taught Elisabetta key British exclamations of surprise such as ‘blimey’ and ‘crikey’ (which she accompanied by throwing her hands in the air in a distinctly Italian fashion) and how to subtly insult people (“Excellent is not the word!”). This time our cultural exchange continued with new phrases: “Not my circus, not my monkeys” and “A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds.” It was a lovely evening and we hope to catch up again later in the week. Next week I’m looking forward to being taught some yoga by her on an amazing clifftop spot overlooking the sea.

    Tomorrow is a boat trip to Washington Slagbaai, and another chance to hunt. Maybe we’ll have more luck.

    *Collective noun for turtles, according to OED.

  3. #13
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    Very entertaining. Looking forward to day 5!

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkyQueen View Post
    Very entertaining. Looking forward to day 5!
    Thanks, SkyQueen. Here it is!

    Day 5: Gonna eat ya, little fishy

    So much for my body clock resetting! I suppose it seems to have moved a whole hour further forward as I awoke at 5.30am today, but that wasn’t a great deal of sleep since I hadn’t gone to bed until midnight. Anyway, it meant I was up bright and early for the 9am boat trip to Washington Slagbaai, Bonaire’s National Park. There were five hunters aboard, not including El Capitan Menno and second-in-command Gordon, plus one last minute diver. It takes a good hour of travelling north along the coast to reach the dive sites at the park, which is absolutely no hardship at all above Me Jadato. I spent the journey to and fro watching flying fish skimming seemingly impossible distances over the waves, keeping an eye out for dolphins and chatting to Gordon about the multi-million $$ houses lining the seafront, which was for sale, which he would buy if he could, which I would buy if I could, which were a waste of money, etc.

    The first dive was Boca Bartol, all the way at the top of the island. This had to be a drift dive, as there is no buoy on which to moor the boat, so Gordon accompanied and El Capitan stayed aboard to drive. The waves were perhaps a little choppy, but nothing at all compared to how they can be at this end of the island. We all entered via giant stride and descended as a group. Menno had said to look out for rays in the sand before the drop off and sure enough we disturbed an eagle ray that glided away into the distance across the reef before we could get close.

    As we approached the drop off, a massive school of moved in front of us and we paused for a moment to appreciate the beauty of their movements in synch. As we descended to lionfish territory, I saw a big green moray under a bommie. I remember there was a dearth of greens a few years ago, so good to see them coming back. We meandered along to the reef at different heights, with Gordon supervising, I stuck to around 25m again give or take. I peered under ledges and spied into crevices on bommies to try to spot a set of black ‘sails’, but didn’t see anything at all for the first twenty minutes or so, so it came as a bit of a shock when I located my first lionfish, and I actually jumped a little.

    It was pretty big and tucked nicely away in a shallow niche, with sand behind so I didn’t have to worry about damaging any coral. I hovered, moving the ELF slowly closer, slowly closer. My target moved a little, stirred, then settled. I aimed for the optimum insertion point, just behind the head, and pressed the trigger. SNAP! The points of the trident sank into the flesh and the whole body was violently driven sideways into the sand. It twitched a little, but remained still until I tried to follow Menno's instructions to turn it belly up. Then it started struggling, and I was surprised by its strength. I managed to keep it pinned down until Gordon came to rescue me and put it into the keeper. I didn’t see any more on that dive, but the group managed to catch eight between us, including some tiddlers. Again, it wasn’t a long dive as I sucked my tank down in around 35 mins once more, as did everyone else.

    I haven't yet rationalised my feelings about my first kill. Objectively I recognise it is horrifically awful to have a sharp trident speared into your side, pinning you to the ground, then be shoved into a glorified length of pipe to slowly suffocate once above water. Yet, subjectively, I found I didn't give a toss, even when the lionfish was struggling on the points of the weapon. I’m not sure why this is and it bothers me, as I expected to be repulsed by it. Equally well, I didn’t particularly enjoy it and wouldn’t do it for kicks if it didn’t help the reef. I think this needs further consideration.

    Once aboard, Gordon emptied out the keeper and did a master class in how to make safe and fillet a lionfish, throwing the scraps into the ocean. He didn’t pop the swim bladder on one, and a head floated away and was snatched by a triumphant bird. Menno then very carefully took a spine, took it to the edge of the boat, then stripped the skin off and washed it in the sea. Once it was safe, he showed us the groove that runs along it that delivers the venom straight into the puncture. The spines are perfectly designed to cause maximum damage to predators. I pondered this from the viewpoint of evolution – why would a lionfish develop spines and venom as protection and, say, a parrotfish not? Maybe it’s because the lionfish mode of operation is to remain still, whereas other fish move around and have another way of avoiding their predators?

    After filleting class finished, we moved between dive sites and were again followed by a hopeful gull, although in the singular this time. It was particularly crap at catching the treats we threw and dropped the one piece of biscuit it did catch. If Darwin has anything to say about it, this gull and its offspring are toast.

    The next dive was Wayaka, with Menno supervising and Gordon driving as it was another drift. There was virtually no current. I was entranced by two filefish dancing around and around each other in a circle, rising and falling high above the reef in the blue, presumably either mating or fighting. I find it is often tricky to tell the difference in most species. It was yet another day in paradise on yet another beautiful dive, but to save you the suspense only one lionfish was caught by a trainee hunter (not me), and Menno caught one too. There were far fewer spotted than at the previous site, I didn't see any at all other than a tiny tiddler. I pinned it by its tail feathers, but it got away to live another day and gulp down small fry by the dozen. Bah. We shared out the catch at the end of the trip, and we came away with a couple of good fillets that went straight into the freezer, ready for a BBQ at the weekend.

    Back at the ranch, I snoozed in my hammock once again, cwtched up in a fleece blankie whilst the wind rocked me gently, and it really was just lovely. I had to really force myself to roll out to grab a shower and go to the STCB (Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire) presentation, which I have always managed to miss previously. It was very informative and I Iearned the sure fire ways to tell the difference between green turtles, hawksbills and loggerheads, the three most common visitors to Bonaire. They also told us about the shocking mortality rate of baby turtles: only one in a thousand survive to adulthood. They passed around two tiny little guys who didn’t make it, preserved in formaldehyde, and I really didn't want my first sight of tiny baby turtles to be seeing them pickled in jars, so I didn’t look.

    I also learnt male loggerhead turtles are v randy and have a habit of giving it a go on female divers. With my new-found crack identification skills, I decided the one I saw at Nukove earlier this week was a male loggerhead, so I didn't know whether to be offended or relieved he passed me by. We also discussed why the volunteers for turtle conservation are mostly middle class white Europeans and Americans rather than locals. The presenter said locals are given plenty of opportunities to get involved, and he doesn't know why they don't. Taking a stab, I'd say locals are too busy with the day to day grind of survival to get involved and cannot spare the time and energy. Volunteering is often the preserve of the retired and well paid.

    After the presentation concluded, the audience had the opportunity to buy turtle merchandise, and I bought a Fidel Castro style cap in khaki with the STCB logo on it. It’s really neat because each cap has the ID number of a tagged turtle on a metal tag on the side, and buyers can check out ‘their’ turtle on the STCB website. ‘My’ turtle is ID number BX 1254, a hawksbill who was tagged at Punt Vierkant on 28 February 2002, weighing 8.1 kilos. There was a photo of a rather unhappy turtle being tagged. I hope s/he’s still out there having fun somewhere.

    Having survived on dive snacks all day, as per usual, I was starving. We’d had a vague plan to go to Pasa Bon Pizza, but switched when we saw Mona Lisa was open again after the owners had been on holiday. I chose the set menu of tuna sashimi, followed by filet mignon in cognac sauce (I told them to hold the foie gras) and then mango cheesecake. The steak was delicious, and cooked rare as ordered, but was so tiny! The tuna sashimi was v delicious, smokey sesame seed & soy marinade with spring onion & wasabi. I washed it all down with a couple of V&Ts. It’s a tough life.

  5. #15
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    OMG, did the most amazing thing this morning! You're going to have to wait until I write up Day 7 to find out what it was, though There will be photos.

  6. #16
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    Very enjoyable, love it. By the way Lionfish is an aphrodisiac.
    And Jerry said, Keep it light, Keep it friendly. Post Like Jerry.

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by nicnac View Post
    OMG, did the most amazing thing this morning! You're going to have to wait until I write up Day 7 to find out what it was, though There will be photos.
    What a nice news tease!! Thanks for the entertainment! We are at Habitat next week! Have the water temps remained in the 27-28 C range? Is the viz still around 20 meters?

  8. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimw View Post
    What a nice news tease!! Thanks for the entertainment! We are at Habitat next week! Have the water temps remained in the 27-28 C range? Is the viz still around 20 meters?
    Water temps have been pretty consistent around that, jimw, and viz has improved a little on occasion to 25-30m

    Day 6: Three turtle Thursday

    Thursday was a late start so we could catch up on holiday ‘chores’ such as completing dive logs (a labour of love), putting away clean laundry and sundry other stuff. After sailing very close to the wind with our no-deco limits at the second reef earlier in the week, and what with lionfish hunting taking us deeper than our average dive profile, we figured it was about time we finally made the leap to Nitrox. Gordon at Gooodive gave us a thorough overview and said that even if it’s not a deep dive, one still surfaces having absorbed a third less nitrogen, and that can only be a good thing. He gave us our study books, cautioning that although they’re slim, they’re all meat and everything in there needs to be absorbed and recalled. Clearly this will involve firing up some neurons that had thought they were safe until my MSc study resumes next month, after the summer break.

    We finally made it to our first dive site just after lunch, and this time successfully found La Dania's Leap again. We hoofed all the gear out of the truck and Jim drove it over to Karpata whilst I crouched in the very inadequate shade of a thorn tree, watched intently by a lizard just in case I decided to have snack and was willing to share. We kitted up there and then, and picked our way over the lava to the edge of the cliff. Surf was up and the waves were pretty choppy and rolling in very close together, so it was tricky to time the jump so that the receding wave drew us away from the cliff rather than dashing us against it. It was a close call as to whether we went for it, but then we decided to make the leap anyway simply because we couldn't be arsed to lug all the stuff back up and collect the truck. Laziness might sometimes keep you in your comfort zone, but occasionally it pushes you out of it. It did help that we’d done it a few times before.

    I chose my entrance point from the cliff and, what with being clumsy and all, sat down to put my fins on as I really didn’t want to take an unscheduled header into the water. Reg in, hand holding mask onto my face, BCD inflated, I teetered on the edge, trying to time the waves as best I could whilst not slipping over, then looked at the horizon and took a giant stride out over the edge. There was a brief moment of the clouds whirling, then blue and streaming vertical bubbles as I hit the water and submerged. Thanks to my inflated BCD, I popped up like a cork, made the ‘diver OK in the water’ sign and immediately flipped onto my back and finned away from the cliffs to hang onto the buoy rope to await Jim, who was psyching himself up on the same exit point, then cursed myself for leaving him with the camera so I couldn’t take a photo of him making the leap. He also made a successful entry, although I had to wait ‘til we were both on the crest of a wave to see him.

    We descended from the buoy to escape the swell and began the drift round to Karpata. This is a stunning dive, with a very steep wall drop off at the beginning that gradually becomes more of a slope and culminates in a large sandy plateau that is great fun to noodle around during the safety stop. Fantastic coral diversity gives a fantastical topography. Vis was good initially, I’d say 25-30m with very little sediment, but became slightly worse the further we drifted. We travelled along around 20m for the majority of the time, the sun was again intermittent and made such a difference when it came out, just lighting up the reef. We didn’t see anything remarkable during the majority of the dive, although we were amused by a porcupine fish that hung out on the drop off and followed our route, keeping an eye on our buoyancy and appraising our finning technique. As we weren’t hunting (lionfish can only be hunted on a guided dive) we naturally expected to see dozens of them littering the reef, but I didn’t spot any at all (which obvs doesn’t mean they weren’t there).

    We were nearing the end of the dive 40 mins later and had risen to 10m to begin to ascend to the plateau when Jim spotted a green turtle chilling under a bush, which was very patient with my photography. I was just moving away to leave him/her to enjoy a siesta when a couple of feet beneath I spotted a chunky green moray, with quite some girth. This was a lovely end to the dive, and as a bonus I managed to exit at Karpata without tripping over any rocks.

    Surface time was taken up with studying the Nitrox book, until I hit the part about dive physics and my brain said “FFS! You promised me a holiday!” and insisted that my body put the book down to take some photos of a very fine iguana who came to visit. I soon spotted two more, and made a note to self to bring fruit next time as an iguana tribute.

    At the STCB presentation they’d mentioned turtles frequently hang out on the large sandy plateau at Karpata. I was determined to see some more, so we did a very shallow second dive, at a max depth of 6.7m. We were rewarded, as we saw two greens. The first was very small and young, and in ‘flight’ slowly cruising around in circles. I finned alongside at a distance of a few metres for a while, admiring the effortless grace, before leaving him/her to travel on. I spotted the second heading up to the surface to take a breath, then he/she descended back to the plateau before heading over the drop off. This one had a back flipper missing, but it didn’t seem to affect swimming technique. The dive lasted forever because we stayed so shallow, so we did an hour and 25 mins of noodling before deciding we were cold. The waves had calmed down by the time we stumbled out again across the rough underwater terrain and I sat for a while on the concrete pad, watching tiny crabs hop from rock to rock whilst the swell rolled lazily and the setting sun slanted across the breakers. It was so peaceful and beautiful I could have stayed forever. For some reason I recalled a (gorgeous) Lana Del Ray song and thought, yep, this is my idea of fun, not video games.

    Kirty was cooking at Gooodresort that evening, so we dined on tender goat stew with the most delicious flatbread. She’d brought her young son along who was terminally bored until I fished out Uno, then things became very competitive, with him punching the air every time he won and groaning tragically every time he had to perform a multiple pick up. I drank chilled white wine, he ate chocolate and we had a grand time. I gifted him with the set so he could take it back to play with his friends.

    Before they left, I had a hilarious language misunderstanding with Kirty when I was applying some bug spray:

    K: “Do you have something against mosquitoes?”

    N: “Err... Yes. They bite?”

    K: “Yes. They bite my son.”

    N: “Yes.”

    *We stared at each other blankly. Time passed.*

    K: “So you have something to stop it?”

    N: “Ahhh, I see! Yes, here, help yourself.”

    After Kirty and son left, it was time to apply makeup for this first time since arriving on the island, and even wear something that wasn’t bathers, a sarong and a vest top! Ankie, Jim and I set out to go to Cuba Compagnie for their Salsa night, arriving around 10.30. There was a scattering of people present when we arrived, and a lovely chilled out atmosphere, with a couple of people dancing, and a few sat chatting and drinking Cuba Libres. We walked through the dancefloor from the main plaza and snagged ourselves a table with a comfy bench full of cushions, and Ankie and I drank Mojitos and set the world to rights. We’d arranged to meet up with Tom, a guy from the lionfish course, and he arrived shortly afterwards, which was nice as we’d originally had a loose arrangement to meet up for beer and pizza the night before that didn’t work out because of poor timing of emails. We had a really good chat and drooled over his diving exploits including Ningaloo and Sipidan, prior to accommodation being banned on the island. He’s a very funny guy and we liked him a lot. Unfortunately he’s a lawyer. It seems like everyone I have met socially this trip has been a lawyer, which is a tad awkward when I tell them what I do (deal with complaints against lawyers).

    The club filled up rapidly with local guys and gals dressed in their best, the music turned steamier, the volume and temperature rose by several degrees and our area became pretty rammed with swaying bodies. Tom headed off at midnight as he had three boat dives booked the next day (divers are such party poopers) and we left at 1am because Ankie had to be up at 6am to run the resort and Jim and I had something pretty special planned for 7am. The place was really kicking, and I didn’t want to leave, but I figured the sacrifice would be worth it. I wasn’t wrong, but that will need to wait until the next instalment.

  9. #19
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    Day 7: Turtletastic Friday

    So, clearly, when one is due to arise early to join STCB on their patrol of a hot beach on a deserted island, the thing to do is drink mojitos at salsa night at Cuba Compagnie til 1am.

    Oh, I could hide 'neath the wings
    Of the bluebird as she sings.
    The six o'clock alarm would never ring.
    But it rings and I rise,
    Wipe the sleep out of my eyes
    (Just as well that I have no need to shave)

    We met with three other enthusiasts and three research students at 7am outside Bistro de Paris, plus Janni and Hans, the trip leaders, then hopped onto a boat for the ride over to Klein Bonaire. It passed in a flash as were briefed by Cosette, an intern studying marine science, on the plan for the morning. Basically we were to walk the length of the leeward side of the island and look for turtle tracks in the sand, both from adults coming ashore overnight to lay nests and from hatchlings leaving the nest to stream down to the water. The patrol takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and its purpose is firstly to identify and monitor nests, both for protection and research, and secondly to open up those that had hatched to check for any stragglers and to count numbers of egg sacs etc. Two nests were due to hatch, so we were told there was a good chance we may get lucky. I was very excited at the possibility of seeing baby turtles.

    When we jumped off the boat onto the sand in front of the only two shelters on the island, Janni demonstrated what turtle tracks look like and how to spot whether a nest has hatched (basically a round depression in the sand). We walked to the right of the beach first, staying behind Janni and Hans, peering at marks in the sand. Janni pointed out crab tracks (of which there were many) and how they differ from those made by hatchlings. There were posts every 50m used by STCB to mark the location of nests and each nest has a stick next to it with a ribbon marked with its ID. There was nothing remarkable on that stretch of the beach, so we walked back to the shelters and then headed out to the left. The sun was hot already, but there was a strong breeze and we were warned to wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat, and I constantly chugged water so felt largely OK, despite the Mojitos.

    We chatted as we walked, Janni and Hans occasionally pausing to examine marks in the sand, and I discovered an average clutch is 100-150 eggs, and each female turtle will lay four times during a nesting season, once every fortnight. Hawksbill turtles lay their eggs right back under the bushes, which must take a huge effort to reach over a reasonably steep beach and piles of coral rubble. Loggerheads lay theirs closer to the beach. Habitat is so important, as turtles return to the beach on which they were born and if they can’t lay there they just dump their eggs in the water and they are lost.

    Even if the mother turtle successfully lays a nest, and it is not discovered by predators or damaged by humans, there are lots of hazards for hatchlings, as they run the gamut of birds, big fish, boats etc. The greatest danger point is between nest and the reef; once they make it through the turquoise shallows into the deeper blue, they have a higher chance of survival as they’re harder to spot. One of the students was researching the effects of climate change, and she explained temperature drives whether hatchlings become male or female, and current estimates indicate 90% of turtles now born are female as a result of temps rising. The other PhD student was researching genetics and was there to harvest samples of DNA from dead and stillborn hatchlings to establish a genetic fingerprint for the area where they had hatched. This could be used in future to work out whether the younglings in Lac Bay were born on the island, and to look at genetic diversity. Like kittens, turtles can also have more than one father per clutch, typically two to three.

    The terrain of the beach changed from stereotypical Caribbean white sand to loose dead coral rubble and rocks, so I was glad I’d worn my dive boots as suggested. We reached the first nest and there was much jubilation because there was a depression in the sand, showing it had hatched overnight. Hatchlings always wait until night falls and the sand cools above them before they leave. Janni and Hans showed us where to walk safely to reach the nest and we sat in a loose circle on the sand whilst they removed handfuls and carefully sifted through it. After a few scoops, the tiniest head poked out and the tip of a front flipper emerged. My first real life sighting of a baby turtle! We waited for it to free itself, but it didn’t and further exploration revealed it was trapped under a root. This is a frequent occurrence and, hatchlings would die if they weren’t freed by STCB volunteers.




    Janni gently lifted the tiny little form from the nest pit and I saw that it was even smaller than her palm, but was wriggling and full of life. It was followed shortly by a second, then the researchers measured their carapaces and they were placed in a bucket whilst the rest of the nest was emptied. Apparently it was a great nest, very few unfertilised eggs and only a couple of dead hatchlings (v sad!). Eggs sacs were counted, data recorded and I was given the honour of keeping the ribbon that had marked the nest. Then Janni carefully carried the bucket to the sand and checked for boats, gulls etc. and slid the hatchlings out onto the sand. They immediately began shuffling and slithering their way towards the sea in short bursts, and we cheered them on their way. They made it to the water’s edge and were picked up by the surf, then whizzed back and forth once or twice, flippers paddling madly, before gaining deeper water and traction. We watched them anxiously as they made their way across the turquoise stretch, tiny bodies so incredibly small, their heads occasionally popping up for air. We lost sight of them as they entered the deeper blue and there was a huge collective sigh of relief.

    After the STCB staff and researchers had packed away their gear, we trudged on up the beach, walking for a couple of kilometres in total. The going became harder with slippery rocks, more rubble and even less sand. Two of my fellow tourists had a tough time barefoot. I chugged more water, reflecting that the last Mojito is generally a bad idea, but then I forgot all that as Janni and Hans checked a second nest and we were so lucky again! This next was way back from the beach, conveniently located under a very thorny bush, which somewhat bizarrely had a hermit crab perched on a branch. The circular depression was easy to see and again Janni and Hans settled down to excavate the sand with the researchers poised with baited breath.

    This time the first tiny head popped up after the second scoop of sand was removed, followed by another… and another… and another. The climate change research student diligently measured and recorded size and each was placed safely while the rest of the nest was excavated, and they just kept coming. In total, 66 live hatchlings were removed and I asked why there were so many. Cosette explained that because the sand is so heavy, all the hatchlings must push up together, and sometimes a few are left behind and can’t make the rise by themselves. In this case it is likely there was more than one exit ‘wave’ of hatchlings and this group were waiting until the following night to leave the nest.

    All 66 were again safely conveyed in the bucket to the beach by Janni and once again we checked for boats and birds, but the coast was clear and they were poured onto the sand to begin their journey. Some travelled with a clear sense of determination, but others were more comical. One went the wrong way, shuffling parallel to the sea and crawled as far as Hans’ feet before turning towards the water’s edge. Another climbed over a small rock rather than going around it, slid off and landed on its back, flippers waving, so I gently flipped it over to continue onwards. The forerunners reached the water, were picked up by the foam, and began whizzing back and forth again to the rhythm of the waves before gaining traction. Overall, it took several minutes for all hatchlings to be on their way and they safely reached the deep blue without aerial attack or issues with boats, which meant high fives all round.






    It was a long walk back to the shelter area, but everyone was grinning and there was a carnival atmosphere with whoops and cheers. Hans brought the boat back to shore, we swarmed over the stern and enjoyed a splashy ride back to the marina. It was an amazing experience, not especially cheap at $40 pp, but the money goes to support STCB and the good work they do. I think it was worth every cent and I highly recommend it to other visitors.

    The next event of the day was a trip to Van Den Tweel, where they actually had fresh fruit and veg because the ship had arrived! I’d had a conversation with Menno aboard Me Jadato earlier in the week about how shopping on Bonaire differs from the UK. In England I go to a supermarket with a list of food items I would like to buy. On the island I go with a list of meals I need to cover and choose from the items available. Menno agreed and said we also cannot take time to consider whether or not to pick something up, as it will be gone when you turn around again. Elisabetta clued me in that Friday afternoon is the best time to shop, increasing my Bonaire-fu once again, and she was absolutely right, the car park was rammed. There were even strawberries! I had a delicious smoothie to celebrate, freshly made at the store and only $3.

    We ran out of energy around then. Everyone else at the resort was out for the day, so we spent the afternoon sunbathing and reading, or sleeping in a hammock in Jim’s case. I babysat Willem, an Italian Water Dog who is only 1 year old and still a puppy. He loves jumping into the pool and playing with the water jets. I joined him and he swam to me in the deep end and jumped into my arms, so I floated around the pool with him in a sort of fireman’s lift, with his front legs wrapped around my neck – too cute. After that, I also fell asleep on a sunlounger and was in the shade when I awoke, luckily well covered with sun protection. We didn’t feel like doing much that evening, so it was Pasa Bon Pizza and Gone Girl on the laptop, with an early night to make up for the lack of sleep and early start.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  10. #20
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    NJ USA and Bonaire
    Posts
    38

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    Thanks for sharing your experience and photos. Very inspiring. Kudos to you and STCB!

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