Sunday, February 17, 2008

Science Renaissance on Bonaire

Some of you might remember when, way back in the 80's, the ruins at Karpata were restored and were being used as a center for science research. Does anyone else remember Jules VanRoy and the innovative underwater computer that he used for monitoring the activities of Parrot Fish? I'm sure our son, Richard, remembers when Denise Deering, aka the lizard lady, visited his kindergarten class. (A lizard bit one of his friends.) Sandra's science teacher cousin, Bud Gillan, has maintained contact with some of those bright young researchers over the years.

Well, the buildings at Karpata have fallen into ruins again, but science studies are enjoying something of a rebirth with a new generation of researchers. I think that the turning point may have come in 2005 when a research center with housing facilities for visiting scientists and interns was opened at the Washington Slagbaai Park.

One big success story arising out of this Stinapa/Washington Park initiative is the ongoing research of Sam, Rowan, and the "parrot people" as they study the Bonaire Lora. Like some of the projects in the 80's, the ParrotWatch project has received international media attention.

A giant leap forward for science on Bonaire came in 2006, when the CIEE launched a Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation study program here on Bonaire. CIEE, in existence for more than 60 years, has 97 study programs in 35 host countries, and summer seminars in 25 countries. A journal with the results of the 2006 studies can be downloaded from this link on the CIEE web site. It is a 50 something page pdf file full of interesting information.

Activities at the CIEE center on Bonaire are still going strong in 2008. A couple weeks ago I attended a presentation given by a team of researchers from NOAA. They spent five weeks on Bonaire mapping our reefs so they can be used as a baseline against which other coral reefs can be compared. According to NOAA: Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, is arguably the most pristine coral reef environment in the Caribbean. Percent coral cover is the highest and percent algal cover the lowest compared to other Caribbean reefs...

Regular readers of the blog will know that I'm a big Google Earth fan, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that lots of the data from the reef surveys is being plotted on Google Earth maps. This research project, titled "Bonaire 2008: Exploring Coral Reef Sustainability with New Technologies" has an extensive web site that is itself well worth exploring. Even if you don't click on any of the other links in this post, be sure to check out this one!

At the same time that the big guns from NOAA and other big institutions were here on Bonaire this past January, there were 16 students here from University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies. These lucky students were in the right place at the right time to get a chance to be involved in a cutting edge international research project. The students have written extensively about their experiences on Bonaire, and also posted some video reports. Bonaire lovers could spend some very enjoyable hours seeing their favorite island through the bright eyes of these students. Highly recommended as well.

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