How do you get the dive community to come together; on a small island filled with probably the highest density of scuba businesses in the world?
As a passionate diver, I would say take them out diving, which is exactly what Private Divers do in Bonaire.
Every month dive center Private Divers organizes a lionfish hunt open to each diver who wants to participate. If you wish to hunt Lionfish, of course, you need to be a certified lionfish hunter. However, suppose you are not a certified lionfish hunter. In that case, you can still join the hunters as a lionfish spotter, also an important job as hunting and spotting are two different tasks to be done during a Lionfish hunt.
Jean-Marc and I decided to participate in this dive and support the event. We wanted to meet the dive community on Bonaire and help the Bonarian reefs by catching some lionfish that don’t belong in these waters.
Every month, on a Saturday evening just before sunset, all participants gather at the Private Divers dive centre. There we met a mix of Dutch, United States, and Belgian divers, all ready to catch a bunch of lionfish.
The event is a cooperation between several dive-related companies in Bonaire. Private Divers organizes (www.privatediversboniare.com) the dive while Dive Air Station Bonaire sponsors the air we will use. All participating divers can take lionfish home for consumption, and any leftovers will be recovered by the “Chef’s on tour.” They will prepare and serve the fish in their private home-cooked meals and make families on Bonaire aware of the lionfish problem on the reefs. Let’s not forget Stinapa, the marine park organization from Bonaire. It is their role to give permission and be on-site to oversee this big lionfish hunt event.
Once all divers were gathered at the dive centre, we drove to the dive spot Andrea I. After arriving, the dive teams were assigned. Then, with the last daylight available, we prepared our dive equipment on the dive site, received an ELF (a specific spear of which the abbreviation means: Eradicate Lion Fish) to hunt with, and walked into the water.
Our team consisted of three divers, Jean-Marc, the hunter, Killian, our spotter, and I, to carry the zookeeper and help spot as many lionfish as possible. The first catches in the shallow area are such tiny fish that they succeed in escaping again from the zookeeper. Jean-Marc catches them again and puts them back in the zookeeper. So, let’s try to find some bigger fish. From our dives in the previous days, we know that the deeper you go, the bigger the lionfish are. So we go a little deeper and are lucky to find some bigger fish. Some are easy to catch, and some are so fast they avoid the ELF and hide under the rocks or in the small caves. At that point, it is really difficult to find them again and spear them.
But slowly, the zookeeper fills up….. 5, 6, 7, 8…. and then at 99 feet (33m) of depth, we spot a real big one! Jean-Marc positions carefully and spears it. But this one is not in the mood to be put in the zookeeper. He tries to swim away while being on the spear. Jean-Marc needs to use all his force to point the spear with fish in my direction and the zookeeper I am carrying. He tries to push the fish in, but it struggles to set itself free. Jean-Marc uses a lot of power to push the fish in, and….. the ELF breaks into two pieces! Luckily Jean-Marc immediately blocks the part with the lionfish on, puts the zookeeper between his legs, and pushes the fish in. That one will not escape anymore!
Our dive computer starts beeping, and we are almost out of time at this depth, so we slowly make our way up again. For a while, we see no lionfish, around 12 meters-36feet; we see some midrange-size lionfish again. Even with the broken spear, Jean-Marc catches them. After months of diving in the Caribbean sea, he has a lot of experience hunting lionfish and knows how to approach the fish and where to hit them.
While we swim back in the direction of our entrance/exit point, we are still checking for lionfish, but we also enjoy a free swimming moray eel, a big puffer fish, and some beautiful tiny lobsters. After 45 min and getting low on air, we are about to make our way back to shore, but not without surprising a sleeping turtle with our lights; she is completely disoriented by our dive lights and swims away as if she drank too many cocktails. Finally, it is time we leave her and exit the water.
But this is not yet the end of the evening.
All nine hunters empty their zookeepers on a big pile. Then, of course, the lionfish will be prepared to be eaten, but that’s not the only useful thing planned with them.
Laura Aubac, who lives on the island, collects the tails and fins of the caught lionfish. She uses them to make beautiful lionfish jewelry. She’s the owner of “Lionfish creations Bonaire.” Serving lionfish is one thing, but she uses another way to make divers and non-divers aware of the existing lionfish threat. The jewelry is only sold on Bonaire, so if you ever visit Bonaire, check out these special and beautiful jewelry pieces.
Of course, everybody wanted to know how many lionfish were caught during this night dive, so after all of the fins were cut off, we counted the big pile of fish.
- Nine hunters
- Five spotters
- Ninety-five lionfish caught!
- 45 minutes of diving
- Many lionfish jewels to be made
- A few beers to celebrate this successful evening
Ninety-five lionfish is a lot; Johan from Private Divers tells us it is the biggest catch during the open lionfish hunt dives up to now. We are happy to have been part of it.
When I look at the big pile of lionfish, I realize there are so many of these fish in just one dive spot. Imagine the total amount of lionfish swimming freely in the waters surrounding Bonaire while eating all the small reef fish. Bonaire definitely needs more lionfish hunters and events like the one we participated in. Lionfish awareness is promoted well in Bonaire. Please take a moment to check out the numbers and information on the chart.
This hunting event was a very nice get-together of all kinds of divers, and different dive companies situated within Bonaire and the reef at Andrea 1 will be much healthier for the event. The dive will be remembered, and while spreading the word, we saw many divers interested in joining in the next time. The local dive community in Bonaire is growing, diving for a good cause is well known, and people will take the time and energy to participate.
Check out the Facebook /Instagram of Private Divers Bonaire, as next month, there will be another open lionfish hunt, always on a different dive site somewhere on the island.
Maybe you just need to join in and have a wonderful night dive with fresh Lionfish at the end to take home and grill…fun guaranteed!
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