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In Conversation with Christie Dovale on Bonaire, conservation and education

As a resident of Bonaire for over 4 decades (and visiting as a child since 1956 with her family from Curaçao where she was born), Christie Dovale can be described as long-time islander. A keen naturalist, she has observed Bonaire change over the years, and has been involved in many efforts to protect the natural environment. We first met Christie in 2002, when she ran the Plaza Resort’s Aqua Kids Club, a children’s program for kids too young to dive at the time. Our children were fortunate enough to be involved in her programme, with career-defining consequences for them.

Scubavox: How did the Aquakids concept develop from its start as a programme for kids while their parents dived?

Christie: I inherited a basic initial programme designed for 5 to 12 year olds which I developed further with the aim of educating visiting children about our reef, including fish identification, learning about fish habits, corals and the marine creatures like crabs which kids love, anything and everything about the sea. Some of it involved games in the Aqua kids’ activity room, but mostly it was about getting them into the water, so they had to be able to swim. We did a lot of snorkeling, and some even tried out the S.A.S.Y (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) program, a good introduction to diving. Awareness of plastic pollution was important. There was always a bag with us for plastic rubbish. Including on field trips such as to collect driftwood on the east coast (which they later painted). Sometimes we’d take a boat to Klein Bonaire for turtle tracking and dolphin watching. Above all, it was about teaching them respect for marine life, and also to take responsibility for themselves in the sea environment, like the importance of hydration and sun protection.

Scubavox: That was all a huge responsibility for you!

Christie: Yes, but I didn’t see it like that. I wish I’d written down all the questions they asked! Those seven years were the best years of my working life. Quite the most rewarding. Some kids were afraid, but mostly they were too excited to be fearful. It had a huge impact on them.

Scubavox: I was almost jealous of the children while they were learning all this. Definitely they were better on fish identification than I was then! Also all the other things you taught them.

Christie: Bonaire has so much nature which is untouched and unusual, and it was great to expose the kids to that too. The Donkey Sanctuary was always a favourite and of course spotting local birds, especially the Lora and Flamingo and other local birds, but also migratory species. (Note: The Lora is the Yellow-shouldered amazon parrot, Amazona Barbadensis fondly referred to as the Bonaire Green Parrot, and there are also the Prikichis, the Brown-throated Parakeet, often called the Green Parakeet.)

Scubavox: What about education of the local kids (and adults) about all of this?

Christie: ‘There have been, and still are, several initiatives, such as those of Friends of the Earth International from which Amigoe di Terra was born. There was also the Albert Butler program, a successful program run by Mr. Butler in St Lucia which we adopted and applied here, a huge success! It was funded by WWF, who continue to support conservation projects locally including Boneiru Durdero. ECHO has recently been involved in releasing captured parrots, which was started by retrieving caged birds and releasing them. This explains the ringed or banded Pet Parrots that can be seen. This particular species is on the Annex One of the CITES list (Convention for International Trade and Endangered Species), as is another Bonaire inhabitant, the Conch (Strombus Gigas).

Under my presidency with Amigoe di Tera on Bonaire during 1990-1999, several important moves were made such as this Parrot Protection program, bringing it into the schools along with teaching awareness about a number of other important species that needed attention amongst the youth. This was funded by WNF (Wereld Natuur Fonds, the Dutch branch of WWF).

I was also actively involved in starting up the ‘Foundation for Preservation and Conservation of Klein Bonaire’ (FPKB). Klein Bonaire had been threatened by investing developers and owners for years, and many of us, including Bruce Bowker an American Dive operator/ conservationist on Bonaire, had had enough. Through the foundation we established, the Island was bought back from the developers and is now under the hawk eyes of Stinapa, managed by the Bonaire Marine Park.

There is a lot of conservation work happening, both under and above water, such as in the last few years the restoration of our reefs and many islanders are involved in these projects both directly or indirectly. Bonaire Sea Turtle Conservation has done wonders in protecting our sea turtles their nesting grounds and education. The Mangrove reforestation program has a positive effect on the area Lac.’

Christie went on to say that, sadly, so much has been invested in caring for Bonaire’s nature, but ‘wasteful habits make it for nothing. Humans are the problem. There is a big wish to protect the coastline, but most people just don’t care. Without the reef, no-one will come here, so we need to protect it.’ She laments that the amount of housing development, saying that coastal development has a detrimental negative effect on the reefs because of its impact on the coastline. On the other hand, the sewage treatment plant has been an improvement. But, she remarks, ‘we can’t go back to the old ways, so we have to manage the future the ‘new’ way‘. And she should know, having devoted time to all manner of conservation initiatives on the island over the years. As she says, ‘So, those thousands of children that came through our class room in the Aquakids Program got more than they bargained for as did I!’

Christie, we applaud you! Thank you from all the children who learnt so much from you over the years.

Helen @ Scubavox

June 2023


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