Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean – It is common knowledge that species of the invasive Pacific lionfish have populated nearly the entire Caribbean region. Although Bonaire was fortunate enough to be one of the last dive destinations to have these predators inhabit its waters, the island had a master plan in place long before the first lionfish was spotted in October 2009.
“Bonaire is very fortunate that there was a pro-active battle-plan in place before the lionfish actually arrived. Bonaire's nature foundations began their defense against this invasive species in early 2009, nearly six months before its arrival,” commented Anja Romeijnders, President of Tourism Corporation Bonaire. “Having a management plan in place provided the island's volunteer corps and diving operators the time to prepare for a fast response when the lionfish did arrive in October, 2009,” Mrs. Romeijnders continued.
The Bonaire National Marine Park (STINAPA) and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) held a workshop to educate both the general public, as well as dive operators and their staff, about controlling this invasive species, since it was determined that a well-informed community and pro-active dive staff would be Bonaire’s best defense.
Even Bonaire's diving visitors jumped to assist with the task of marking and reporting the location of lionfish for future removal. The Bonaire National Marine Park rangers conducted over 40 lionfish workshops for those marine park volunteers or visitors who were interested in helping to remove the fish, focusing upon how to safely catch and remove them. Today there are over 300 official lionfish hunters on Bonaire, of which there is a core group of about 30 hunters who are removing hundreds of fish every week. Everyone can follow the hunters' efforts by joining the Bonaire Lionfish Hunters Facebook group page athttp://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/bonairelionfish/.
Additionally, the CIEE Bonaire Research Station (Council on International Educational Exchange) has processed thousands of lionfish brought to their headquarters to take vital statistics such as size, weight, etc. to analyze and gather more data.
Through their continued efforts, STINAPA and DCNA have jointly developed a smart phone app whereby Bonaire's lionfish hunters can add the location and details of lionfish caught, escaped, or seen during a dive, and this data can be viewed on a live map. The impetus behind this app is to collect all data in one centralized location so that a complete picture of the lionfish situation and its control is available to anyone. The website,http://www.lionfishcontrol.org, may be used on a desktop computer or as a mobile application on a tablet or phone. Visitors to the site may register as either a hunter or observer and begin accessing the data immediately. This tool is innovative and a benchmark for lionfish control.
But Bonaire's nature and conservation foundations are not the only entities combating the lionfish, as many of the island's dive operators are at the forefront of the battle as well.
LaTina Divers recently completed its first Lionfish Culling & Tasting Event, a seven-day event where the island's visiting divers could join in the with hunters to remove as many lionfish as possible. With guided shore culling excursions, boat culling excursions to Washington Slagbaai National Park, as well as other difficult-to-reach sites, in five days, 797 lionfish were removed, the majority of which were females with eggs, ready to spawn. The next LaTina Divers Lionfish Culling & Tasting event will take place from November 24 through December 1, 2012. See http://www.latinadivers.com for additional information.
Buddy Dive Resort offers a "Go Hunting and Eat Your Catch" program. Visitors may sign up for a one-day course to become a PADI certified Lionfish Hunter, or simply ask for a dive to kill lionfish. After those lionfish are removed, enjoy the Cooking Demo (available only in July), where visitors can learn how to cook and enjoy these tasty fish. For more information, visithttp://www.buddydive.com.
VIP Diving also has been at the forefront of the lionfish control efforts that Bonaire has undertaken and offers their guests a variety of ways to participate in their safe removal or to learn more about it. Experienced divers who want to personally hunt lionfish on Bonaire now have the opportunity through a certification program arranged by STINAPA and The Council of Underwater Resort Operators (CURO). Divers who partake in this one-day training program divers will learn all about hunting lionfish. The program consists of a theory session, a target practice session, and ends with two actual guided hunting dives. For additional information, visit http://www.vipdiving.com.
Located eighty-six miles east of Aruba, the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire offers year-round sunshine, low annual rainfall, pristine coral formations and the most thriving fish population in the Caribbean. Ideal for adventurers, explorers and sun-worshippers alike, Bonaire offers myriad eco-adventure activities including world renowned scuba diving and snorkeling, windsurfing, kite boarding, mountain biking, sea and mangrove kayaking, horseback riding, nature tours, hiking, bird watching, sailing and deep sea and bone fishing. And with a selection of accommodations ranging from full-service oceanfront resorts and condominiums to guesthouses and small inns, Bonaire has something for every lifestyle and budget.
Bonaire is the recipient of the prestigious Islands Magazine/Caribbean Tourism Organization 2008 Sustainable Tourism Award and continues to be recognized as one of the top destinations worldwide for its sustainable tourism. It was designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as having the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean (January 2008) and in 2011, Bonaire was voted one of the top five Snorkeling Destinations in the Caribbean by the editors of Caribbean Travel & Life. For 19 consecutive years in Scuba Diving magazine’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards, Bonaire has been selected as the number one Shore Diving destination in the Caribbean/Atlantic. This year, it was voted one of the Best Destinations Overall, number one for Marine and Macro life, and for Snorkeling also in the Reader’s Choice Awards. For more information on Bonaire contact the Tourism Corporation Bonaire in the U.S. at 1-800-BONAIRE or visit Bonaire’s official web site at www.tourismbonaire.com. Follow Bonaire on Twitter and Facebook.