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Some 800 metres off the coast of Kralendijk, the capital of Bonaire, is a small uninhabited island. This is Little Bonaire, a protected nature reserve that is part of the Bonaire National Marine Park. The approximately six-square-kilometre island is popular among divers for the black coral reef that starts at the beach and goes down to a depth of 35 metres. In addition to colourful fish, there are also seahorses and rare turtles.
Little Bonaire, with its pearly-white beaches and azure Caribbean Sea, is a sight for sore eyes. Only a few of these types of mini-islands in the region are uninhabited. There have been many project developers who wanted to build on the island. The last attempt was in 1995 with a plan to build an all-inclusive resort. The plan was thwarted by the people of Bonaire and Little Bonaire was made a protected nature reserve accessible to the public.
Little Bonaire can be reached by water taxi, with various companies in Kralendijk providing services for the 25-minute trip. Explore the island on foot and enjoy the beaches, snorkelling or diving. The island is actually not completely uninhabited as rare hawksbill and leather turtles lay their eggs here. Anyone who discovers a new turtle nest is asked to report it to Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, which will then ensure protection. The 3 saliñas (salt lakes) often feature flamingos that flock here in search of food.
Walking around you’ll see evidence of past inhabitants. There are still a few slave huts on the east, and a small lighthouse in the south. In the mid-19th century the commanders of Bonaire were worried about a cholera outbreak, and Little Bonaire was made a quarantine station for incoming ships. As a result, the island still features the remains of a doctor’s station with an old-fashioned fireplace and oven.
Little Bonaire used to be covered with trees and shrubs. This ended in 1868 when the island was auctioned off and sold to a private individual for 8,000 guilders who used it to keep goats. The goats appreciated the greenery and proceeded to eat the island bare. Under the name Operation Great Goat Round Up, all the animals were removed from the island in 1966. Since then there have been initiatives to reforest the island and some trees have hence returned. In 1999, Little Bonaire was returned to the people of Bonaire.
Harry Belafonte, the famous singer of Jamaican origin, has been a fan of Bonaire for many years. During his diving trips he became so enchanted with Little Bonaire that he became its owner for a time. His song ‘Oh, Island in the Sun’ is dedicated to Little Bonaire.