The Bonaire National Marine Park is the oldest marine reserve in the world. It includes the waters around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire's reef-lined coasts, home to virtually every hard and soft coral species in the Caribbean Sea.
Bonaire National Marine Park
Bonaire National Marine Park is the oldest marine reserve in the world. The park, established in 1979, includes all the waters surrounding Bonaire and Klein Bonaire from the high-tide mark to 60 m (200 ft) of depth. This area is about 2,700 ha (6,672 acres), including the coral reef, seagrass, and mangroves.
The total land area includes three saliñas (natural salt lakes), five freshwater springs or wells and sandy beach areas. The sandy beaches are vital nesting areas for sea turtles.
Bonaire's fringing coral reefs are home to virtually every hard and soft coral species in the Caribbean Sea. In addition, more than 340 fish species live here, making it one of the region's healthiest and most bio-diverse reefs.
Lac Bay is sheltered from pounding seas by a fringing barrier reef. Its inaccessible mangroves provide nesting sites and safe havens for frigate birds, herons, flamingos, pelicans and endangered ospreys. Its seagrass beds are a vital nursery for reef fish and foraging ground for endangered queen conch and green turtles.
In 1999 the underwater park received the status of a National Park of the Netherlands Antilles. Furthermore, the uninhabited islet of Klein Bonaire was added to the protected natural underwater park in 2001.
Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited satellite island off Bonaire's western shore. It is an essential stopover for migratory birds and includes the most important nesting grounds for endangered Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtles on Bonaire.
The west side of Bonaire is dotted with dive sites that are easily accessible from the beach. The dive sites around Klein Bonaire are accessible for divers by boat. Except for a small area, the BNMP is freely accessible to divers.
Unique to the Marine Park is that it runs on its revenues (without subsidies). Revenue comes from an entrance fee for divers. Other users, such as swimmers, surfers, kiteboarders, kayakers and boaters, pay a reduced admission price.
The management is in the hands of the Bonaire National Parks Foundation (STINAPA), a non-governmental, nonprofit foundation commissioned by the island government to manage the two protected areas of Bonaire: the Bonaire National Marine Park and the Washington Slagbaai National Park.
Satellite image of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire
Lac Bay is a sheltered shallow inland bay located on the southeastern shore of Bonaire. Covering an area of 2,075 ha (5,127 acres), it is the largest inland bay in the Dutch Caribbean and Bonaire's most significant lagoon.
Half of Lac Bay consists of open water, and the other half is separated by a formation of islands that consist of shallow, muddy basins fringed with mangroves. The flooded area is approximately 700 ha (1,730 acres).
The thriving seagrass beds and mangroves are a vital nursery site for conch and many reef fish species. They are also foraging grounds for globally endangered juvenile Green Turtles.
Lac Bay supports vast numbers of breeding and wintering shorebirds and seabirds, including the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), and several gull species (Laridae sp.).
Seven species of heron can also be found here. The most common include the Green-backed Heron (Butorides striatus), the Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor), the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens), and the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).
Lac Bay is also a designated Ramsar site, recognized as a uniquely valuable wetland with special protection. In addition, it is included in the Bonaire National Marine Park.
The small offshore island of Klein Bonaire is located approximately 750 m (2,500 ft) off the central west coast of Bonaire. It is a low coral-limestone island surrounded by fringing reefs that support vibrant marine fauna.
The total land area is approximately 600 ha (1,482 acres), including three saline ponds, five freshwater springs or wells, and sandy beach areas.
Its sandy beaches are vital nesting areas for sea turtles, notably the critically endangered Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) and the endangered Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) turtles.
While sparse shrubland and cacti dominate the island, the eradication of goats since the 1980s allows the island's vegetation to recover. As a result, Klein Bonaire has some of the last remaining natural vegetation, including Acacia, Prosopis, Capparis, Haematoxylon, Lantana, and Croton species.
The island also harbors the only significant population of West-Indian Satinwood (Zanthoxylum flavum), which is listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The island is uninhabited, but people visit the island daily. Klein Bonaire and its surrounding reefs are protected within the Bonaire National Marine Park and designated as a wetland of international importance.
Birdlife International has designated Klein Bonaire as an Important Bird Area for Bonaire. The island is a stopover point for countless species of migratory wetland birds and an important breeding site for terns, notably regionally significant Least Terns (Sterna antillarum).
Klein Bonaire is also significant for the restricted-range species Caribbean Elaenia (Elaenia martinica) and the Northern South America biome species Bare-eyed Pigeon (Patagioenas corensis).