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It’s just another idyllic day in paradise on Bonaire…….or is it?

It certainly seems to be another perfect day to nearly everyone on Bonaire. But in a small corner on the southeastern edge of the island, an insidious battle is being waged.

It is here, at Lac Bay, with vacationing windsurfers skimming across the waters just a short distance away, that a David versus Goliath battle is taking place. It is here that Bonaire is fighting Sargassum.

An extraordinary explosion of Sargassum seaweed arrived last week on Bonaire’s windy, southeastern coastline. Although it is normal at this time of year to see some of this brown alga showing up on Bonaire’s windward shores, this year the arriving seaweed on the east coast has been unprecedented and extraordinarily heavy.

STINAPA has accepted the challenge to wage war against the Sargassum.

All is back to normal for visitors to Lac Bay.

For a week now, nearly the entire staff of STINAPA, working side-by-side with Bonaire’s Lt. Governor and a corps of hundreds of volunteers–including a team from the U.S. Coast Guard–has been painstakingly cleaning the affected areas and slowly Bonaire is winning the battle, as the areas of Lac used by visitors have been cleaned and are being maintained. For visitors, all is back to normal around the island.

The mangroves are still in need of assistance.

However, for the flora and fauna who find their livings in Bonaire’s mangrove eco-system, all is not back to normal. The thick mat of Sargassum causes multiple problems for many sea creatures as well as the mangrove trees themselves. Due to sustained, blustery high winds coming from the east, the seaweed has been pushed further inland into bays and coves. As it starts to decompose, it depletes oxygen in the water, effectively suffocating any sea creatures in the area. The treacherous tangling of the weed into the roots of the mangroves causes stress to these important trees, the island’s first line of sea defense. Of course, the mangrove’s roots are also hosting many juvenile fish and invertebrates from Bonaire’s reefs, so the lack of oxygen in the water harms them as well, and the trees themselves are already showing signs of stress.

Seaweed removal continues in the back mangroves of Lac and Lagun.

It is here, in the back mangroves of Lac, that many are raking in the seaweed by hand. Others utilize hastily-crafted nets to corral the seaweed and push it to the shoreline where it is then pulled ashore by trucks, loaded into dumpsters, and taken away. The process is tedious, relentless, and backbreaking, but these hardy crew and volunteers keep at it hour after hour, day after day.

More STINAPA staff are at Lagun, another bay on Bonaire’s east coast, where the seagrass has accumulated in the mangroves. Luckily there is better access to heavy equipment at Lagun so this cleanup progresses a bit more easily. However, pulling the seaweed out of the mangroves cannot be accomplished with heavy machinery, so the crew will visit there next to continue their efforts by hand.

Removing seaweed from the area of the mangroves is a labor-intensive job.
Teams push the sargassum ashore for removal.

Costs of such a massive cleanup effort, for a small island with a limited population, are exceptionally high.

The cost of this cleanup is unbelievably high. Many of Bonaire’s private sector companies have volunteered their staff, their time, and their equipment to the cause, but it is not enough. STINAPA is bearing the brunt of the cleanup, both in actual costs and manpower. The STINAPA crew, working continuously for the past week, is exhausted, but yet they persevere. They are a tenacious bunch! And yes, volunteers who are not afraid of a good day’s hard work are still welcome to assist.

You can help with a financial donation to STINAPA.

The time has come to ask once again for assistance, but this time the request is for financial assistance.  If you have enjoyed Bonaire’s nature on past visits, or simply love the island as your “home away from home,” please consider making a donation, if you are able, to this very worthy cause. $50 or $100 can go a long way, but truly no amount is too small, and STINAPA will welcome any donation that you can give. I guarantee you will experience positive and heart-warming feelings knowing you helped the very nature that visitors come to see.

How can I donate?

Donations can be made in two ways.

  • Donations can be made by direct deposit into the STINAPA bank account on Bonaire.  When making a deposit, please mention “Sargassum Donation.”  The bank is Maduro & Curiel’s Bank (Bonaire), their Swift code is MCBKBQBN, and STINAPA’s account number is 86842000.
  • Or, make a donation online via the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance’s donation gateway.  Be sure to select or click on “STINAPA BONAIRE.”

Thank you from Bonaire!

To all who can donate, a heartfelt thank you from all of us on Bonaire, along with our plants and animals which are in need right now. And the next time you are on Bonaire and you happen to come upon a STINAPA ranger or other staff from this fine nature protection foundation, be sure to tell them, “Masha danki” (thank you very much in Papiamentu) for all they do to preserve Bonaire’s natural world, so that visitors just like you can continue to enjoy the island’s natural beauty for many, many years.

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Susan Davis, Bonaire InsiderSusan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a PADI Master Instructor, a certified bird guide, and an underwater and topside photographer. She also enjoys writing for The Bonaire Insider tourism news blog. 

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