Kickin’ Off The Season

Beachkeeper’s Diary #6IMG_0459

Another Island Note…

I am driving through an early morning rain.  It is barely light.  Heading south, I look over and see the salt boat loading up, consuming mountains of the white stuff deep in its holds.08AugBon 193

I stop a few miles further at Kite Beach and park the car.  It is time to kick off another season of looking for turtle nests.

Some of you may remember last year’s Beachkeeper’s Diary.  These are accounts of mine spent as a volunteer for Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire’s Beachkeeper program. It is my job to walk two miles of beach every Thursday morning from the dive site, Atlantis, to Hidden Beach, a conglomeration of rocks that denotes the end of prime turtle nesting at the southern end of Bonaire.

Tracks in the sand.

Tracks in the sand.

I am not too optimistic of finding any tracks today.  After all, this is the first patrol of 2013, and while Hettie and others have started seeing behemoth loggerhead turtles while diving, it may be a few weeks before the first nesting is attempted.  But it is just good to be back walking the sand again.  I pass spots that were chosen as nest sites by sea turtles during the 2012 season.  Here on Bonaire, the loggerheads are usually the first to nest, followed by hawksbill and green sea turtles.  The nesting periods overlap, and with about a two month incubation period, the season runs from May to November.

Along my walk, I pick up trash.  That’s part of the job.  The world’s obsession with plastics is obvious as I gather bottles, caps, old razor handles and other minutia.  And then there is discarded fishing line.  Both plastics and line are dangerously detrimental to sea mammals and fish when ingested.  Entrapment can be a real problem for turtles and some mistake floating plastic bags as jellyfish, a food that they relish.  I end up gathering a small shopping bag of beach trash on this day.  Last year, I just dumped the collected trash in the garbage cans at Kite Beach.  But Bonaire now has a recycling center where batteries, electronics, metals, plastics, paper, aluminum and three colors of glass are collected.  This is just what our tiny island needed.  Most of it is sent abroad to countries around the world for reuse.  Since the recycle center is on my route back to town, I can just dump the beach trash there when I head home.

10DecBON 59But before I end my trek, I stop to admire a rainbow at Alligator Rock.  It’s that magic time when early morning rain mixes with rising sunrays and splashes the primary colors over the cobalt blue sea.  I drop my pack and do some yoga in the golden light.  I’m the only person on the beach, and from this perspective, perhaps in the world.  It’s going to be another good season.  I wish the turtles success in their quest to perpetuate their kind.  Namaste. IMG_0430

Flamingo Sunday

Another Island Note…DSC00117

It started out as just another Sunday road trip.  About once a month, we drive the southern part of the island.  It is a pleasant ring road where one can view shocking pink water at the salt works, kite boarders going aerial at Atlantis and the crashing waves on the Wild Side, Bonaire’s churning, windward coast.  By the time the loop is completed at Lac Bay, we usually stop at the Beach Hut and quaff a cold, draft Heineken beer.

But this is not just another Sunday.  While driving, I look ahead and see two bicyclists coming toward our car.  One of the cyclists holds his handlebar with one hand.  In the other, he cradles a baby flamingo.  All three, the two bikers and the bird, stare determinedly straight ahead as we pass.  I could not believe my eyes.  “Did you see what I just saw?”  I say to Hettie.  She had not.  “That guy had a baby flamingo in his arms!”  “Turn around,”  replies Hettie.  “I gotta see this.”

CorineI do just that.  I quickly turn the car around and catch up to the bikers.  We know one of them, Corine van der Hout.  “We found this bird on the road and was afraid it might get hit by a car or attacked by the dogs nearby,” Corine explains.  “We’re trying to take it to a safe place.”

We offer to drive the bird to the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary on the south end of the island.  Both Corine and her friend, Marco, are visibly relieved.  It is a real feat to go bicycling with a flamingo.  Hettie carefully holds a shopping bag while Marco places the young bird into the sack.  It is still grayish-white, not having had the chance to eat the carotene-rich algae that gives the adult birds their distinctive orange/pink coloration.  The three of us—Hettie, the flamingo and I—are soon off.     DSC00112

Once we drive away, the bird struggles to get out of the bag.  Hettie finally deduces that it is just rearranging its long, gangly legs.  Once comfortably positioned, the flamingo is quiet for the rest of the ride.  Fifteen minutes later, I stop the car at the Pekelmeer.  This place is a flat expanse of stick-to-your-flip-flops sand, saline water, scrubby bush and scattered rocks.  It is a harsh environment for us humans, but one in which flamingos thrive.  We walk a few hundred yards with the bird in bag to water’s edge.DSC00113  Hettie places the sack on its side and urges our new-feathered friend to exit.  It reluctantly stumbles out. DSC00116 Once released, the bird squawks heartily, struts to the shallows and takes a sip of water.  Then it flutters its wings and slowly walks away from us.  DSC00117The bird is back to being a flamingo again.  And us humans?  We press on with a promise of a cold draft at the Beach Hut.  It is time to salute a successful relocation.DSC00118

Dolphin Delights

Another Island Note

I usually like to post Island Notes with photos, but this time I cannot.  My buddy, Tom, was visiting from the States and with 20-23 knot winds; my hands were full with mainsheet and tiller.  Thus, there was no camera aboard my sailboat, Kontentu.

We had a wonderful sail to Te Amo Beach, a beam reach along Punt Vierkant, and then a spirited tack back to Kralendijk.  It was when we were blowing home along the city front that it happened. I looked out to sea and saw a dive boat with all of its passengers on the bow.  Dolphins were swimming in front, delighting the group.  I thought of turning Kontentu around and following the pod but felt like that might steal the show from the divers.  But soon after, the dive boat sped away.  I asked Tom if he wanted to try to find the dolphins.  Stupid question.

We came about and headed to the open spot in the sea where we last saw the pod.  Nothing.  Then I looked to shore and saw a sight I had never witnessed.  There were at least twenty spinner dolphins swimming side-by-side in a row, leaping through the air and heading directly toward our boat.  It was as if the dinner bell had rung and the pod sped toward Klein Bonaire in a 50-yard swath.  Fortunately, we were  right in the middle of their path.

I was hoping that the group would change course and follow us for a bit, but the dolphins were on a mission.  They leap past Kontentu fore and aft.  Then, we watched the pod springing away from us still on course to Klein Bonaire.  Tom and I had our National Geographic moment.

The whole event took perhaps only a minute but it is one etched in my memory, one I’ll take to the grave.  Tom, who left the next day for New Mexico, had the best souvenir ever to take home. I’m sure he had dolphins leaping through his dreams.  I know I did.

Earlier that day, I had invited two other friends aboard for the sail, Skipper John and Patrick with his two sons.  Alas, both had shore side duties that denied them this grand sight.  That just reinforces the ages-old adage penned in Latin by the eloquent Roman poet Horace—Carpe Diem, seize the day.

A dolphin off Bonaire on another day, another sail.

A dolphin off Bonaire on another day, another sail.