Could there be an image more iconic than a big ship docked on a small island? As the world remembers the Titanic, and as images of the sinking of Carnival Cruise’s Costa Concordia fade …
…a friend and I found ourselves sitting on a sea wall in Kralendijk on the Island of Bonaire, watching a cruise ship dock.
Visitors disembarked and scattered, many to the buses and taxis to be driven around to beaches, boat tours or to scuba dive. Some just rode around to see what’s what.
Later in the day everybody got back on the boat and just before sunset the ship sounded a long, mournful toot and sailed away. The tents came down, restaurants opened, all was quiet and low-key and everybody was happy.
Or were they? Just below these sunny doings, the ecosystem is being rerouted.
The island is about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, 26 miles from tip to tip and about as wide as an airplane strip. Unlike it’s popular neighbors Aruba and Curacao, until recently Bonaire was considered mostly good for salt production.
Scuba divers knew better, quietly cherishing the reefs, teeming with tropical sea life, the 100 foot water clarity and easy accessibility from the shore.
- 1 million gallons of “gray water” from sinks, showers, laundries and galleys
- 210,000 gallons of “black water” or sewage from toilets
- 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
- 100 gallons of hazardous wastes (including perchloroethylene from drycleaning, photo-processing wastes, paint waste, solvents, print shop wastes, fluorescent light bulbs, and batteries)
- 50 tons of solid wastes (plastic, paper, wood, cardboard, food waste, cans, and glass)
- Air pollution from the ship’s diesel engines equivalent to thousands of cars
For many years cruise ships paid to have raw sewage dumped inland on Bonaire, but as evidence mounted that sewage was seeping into the ocean, destroying coral reef and polluting the water (see Sponge Blog), the Dutch and Bonairean governments (Bonaire is a Dutch municipality) funded an improved sewage disposal system, which went online in 2011.
- Is it enough? Probably not, but more data needs to be collected. Volunteers are monitoring seawater around the island, and its companion, the uninhabited island Klein Bonaire. Funding is tight.
So much at stake. Not only does Bonaire have one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in the Caribbean, it is also one of four places in the world where flamingos nest …
… and may be the last best hope for the Yellow Shouldered Amazon Parrot (see “Parrots of the Caribbean” http://mag.audubon.org/articles/travel/parrots-caribbean)…
… and uncountable unique and fragile ecosystems (see WorldKid’s Blog, on orchids). As Bonaire is discovered by more people, construction is proceeding apace, and tensions mount between those who want to preserve Bonaire’s natural bounty, and those anxious to capitalize on Bonaire’s natural bounty.
Must we bend every wild and beautiful place to suit the tastes of people like me, who want the upsides, warm weather, beautiful beaches and natural surroundings, without having to deal with inconveniences?
It’s one thing to make ourselves safe and comfortable, to have the opportunity to explore new places and to relax. It’s another to acquiesce to the idea that in order to explore and relax, we must also subscribe to the idea that the highest good and best way to judge any enterprise is whether it makes a profit.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this island, and sad that it seems unlikely we’ll be able to save the way it is for future generations.
Maybe this is how it is supposed to be. Maybe we are here on the earth to change it, to gobble it up a like a yolk sac, but the trouble is, we don’t really know. We are plowing ahead, hoping for the best. Talk about faith in ourselves. I am not a scientist or a Bonairean, not a professional or a politician. All I can do is witness, and wonder, so I will.
For a list of environmental projects on Bonaire, and how to donate to them see Support Bonaire