W1702 – Man goes to Mangroves

In my last post, W1702 – Photo Adventure, I described my visit to the first of three Caribbean islands we visit on this epic cruise, Barbados.

After a day at sea, we reached the port of Kralendjik, capital of the island of Bonaire. This island is one of the Leeward Antilles, and together with Aruba and Curaçao, it forms the group known as the ABC islands. Bonaire is located less than a hundred miles off the north coast of South America near the western part of Venezuela. It was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands. Bonaire has a land area of 288 square kilometres, and the entire coastline of the island was designated a marine sanctuary in 1979, an effort to preserve and protect the delicate coral reef and the marine life that depends on it.

I was up on deck as usual to watch us sail into port in bright sunshine. However as we watched the complicated process of mooring the ship to the quay and various dolphins around the tiny harbour, a sudden tropical rain shower swept across and sent us scurrying for cover. The shower stopped as quickly as it started, and with the hot sunshine everything soon started to dry once more.

My shore tour was not until lunchtime, so I had around an hour and a half to go ashore on foot to explore the port and town. After taking a picture of our ship totally dominating the small dock, I began to wander around the town looking for the interesting and quirky to photograph as usual:

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Returning to the ship for a quick early lunch ahead of my tour, the water in the dock looked stunning, so clear and azure blue:

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The tour I had selected was to explore a mangrove forest in a small electric boat. We met our local guide on the quayside just as another short sharp shower passed overhead. I didn’t bother to seek shelter, knowing I would very soon dry out in the hot sunshine that would follow it. Our guide drove us to the mangrove forest in a minibus, mostly along a very rough dirt road with scrub and tall cactus plants either side. The guide explained that sometimes the tall cactus stems are used to form a very prickly and impenetrable fence.

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On reaching the mangrove forest we had to remove our shoes in order to wade out to the small boat. We had to board carefully in turn as it’s canoe-like shape was rather unstable. Once everyone was safely onboard we headed out into the mangrove forest, initially through quite narrow channels where we had to duck from time to time to avoid low branches:

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Our guide explained how the mangrove trees grow entirely in salt water, and how left unchecked they will spread rapidly as they flower and seed all year around. The numerous seeds are long and thin, and when they drop they usually impale themselves into the mud below and soon take root. Some seeds may float away for a while before sinking, allowing the plant to spread further afield. He explained that they had to actively manage the forest, particularly clearing any seedlings from sea grass beds, and also keeping the navigation channels clear.

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Under the water in the channels we could see Cassiopea, or upside-down jellyfish, who live in the clear water, feeding using photosynthesis using the zooxanthellae embedded in their tissues:

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The guide explained it was very hard to see the birdlife living in the mangrove forest due to the density of the branches. All I saw was this glimpse of a retreating green heron:

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As the electric boat glided silently along the water channels, it reminded me of when I was punted along the canals of ‘green Venice’ last year, documented in my post M1623 – Green Venice.

All to soon we returned to shore, where we reboarded the minibus for the bumpy return journey to the ship. On the way we passed this distant flock of flamingos feeding:

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I had enjoyed my visit to the island of Bonaire, both walking around the small town in the morning, and seeing and learning about the mangrove forest in the afternoon, although perhaps I had hoped to see more wildlife during the latter.

That evening we set sail for our next port of call on the Island of Aruba the next day, which will be the subject of my next post.

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