Photo by Frank Bierings


Bonaire National Marine Park - RAMSAR

The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty, which protects wetlands that are of great international importance. It is mainly concerned with the importance of these areas for waterfowl. The full name of the Convention is ‘Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat’. The treaty protects these wetlands because of their important ecological function as regulators of water management and as areas with flora and fauna unique to their habitats. A wetland that has been presented to the Convention is also called a Ramsar area.

The Convention’s mission, briefly put, is the conservation and use of wetlands with the preservation of all nature values (‘wise use’). The Convention treaty was agreed upon in 1971 at the Iranian town of Ramsar, which explains the informal name, and became effective in 1975. There are 153 registered countries, which have registered 1634 wetlands, covering 145.6 million hectares, with the Convention. In 1980 the Convention became effective for the entire Dutch Kingdom and as such also for the Netherlands Antilles.

Each year on February 2 special attention is paid to the wetlands on ‘World Wetlands Day’.

Statutory protection

The Ramsar Convention was brought into operation for the entire Dutch Kingdom on September 23 1980, therefore also for the Netherlands Antilles (Trb. 1975, 84). The Antillean Ordinance for Nature Management and Protection’ (P.B. 1998, nr. 41) says in article 10 that the regulations of the Ramsar Convention apply to the registered Ramsar areas. This is a so-called ‘dynamic’ reference. When the Ramsar Convention changes, it automatically applies to the legislation of the Netherlands Antilles.

By virtue of this overarching legislation enacted by the Central Government of the Netherlands Antilles, the Bonaire Island Government is compelled to create its own Island Nature Management and Protection Ordinance. The draft for this ordinance was presented to the Island Board in December 2006. References to the Antillean Ordinance and the Ramsar Convention have been included within the island ordinance. So the Ramsar Convention has its affects on both the national and the island levels.

Before the Ramsar Convention regulations in 1998, and the Antillean Ordinance for Nature Management and Protection, became legally effective in the Netherlands Antilles several buildings had already been constructed in the area of Lac. They are a hotel, two windsurfing centers and a café/restaurant with apartments, at Sorobon. How these activities are related to the concept of ‘wise use’ of the Convention is questionable. The Island Government intends to have a strategic environmental impact assessment conducted for this area. This assessment should give recommendations for the future development (if any) of the area.

Lac and the Ramsar Convention

In October 2006 the Netherlands Antilles Governor suspended two Island Government orders for three months. Hereafter he nullified the orders. This happened on an appeal by the Aliansa Naturalesa di Bonaire, the umbrella organization of all nature and environment organizations on the island, because the Island Government did not comply with the Ramsar Convention regulations and Island Government policy. This was in regard to an order to issue a long lease of a plot of land of 44.150m² and a license for construction of an ‘eco resort’ at Sorobon and the Lac shores. Lac has a buffer zone of 500 meters around its waters.

According to the Nature Policy approved by the Island Council of Bonaire in 1999, only day recreation is allowed on Cai and Sorobon and no building of permanent structures is to be allowed. Previous to this situation, the Island Government had acted consistently with the Nature Policy of 1999 and had been denying requests for development in the Lac area. In this case, the Island Government decided to step away from its past policy; however, they still had to adhere to the Ramsar Convention criteria. These call for an environmental impact assessment to be made, according to the criteria set up by the Convention.

The Island Government appealed this decision of the Governor at the Council of State.

For further information on the Ramsar Convention and the environment impact assessment click the next link:

The Bonaire Ramsar areas

The wetlands registered to the Ramsar convention by the Netherlands Antilles, all lie in Bonaire.

These areas are being managed by STINAPA Bonaire, except for the Pekelmeer. The Pekelmeer, where the flamingo reserve is located, is being managed by Cargill Salt Bonaire NV.

The Bonaire Ramsar areas are:

  • Lac (700 ha.)
    Lac is registered because it is a splendid bay, banded by mangroves. A large part of the bottom is covered by sea grass, on which the green turtle grazes. The mangroves offer shelter to juvenile fish and invertebrates. Lac is an important resting, breeding and feeding area for waterfowl. The bay is part of the statutory protected marine park. In the Bonaire Nature Management Plan, Lac is indicated as a national nature park, including a buffer zone of 500 meters.
  • Pekelmeer (400 ha.)
    The Pekelmeer is mainly of importance because of the presence of the flamingo reserve. In the Pekelmeer there are often thousands of Caribbean flamingos present. It is one of the most important breeding places for the flamingo population of more or less 20.000 specimens in the Southern Caribbean area. The flamingo has special claims to its environment and is very sensitive to disturbances. Also other waterfowl, like herons feed in this area. In the Bonaire Nature Management Plan the Pekelmeer is allocated as a strict nature reserve.
  • Klein Bonaire (600 ha.)
    Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited islet that is part of the legally protected Bonaire National Marine Park. It is surrounded by a magnificent coral reef. The beaches at the north and west coast are the most important nesting sites for turtles. On the islet there are also some salinas or salt lakes where flamingos forage for food.
  • Gotomeer (150 ha.)
    The Gotomeer is part of the Washington Slagbaai National Park. It is a shallow lagoon that is cut off from the sea by a coral stone dam. The area is an important foraging site for flamingos, of which often many hundreds are present. The brine fly and the larvae of this fly, which are plentiful in the lagoon, are the most important source of food for the flamingos. Sometimes the flamingos breed at Gotomeer as well. This is also an important area for other waterfowl.
  • Slagbaai (90 ha.)
    The Slagbaai lagoon and salinas are part of the Washington Slagbaai National Park. The lagoon is cut off from the sea by a coral stone dam. It is a foraging site for the flamingos. Breeding sometimes takes place here, as well. For other waterfowl, like the pelicans and the herons, this is also an important area.