WE WERE STAYING in two-floor apartments at Buddy Dive. The downstairs level had a kitchen and living-room, bath and toilet, while upstairs were two bedrooms and another bath. Beside the dive-centre is a restaurant that served excellent lunch and dinner. Breakfast was from a buffet on two large terraces with spectacular views out over the turquoise ocean.
But most important was the dive-centre, located beneath those two terraces. I have used many dive-centres all over the world, and Buddy Dive belongs with the very best of them. Everything went smoothly during the week I was there, and if I needed anything staff were always there, ready to help.
One of the Christmas-tree constructions for growing elkhorn corals.
Buddy Dive has its own reef about five steps from where the gearing-up at the dive-centre takes place. All newly arrived divers are required to do a check-dive to get their weights right.
This procedure is taken very seriously, to prevent any kicking of the corals that surround the island.
One of the reasons I chose to travel to Bonaire is that a coral-conservation programme is run there by five local dive-centres in co-operation with the authorities.
The programme started in 2012, with the centres collaborating with an American coral scientist. Some of the most vulnerable species on Bonaire are staghorns and elkhorns, which grow at the edge of coral reefs, thus protecting the softer, slow-growing species, and these two species have been the focus of the conservationists’ attention.
I found the office of the folks who run the programme just behind the dive-centre, and we arranged that I would join them on a dive to see how they work with the corals. That same evening, there was a presentation about the programme in a local restaurant.
I met the head of the programme, Francesca Virdis, by the dive-centre, and soon noticed that her gear included the kind of stuff not usually seen on dives. She had brought along pliers, pincers, a hammer and a type of glue that, I was told, works under water.
We went for a little swim to look at some Christmas tree-like metal structures. On each branch several small elkhorn corals hung in a tiny string, growing peacefully in their ideal environment in terms of light, current and depth.
When the corals reach a certain size, the tips are gently cut off, and the remaining piece will then grow big again. The tips are placed in the reef so that they can grow in a natural environment, enabling Bonaire’s reefs to be restored much faster than would be the case in natural conditions.
Francesca also showed me a vast area replete with staghorn corals. These don’t grow on vertical structures like the elkhorn, but on metal squares about 30cm high on the sandy seabed.
We moved to another area of shallow water, mostly consisting of stones and sand. Francesca found a stone that she thought would be good to work with, and began hitting it with the hammer.
Thirty seconds later we were engulfed in a cloud of sand and I could barely see Francesca, though I could hear the hammer banging against the stone.
When she had finally chiselled out a hole deep enough to fit a piece of coral, she went back to the Christmas trees for a lump of elkhorn, and used the underwater glue to secure it to the rock after placing it in the hole.
I had witnessed how a new section of coral reef is planted and primed to slowly grow and help the whole eco-system thrive.