Bonaire National Marine Park - HISTORY

Bonaire has a long history of marine preservation, beginning with turtle protection in 1961, the prohibition of spear fishing in 1971, and protection for coral, dead or alive, in 1975. The driving forces behind the creation of a Marine Park on Bonaire included Bonaire devotees Captain Don Stewart and late Carel Steensma and The Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation. Carel Steensma was a personal friend of HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who was Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund at the time. The project of the Bonaire Marine Park started in 1979, with funding from the World Wildlife Fund Netherlands, the Dutch Government, the Government of the Netherlands Antilles, and the Island Government of Bonaire.

In 1978 and 1980 a worldwide first took place in the Bonaire Marine Park. Around 40 permanent moorings were placed on dive sites, specifically for dive boat use. Each of those first moorings was made with two 55-gallon drums (donated by WEB, Bonaire’s power and water company), connected to each other with re-bar (scrounged by Marine Park staff, personally, from a failed construction project), and filled with concrete. The moorings were taken to the sites on a crane barge, whose use was donated by BOPEC, (Bonaire’s oil transshipment company), and their precise placement was guided by Tom van ‘t Hof, initial Manager of the Bonaire Marine Park, Assistant Marine Park Manager Eric Newton, Ranger Franklin Winklaar, and volunteer divers including Rik Lina, a resident artist, and Captain Don Stewart.

By 1984 the legislation concerning the marine park was finalized and accepted, but even earlier the funding by the WWF ended. A proposal in 1984 for funding by divers through an annual fee of US $5.00, including a tag, was not acceptable by many in the dive industry, so eventually the funding ended. By using money paid by scientists for the use of the Karpata field station, staff, mostly paid by the island government, was able for some time to maintain some presence for law enforcement, but little remained for mooring maintenance and other activities. Eventually the mooring maintenance was taken over by the dive operators, who did their best to also help out as a presence in the water and around the reefs.

In 1990 the Government commissioned van ‘t Hof to reactivate the BMP. Lack of funding was dealt with by another worldwide first: Every diver would be required to own and display a Marine Park tag, for which they would pay US $10 a year. Divers responded favorably; most were delighted – and proud -- to help support the Marine Park.

Another significant result of the BMP revitalization was the selection of Kalli de Meyer as Bonaire Marine Park Manager. De Meyer led the Park for more than a decade, into newly deserved worldwide recognition.

In addition to a new Marine Park Manager, the Park also acquired four Rangers in 1991.

On October 18, 1999, a long-held ambition became reality: The Bonaire Marine Park became a National Park of the Netherlands Antilles, the Bonaire National Marine Park. With National Park status the Marine Park earned a few advantages, not least of which is the perception of higher status, and increased opportunities for funding.

The Bonaire Marine Park has showed its muscle on several occasions, both before and after National Park status. One ship was assessed a fine for an accidental fuel spill; the ship sent the information to their insurance company, but when the agreement to pay did not arrive before the ship’s scheduled departure, the ship was prevented from departing by Marine Park action. Another ship was fined for dumping debris overboard at dock. Various vessels have been fined for anchoring in Bonaire’s waters. Poachers have been caught and fined.

In 2003 STINAPA was restructured. Both the BNMP and the Washington Slagbaai National Park are now administered under a single Director.

In late 2005 another long-held ambition became reality: Several employees of STINAPA, including the Director, the Managers, and the Chief Rangers, acquired Police-type ticketing and law enforcement powers.

Effective March 31, 2005, the 1991 legislation covering Marine Park usage fees was changed with the inauguration of the Nature Fee. With the introduction of this legislation all the users of the Bonaire National Marine Park, not solely the divers, pay a user’s fee. The most significant changes include:

  • Marine Park tags also admit entrance to Washington/Slagbaai National Park.
  • The price of Marine Park tags for SCUBA divers changed to US $25.00 for a year pass or $10 for a day pass.
  • Swimmers, board sailers, and all other users of the Marine Park are now required to have to pay US $10.00 for a year pass.

Tag receipts go directly to STINAPA and are used entirely for the management of Bonaire’s National Parks.