Cleaning Up The Boka

No. 8 from the Beachkeeper’s DiaryDSC01058

It all began because I switched.  For nearly two seasons I had walked Bonaire’s west coast beaches from Red Beryl to Hidden Beach in search of turtle nests.  I served as a beachkeeper for Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire.  I loved those early Thursday mornings alone, watching the natural world awaken.  But when I learned that STCB needed volunteers at remote beaches so they could be monitored more often, I changed to the northeast.  It was like plunging into another world.

Broad sands and violent waves at Playa Chikitu

Broad sands and violent waves at Playa Chikitu.

My new patrol took me to Playa Chikitu, a rough and tumble sand beach in Washington Slagbaai National Park, and its secluded sidekick, Boka Chikitu, a wave torn, wind swept inlet just to the north.  The third location was Boka Onima, another East Coast cove not too far from the Indian inscriptions, south of Rincon.  These are wild places.  The sea crashes with such force that one is overwhelmed by the sonic collision of water against rock.  The waves are enormous and white-capped.  Even frigate birds seem intimidated by the relentless, shifty winds that blow onshore.  The bokas and the playa demanded my full attention upon arrival.  What a difference from the relatively tranquil waters of the west coast beaches.

Playa Chikitu

Playa Chikitu

Most of the turtle nesting in this area is centered at Playa Chikitu, but it is difficult to locate nests here.  Strong winds quickly cover telltale tracks in the sand, eliminating clues as to where turtles may have landed or nested.  And when the turtles do lay their eggs, it is embryonic chaos.  At times, nests are laid on top of previous nests.  Some turtles venture far into the dunes or deep under cliff overhangs to bury their eggs.  And the

tracks in the sand

tracks in the sand

hatchlings, rather than making a logical beeline for the water, often travel diagonally to the center of Playa Chikitu to begin their life at sea.  Along the way, their tracks are mixed with those of lizards, crabs and other beach beasts whose marks in the sand can look quite similar to those of the hatchlings.

One Hundred Eleven hatched eggs at Playa Chikitu nest.

One Hundred Eleven hatched eggs at Playa Chikitu nest.

Needless to say, I was somewhat relieved to leave the pandemonium of the playa and head to Boka Chikitu about a kilometer north.  That optimism soon switched to disappointment as I stood on the edge of the cliff overlooking the inlet.  Below were hundreds of plastic bottles choking the boka, surging back and forth in a disgusting, slow motion waltz of environmental mess.  The enormity of this filth reminded me of my childhood growing up in industrial Great Lakes city of Cleveland, Ohio in the USA.  How could this trash end up in our beautiful island?  DSC01011

The answer was simple.  Currents.Perhaps you have heard of the Pacific Trash Vortex, an enormous gathering of plastics, toxic sludge and other garbage trapped in the North Pacific Gyre.  It is estimated to be the size of Texas.  Gyres are massive, rotating ocean currents.  The one that dominates the southern Caribbean is the Columbia-Panama Gyre.

Boka Chikitu

Boka Chikitu

It flows counter-clockwise to the Caribbean Current and dumps undesirable flotsam primarily upon the eastern coasts of Bonaire and other islands.  Boka Chikitu, with its receptive inlet walls, has become a catch-all for any trash approaching this part of the island.  And that is where I come in.To say that I was enraged at this pollution upon our shores is an understatement.  I decided on that first day looking down into the boka that I would clean up this small part of dushi Bonaire.

But it was not easy.To enter, I had to descend down a 20-foot cliff of craggy rock.  One slip and it would become a bloody morning.  Next was a scramble through a maze of boulders that abruptly ended at a small sand beach.  That is where the cleanup began. Dive Friends equipped me with four large mesh bags each capable holding two and a half cubic feet of rubbish.  It took me 15 minutes to fill each bag.You learn much about humans by picking DSC01128up their trash.  Plastics dominate the scene and most are water bottles.  But there are cigarette lighters, motor oil containers, syringes, children’s toys, forks, knives, cups, fishing line, footwear, packaging, toothbrushes, headphones, sunglasses and shopping bags—all made from plastic.  Probably the most environmentally damaging are the soft plastics—Styrofoam, insulation and other materials that break down easily under the constant forces of surf, salt and sun.  These quickly crumble into micro particles that dissipate into the marine environment.  Scientists fear that these miniscule bits may be entering the human food chain as a consequence of fish unknowingly ingesting the minutia.  Plus, Greenpeace estimates that over a million seabirds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement by microfilament.

DSC01015So yes, I had a sense of urgency to clean up the boka.  For six consecutive Thursdays I climbed down the cliff, negotiated the boulder field and then filled the four bags. After driving back to town I would dump it all into a caged trailer at the Dive Friends’ Hamlet location.  This depository is a key part of their Debris Free Bonaire program.  People can borrow collection bags from Dive Friends, gather plastics from any beach or boka and return the debris to the Dive Friends’ Hamlet location.  Plastics that are not too degraded by salt and sun are delivered to Bon Recycling next to the Warehouse Bonaire supermarket .  By the time my Boka Chikitu cleanup was complete, I had gathered 61 cubic feet, nearly 2 cubic meters of waste.

So what did I get out of this endeavor?  Immediate gratification, that is for sure.  Seeing a plastic-infested seascape returned to its natural grace was personally rewarding.  On a bigger scale, this slice of the island is now rid of a toxic threat, but much more needs to be done.  So head down to Dive Friends, grab a bag and do your part.  Not only will the fish and turtles immediately benefit, but so will people, both local and visitor alike.  And do not forget about yourself.  Making a difference in an increasingly complex world is often difficult at best.  This is one simple way you can make an immediate impact, help Bonaire and feel hopi kontentu about the change that you made.

Clean Boka

Clean Boka



3 thoughts on “Cleaning Up The Boka

  1. Hey Patrick, we met a couple of years ago at some seaside restaurant to talk about the writing life. Been making good progress on that front. Have an agent who has found a good publisher who is interested in my gardening book. Sold an essay to the NY Times about my worklife. Have been making about 40% of my income from selling stories and photos to national magazines. Have even lined up a story about Hans Voerman and his chickens at his eco-lodge on Bonaire for a story for Chickens magazine. 🙂

    So this trip to Bonaire will be a business expense. 🙂

    My wife Chris and I will be on Bonaire from 12/28 to 1/6/14. Will do some caving with Hans and hopefully help out with one of Fernando Simal’s research projects. Will you be around? would love to catch up.

    Enjoyed your post below on turtle nesting. I worked one summer on an uninhabited barrier island in SC in the 80’s scouting for nests and moving them to higher ground with fencing to keep the raccoons out. One of the best times of my life. Except for the day that a 350 pound dead male loggerhead washed up and stank up the entire island. My best friend/co-worker and I tried digging a hole and rolling it into it and burying the rotting thing, but of course the next high tide (they ran 5-6 feet there) exposed it and the stink. Couple weeks later some rough weather washed it out to sea thank God.

    Hope to catch up with you, take care Frank

  2. Hey Patrick, I have participated in many beach clean ups in the Vero Beach area. One of the most fun ones in Manatee Pocket where I used a paddle board to get into remote beach locations on that popular bay area. I kept thinking about that line from the movie “The Graduate”….”I have just one word for you Benjamin, plastic.” If we would have only know what a nuisance it would become.

    • Hi Frank,

      Great to hear from you again. Nice to know that you are having solid success selling your writing. That’s not an easy feat in these days of down-sizing, audience fragmentation and publishing bankruptcies. Well done!

      I will be on island during your stay and would enjoy getting together again. Just write me an email when and where you would like to meet. Perhaps you would like to have a sunset beer at the Kanti Awa. It’s a seaside bar that only locals go to and it’s only open on certain days. I think you would like its casual island vibe. Friday, January 3 @ 5:30?

      best, Patrick

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