Island Notes 95
It’s 8:30 am and my friend, Nat, pulls up in his funky, beat-up, open jeep to go for a dive. We drop by Yellow Submarine for air tanks and head north to the dive site of Oil Slick Leap. It is a first for both of us. This place was originally going to be the location for the BOPEC oil storage terminal, but it was eventually placed a mile or so north of here. Apparently, those responsible for naming this site were environmentally pessimistic about BOPEC’s ability to safely operate the facility and added “Slick” to the moniker. That was prophetic for last year a BOPEC storage tank was struck by lightning and burned for days polluting the surrounding land with black oily ash. Most of it, to my knowledge, fell on the land and surrounding saliñas (inland salt lakes, home to flamingos and other shore birds). Not a good thing.
The ‘leap’ part of the name becomes readily apparent as we approach the shore in full dive gear. There is a ladder down the cliff and into the water, but also two spots where you can leap into the sea below. Nat and I choose the higher one. No, the choice is not for cheap thrills. Rather the lower jump point is where the rock shore juts out a bit to sea. With the wave direction this morning, the higher leap spot is safer, even though higher above the blue.
I go first. It is only about a dozen feet jump to the water, but burdened with tank, regulator, weights, fins and mask, I don’t want to screw this up. Once entering the sea, the motion of the ocean will immediately move me toward the rock wall. It is not a place where you want to be floundering. I pop some air into my BCD vest for floatation, hold my mask with one hand and regulator in mouth with the other, and do a Daffy Duck leap with spread fins. Perfect. The current quickly starts moving me north, parallel to the craggy coast. Nearly 30-something Nat leaps in like a frog with camera in hand. We head under.
At 25-feet we are greeted by a yard-long barracuda grinning menacingly as it cruises by. Nat takes photo of the toothy assassin. We descend down to 85-feet and swim against a soft current. This stretch of coast was beat up badly by Tropical Storm Omar nearly three years ago to the day, so I am surprised to see such healthy coral. The usual suspects are hiding out—drum fish, parrotfish, blue chromes and butterfly fish. A queen angelfish flashes its glorious patterns. That always makes me smile.
But all during the dive, Nat and I are scanning the water out in the deep, above us and behind us. This past week a whale was spotted by divers swimming underwater parallel to the coast. We heard that big was beautiful and don’t want to miss the show if we are only so lucky. By the time we turn to head back, the whale is a no show. We ascend to about forty feet and ride the current over the coral back to Oil Slick. I spot a huge moray eel down in a hole. Nat uncovers the smallest lionfish either of us has ever seen. In spite of its diminutive size and age, the invasive fish has a full armament of venomous spines. Divers beware, but the real hazard of the lionfish, an Indo-Pacific misfit with few natural predators here, is that it’s gobbling up our reef fish at an astonishing rate. Also, not a good thing.
Finally I see the mooring line at 20-feet that marks our return back to Oil Slick Leap, but I stop to look into the deep blue and watch a bait ball of thousands of 6-inch fish moving in unison. I have plenty of air left so I descend down to fifty feet to get a better view. The enormous school moves, as if it is one creature. The fish perform an aquatic, circular ballet of serenity. Minutes pass as I witness the bait ball undulate in form and change in direction and color. This is the best show in town.
But my air gauge reminds me it is time to return to terra firma. Nat and I swim to the ladder and scramble back to the top of Oil Slick Leap. On the road behind, a dozen divers are preparing gear for their time below. I am glad we got in the water early and avoided the crowd. Hunger hits me now that I am back on land. Maybe an egg and another coffee is in order. It is just another Bonaire Sunday morning.