Underwater World — Bonaire, Netherland Antilles

Underwater World — Bonaire, Netherland Antilles

Just imagine yourself after months of planning and years of dreaming you've finally arrived at a small, uninhabited cay off the coast of Bonaire. If you aren't sure of where Bonaire is, then it is in the Caribbean. In fact it is part of the Dutch Antilles, and is famed for its underwater forests of coral reefs.

A final equipment check and a few parting words from the boat captain are all that remain before you embark on an unforgettable snorkelling adventure. Beneath the crystal-blue waters awaits a spectacle unparalleled in the marine world. Immense schools of tropical fish in every conceivable shape, size and colour swim alongside sea turtles and dolphins in and around the most impressive coral and sponge gardens in the Caribbean.

Located 80km north of Venezuela and south of the hurricane belt, the waters surrounding this tiny boomerang-shaped island have been designated as a marine park since 1979. Here, deep ocean currents carry nutrient-rich waters to the surface, nourishing the magnificent reef communities. These same currents bring minimal rainfall to Bonaire, which in turn reduces surface runoff to create the clearest waters imaginable.

Once underwater you immediately hear the continuous grinding of parrotfish grazing on the algae that grows on top of the coral heads. Within seconds, a dazzling spectrum of reef fish comes out of hiding from the delicate stands of soft and hard corals. Schools of brightly coloured butterfly fish, angle fish and damselfish swim in and out of the crevices and between colonies of elkhorn and staghorn corals. Several metres below, purple sea fans and the tentacles of anemones sway back and forth as the swift current pushes you along.

You take a deep breath through your snorkel and submerge to the seafloor where you peek into nooks and crannies to spy on wrasse, tangs and other fish. You spot the slender body of a trunkfish carefully hidden amidst the branches of sea rods patiently waiting for its prey to drift by. A lunging moray eel emerges out of hiding, warning you not to get too close, while a triangular-shaped boxfish hovers nearby.

Before you realize it the captain signals it's time to return on board. As you prepare to board the craft you take one final glance at your underworld surroundings just in time to spot two Hawksbill turtles cruising by.

Bonaire is truly a paradise for the keen scuba diver, but there is much for the amateur snorkeler to see and do here.