Tonight I’m sitting at the water’s edge at Eden Beach, with the surf lapping almost to my feet.
While I stayed at home the last few nights, I decided that I needed to get back to the seashore and enjoy this amazing scene of waves and stars a few more times before returning home to Canada on Saturday. Eden Beach will also be the spot for my last dive before the 24-hour ban on diving prior to flying.
Monday morning we got up and ready in good time, and drove to Lac Bay to the Mangrove Information Centre. It was interesting to visit a completely new area, that while it existed, had never been explored when we used to live on Bonaire. Mangrove kayaking is yet another example of an ecotourism business doing well on Bonaire.
Arriving at 8:30, we were met by Luuk, a Dutchman who looked a bit like a rough and ready backpacker. When he asked us what language we preferred, we said, “You pick. We speak Dutch and English.” However, another couple was from Norway, so the tour was done in English. Nonetheless, they appreciated being able to revert to Dutch periodically.
While the price was $46 each for a two-hour kayak and snorkel, we both felt it was well worth it. The tour started inside the building, with an extensive lecture on the role the mangroves play in the eco system. Behind Luuk was a 3-D painting of the underwater inhabitants of the mangroves. Basically, the black mangrove tree roots have the ability to filter out salt, and only allow fresh water inside the root. The red mangrove takes the salt water up the root, and then excretes the salt under the leaves of the tree. This allows the mangrove trees to flourish in salt water.
One of the main benefits of the mangrove swamp areas is that they are a nursery for much of the reef life that lives in the ocean beyond Lac Bay.
After the introduction, we walked out to the edge of the mangroves where he showed us how to paddle the kayaks. What I hadn’t realized is that while you are pulling with one arm, the other arm is pushing outwards in kind of a lever effect, which increases your efficiency.
He also made the point of telling us that Queen Beatrix from Holland had visited the Mangrove Centre, and went for a tour in the electric boat. Everyone that I spoke to who was involved with the queen seemed very proud of that fact.
The first thing Luuk did was to bend down in the water and pick up what looked like a dead leaf. These “leaves” seemed to be scattered all over the bottom. In fact, it was an upside-down jellyfish! They are so named because the stingers are on the top, with the part of the fish that does the swimming underneath. They looked like frilly pancakes. We had to take great care where we were walking.
He showed us how to get into the kayak, and told us not to bring our flippers. Flippers are illegal in the mangroves, as you tend to kick the plants and sponges, and damage them.
We proceeded out through a little tunnel underneath the mangroves into the open water. Stopping again, he gave us a lecture on the flowers and nuts of the mangrove. His sense of humour was really enjoyable.
We went around a corner and through another tunnel that had been chopped through the mangroves, and had to do a kind of limbo dance by leaning back in the kayak and pulling ourselves forward with our arms on the branches. Crossing a small lake, we entered another area where we were to get out and snorkel. He was careful to instruct us that once we entered the mangrove area, we were not touch bottom in order not to disturb the wildlife. He also said not to touch the mangrove roots as there was some type of stinging coral similar to fire coral. I had brought my dive camera with me, and Joanna was able to take several photos.
The first thing we discovered was that most of the roots only went down about two feet under the water in water that was four feet deep. The result was an overhanging roof of branches on either side of the channel we were swimming in. Underneath these branches, we could see a multitude of fish swimming, some fairly large. There were porcupine fish, grunts, and all manner of very small juvenile fish.
The most surprising thing was the amount of sponges that grew on the roots. There were bright red, purple, and grey sponges growing everywhere, much like a coral reef. Near the surface of the roots, there were lots of mollusks attached. Of course, there were jellyfish in many spots on the bottom.
We continued swimming through the channel of the mangrove roots for about ten minutes, until we came to the opening of another lake. Apparently this lake is only accessible through the channel and not from the ocean. We then stood up in a sandy area, and he gave us some more information about our environment.
It appears that the mangroves serve a vital role in filtering out sediments from the rainwater. In certain areas of the world, they have also saved people when a typhoon hits, as they absorb the energy of the incoming waves.
Then it was time to swim back through the channel to our waiting kayaks. On the way, I was able to get an underwater video of the jellyfish. It was curious how their bottom was continually pulsating, even though they didn’t seem to be moving very much. Jellyfish live in a symbiotic relationship with the algae in their tentacles from which they extract the by-products of photosynthesis from the algae. It seems much of the reef lives in some kind of a symbiotic relationship with the various algae.
Once we had managed the somewhat difficult task of getting into our kayaks, we headed back to the Mangrove Centre. There were several areas that were fairly shallow, and you could see the beginnings of a new mangrove forest. He told us that these locations were not suitable, and that they were actively transplanting any mangroves that grew in this area in order to preserve the surrounding sea grass. The sea grass is very important for the hundreds of juvenile sea turtles that live here.
By now, we were getting used to paddling, and it was actually a lot of fun. I was in the front, with Joanna in the back. Joanna actually has a certificate from the University of Calgary in Sea Kayaking that she earned in Belize several years ago.
When we got back to the Information Centre, I took a few photos of the signs that were in Dutch on the wall. A new tour group arrived, and we had to leave.
All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable experience, which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the island. I was very impressed with how they work with other conservation organizations on the island, all trying to protect Bonaire’s eco systems. Apparently Bonaire is one of the foremost conservation areas in the Caribbean.
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In the afternoon, we decided to go diving at Aquarius, which is just before the transmitter site.
The entry here was quite easy, and the drop-off was not terribly far out.
I was still having trouble with my new mask. New masks come with a very fine silicon coating over the glass to avoid scratching during shipment. However, this leads to the fogging of the mask, and must be removed. I had vigorously scrubbed it with toothpaste, but will have to do it again, as the right lens gave me a bit of trouble.
One of the highlights of the dive was when we spotted a large eagle ray swimming quite a distance below us on the sand plateau about 120 feet down. Visibility was quite good, and Joanna was awestruck at the sheer size of this graceful creature. It seemed to be looking for conch in the sand, as it flew back and forth, and eventually out of sight.
We also saw a five-foot barracuda, which impressed Joanna.
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After a shower and supper, I checked the email, and discovered a response from Brandon and Joe. I had asked them why my website change request had been denied. Joe said that they had decided to simply go with the package as it stood. The Bonaire director, who was in Cary at the time, was able to have several discussions with some of the top-level Directors of the Americas area. His advice was to simply launch the website the way it stood now.
I asked Brandon to go ahead and launch the site the next morning. Brandon also asked me to demonstrate the website to the staff, but I declined. While this was not the outcome I had hoped for, I feel I have done my due diligence with the tools that I was given.
I must say it was a real godsend to have my sister here to help me compose my response to Joe and Brandon. I find that Joanna is an extremely wise and objective sounding board for these delicate situations. I had also got the advice from our Canadian webmaster to proceed with the website launch despite my preferences not being added. So, effectively, this ends my work here with TWR on Bonaire, and I wish them well in the future.
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And so my time continues with my sister for the rest of this week. All too soon, we will have to board the plane for home . . . back to reality.