Bonaire stands out among Caribbean destinations because of its longstanding commitments to its natural resources, particularly the Bonaire Marine Park. The protection of the island’s unique natural attractions – the fringing coral reefs, Klein Bonaire, Lac Bay, and Washington Slagbaai National Park – is what makes this Caribbean island special. It’s one reason why so many fall in love with this unspoiled paradise.
A Little Eco History
For many decades, the safeguarding and maintenance of these natural treasures has fallen to STINAPA, a non-government organization significantly funded by the admission fees charged to users of the natural resources. Since 2005, the fees for admission to the Bonaire Marine Park have remained constant at $25 for scuba divers and $10 for other water users (snorkelers, windsurfers, kitesurfers, etc.).
Unfortunately, while the entrance fee remained static, other elements that impact Bonaire’s natural resources have grown, namely the island’s population, number of annual visitors and demands from providers of tourism-based services, including land- and water-based activities.
The Fee Increase & Who It Affects
To keep pace with the increased cost of maintenance, enforcement, and oversight, STINAPA put in several requests to the island government (OLB) in 2018 for an increase in admission fees. Along with these requests, according to STINAPA, they also asked the government to impose a nature fee on all visiting cruise ship tourists.
On November 28, 2018, the OLB finally acted on STINAPA’s requests, approving an admission fee increase for some users of the park. The approved increases resulted in the following: $45 for scuba divers and $25 for others, with the new fees to go into effect on January 1, 2019. Although initially not included in the OLB’s new fee decree, day passes for $10 will still be available.
The OLB did not take action on STINAPA’s requests to impose an admission fee for cruise ship visitors. The end result of OLB’s actions is to not impose any nature fees whatsoever for those visitors who will be on the island less than 24 hours. In other words, cruise ship tourists will pay nothing to enjoy Bonaire’s natural resources — they get a “free sample.”
The Unintended Consequences
The increase caught the island’s dive and water sports industry off guard. While general talk of a fee increase had been mentioned in early 2018, these stakeholders were surprised when the OLB issued its fee increase decree, especially with an effective date of just one month in the future. After a series of discussions that involved all interested parties, the OLB agreed to a reprieve, making the new fee effective on March 1, 2019. This delay is intended to give dive shops and water sports providers time to prepare for the fee increase. Dive and nature tags can be purchased from now through February 28, 2019 for the old price of $25 and $10, respectively.
As you might expect, the exemption of cruise ship tourists also caused quite an uproar among all interested parties, including scuba divers who visit the islands. The unanimous opinion is that ALL users of Bonaire’s waters – including those who visit the island for less than 24 hours – should pay for the privilege of enjoying the marine park. Unfortunately, the OLB seems to feel otherwise.
What You Can Do
We remain passionate about Bonaire, as we expect all of you are. We understand and support the work of STINAPA, and appreciate that admission fees to the marine park must keep pace with increased expenses for maintenance, oversight, and enforcement. We support the increase for admission fees, as it is long overdue.
While the jump in price may be initially shocking, it is in line with today’s economic realities. We’ll continue to do our part to support STINAPA in the work they do to maintain Bonaire’s natural resources.
That being said, we’re not very happy with the OLB’s decision to exempt cruise ship passengers from paying anything to enjoy Bonaire’s natural resources. Which causes us to ask ourselves, what can we – or anyone who loves Bonaire – do?
Making our thoughts known to the OLB seems like a good step.
We have no idea if writing to express our feelings on the cruise ship passenger exemption will be effective, but it can’t hurt. In looking on the OLB’s official website, it appears emails can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the end of the day, we are for working together to protect what we all love – Bonaire’s naturally beautiful underwater world.