On an island like Bonaire, there is more nature then people. This is why many of the only small group of visitors immediately fall in love with the natural wonders of Bonaire. The underwater world is not all that the little island in the Southern Caribbean has… In this article, you will get to know more about flora and fauna on Bonaire.
Formed from ancient fossilized coral reefs, Bonaire is one of the three leeward Dutch islands in the Caribbean. Being only 38 by 11 kilometers (roughly 23 by 7 miles, the island is filled with caves and forests of cacti and acacia. Though being an island with arid and dry conditions, Bonaire is the only island in the Dutch Caribbean that has wetlands. Lac, Pekelmeer, Klein Bonaire, Gotomeer and Slagbaai Lagoon are wetlands of great international importance that are protected by the Ramsar Convention.
The entire northwest tip of Bonaire is a protected area that carries the name: Washington Slagbaai National Park. It is the oldest and largest terrestrial protected area in the Dutch Caribbean. The presence of cacti, scrub and dry forest habitats provide a safe haven for some native species, such as the threatened Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot and of course the pink flamingos.
In the north of the island, there are quite some places where you can encounter lava formations that are millions of years old. Some of the other popular rock formations on Bonaire are Piedra di Boneiru, Seru Bentana, Devils Mouth, Indian Head, and Five Steps. Seru Bentana has an opening that resembles a window (bentana) of a house. In the past, this was an important landmark for the shipping industry around Bonaire. Later, a lighthouse took over the function of Seru Bentana. Also, have you noticed the sea levels on the rock formations along the coast? They are very obvious along the East Coast and in the North on the West Coast of the island.
One of the most intriguing sightings, however, remains largely hidden from view. Bonaire has caves, and it is even possible to go snorkeling and hiking them! There are an estimated 400 caves on the island, some of which are open for guided tours. It is not recommended to explore the caves without a guide. Stepping into this delicate underground ecosystem means you will explore a true wonderland. You will see stalactites and stalagmites*, cave paintings, and glass-like natural pools of water.
* A stalactite is an icicle-shaped formation that hangs from the ceiling of a cave, and is produced by precipitation of minerals from water dripping through the cave ceiling. A stalagmite is an upward-growing mound of mineral deposits that have precipitated from water dripping onto the floor of a cave.
Mostly on the East Coast of the island, you will find large ‘bokas’; water entrances from the sea. Almost all of these bokas show performances of big splashes of water from the ocean bouncing against the rocky walls. However, there is one entrance that has the most beautiful clear and calm water: Boka Kokolishi. This is your private little beach between the hard rock formations in Washington Slagbaai National Park.
And while we are still on the East Coast of Bonaire… Let’s get some insight in how this coast is so much rougher than the West Coast of the island. The geographical position of the island of Bonaire is the whole reason for the East Coast to be rough. Trade winds are traveling a long way from east to west towards the Caribbean. Bonaire is the most-right island on the map. Because of this position, strong waves powered by the trade winds break on the rocks at Bonaire’s East Coast.
The mangrove area at Lac has been Bonaire’s incubator for the various species of fish that thrive in Bonaire’s water for generations. Mangroves are the natural wonders of Bonaire that protect the land from high tides and strong waves. On Bonaire, the mangroves are almost melted together with the pristine coral reef surrounding the island. The sea grass you find between the mangroves and the reef is an important environment for sea creatures such as queen conch shells, baby seahorses and baby rays. This grass also filters the water in Lac Bay, making the water unbelievably clear!
You are probably familiar with the Bonaire’s former and current production of salt. The island has always had a few natural saliñas; salt lakes. In the past, the sea level was much higher (remember the sea levels on the rocks?), which resulted in parts of the salt seawater remaining behind the coral reefs. This was the creation of the saliñas. Protecting big amounts of rainwater and mud from flowing into the ocean, the saliñas are important to the preservation of the coral reefs. The biggest saliña on Bonaire is Gotomeer, also a favorite of the flamingos, who feed there. Other saliñas include Saliña Tam, Saliña Frans, Saliña Slagbaai, Saliña Bartol, Saliña Matijs, and Saliña di Vlijt.
Flora and Fauna
Bonaire’s flora includes both native and imported species and exotics. You will encounter many cacti; species include Candle and Prickley Pear. Walking in nature on Bonaire means walking through numerous cacti and trees and bushes such as Brasilwood, Mesquite Acacia, Calabash and Divi Divi. Flowers and plants on the island include bright orange Flamboyants, Bouganvilla, and Oleanders of all colors. You can also find many fresh Aloe plants in different places. When visiting Mangazina di Rei, you can learn all about traditional ways of using Aloe and other plants and herbs.
With the cacti that grow on Bonaire, people make juices and use the cactus fruits for some dishes. A very popular product that is made from cactus, is the cactus liqueur from The Cadushy Distillery. The distillery traditionally ‘cuts off’ cactus branch with large wooden forceps. Then, the spines are taken off and the branch is being prepared for distillation. The distiller at Cadushy can explain and show you the process; however, there are some secret ingredients he will not reveal…
A healthy environment attracts animals, which is also why people on Bonaire have spotted over 400 bird species on island! Many species of migratory birds from North America use Bonaire, and especially Washington Slagbaai National Park, as a stopover during their annual migrations. The most popular and typical bird for Bonaire is the flamingo, who is using the island to breed, feed and nest. Some people even say that the amount of flamingos used to exceed the amount of people on Bonaire! STINAPA is regularly organizing bird watching trips and the volunteers can explain a lot about all aspects of flora and fauna on Bonaire.
Bonaire has always been the place-to-be for fantastic diving. Thanks to the beautiful diversity of corals on the reefs that are surrounding the island, visitors have enjoyed an underwater world full of colorful fish and other sea creatures for many years now. Reefs on Bonaire are relatively shallow and easily accessible from shore. The only thing you need is your diving or snorkeling gear, and you can swim right to another world just off the beach!