PADI Sea Turtle Awareness Specialty in Bonaire

Green Sea Turtle in Bonaire

One of the most fun dive courses that I ever took was the “Sea Turtle Awareness Distinctive Specialty” with Dive Friends Bonaire. Together with PADI and the NGO Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire this specialty was designed in 2014  and it’s a great way to learn about Sea Turtles in Bonaire!

Before I tell you more about the PADI specialty in detail I’d like to take a moment to emphasize on the collaboration between several parties in Bonaire to make this course the success it is. First of all there’s Dive Friends who is a fairly big player in Bonaire when it comes to Scuba Diving. They have 7 shops all over the island and offer all PADI courses you can think off, up to the actual Instructor course (IDC). Then there’s Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire. Since 1991 STCB is active on Bonaire, protecting sea turtles in anyway they can. They have night watches, run a tag program, you can call them if you see a turtle in distress and they can take care of sick turtles and will try to rehabilitate them back into the ocean. And one of their big things is to educate people about sea turtles! Then there is Bonaire East Coast Diving. This company is focused on diving on the East coast, where you’ll by far find the most turtles. And of course there’s PADI, accommodating the distinctive specialty.

A few images from the Facebook of STCB removing a fish hook from a turtle.

So when you do this course, in Bonaire, you’re going to learn a lot from several parties involved with the sea turtles in Bonaire. For me it was a great way to learn about sea turtles and what Bonaire does to keep them safe.

Theoretical part at Dive Friends Bonaire

The first part of the course was a 2-hour theoretical part. My instructor, Richard Willis, told me for example about the different species of Sea Turtles that exist (7 different ones!!) and then told me about which turtles frequently visit Bonaire. In Bonaire it’s mostly Green turtles and Hawks-bill turtles that you’ll see, and sometimes in the odd case an Olive ridley. At the time of the course, Richard’s wife Sue (who worked at STCB at the time) was looking after a sweet Olive ridley turtle that had a positive buoyancy problem. A quick check on their Facebook page tells me that the Olive ridley made it and was released back into the ocean all healthy!  Other topics that are covered during the theoretical part are nesting habits, dangers turtles face and their diet. For example, turtles absolutely love jellyfish, for them it’s like popcorn!  Sadly underwater plastic bags can look just like popcorn, which obviously is a disaster for the turtles. Another topic we covered was how to tell the differences between Green Turtle’s and Hawks-bill Turtle’s…. the answer is their beak and shield. It was important for me to know the difference as part of my course assignment was to count how many Green’s and Hawks-bill’s I’d see on my dives on the East Coast of Bonaire.

Olive Ridley Bonaire
Release shot of the stranded Olive Ridley sea turtle that was nursed back to health on Bonaire by STCB. Photo copyright Bruce Zavon/Reef Photo and Video.

Time to go diving on the East coast of Bonaire!

Once we covered all the course material, it was time to say hello to all the beautiful turtles. I headed to the East Coast of Bonaire, to Sorobon to be precise, where I met the crew of Bonaire East Coast Diving. We launched the boat, did our dive briefings… which had an interesting detail… a day before a boat was being chased by the police and they’d thrown some heavy “white packages” overboard…. It was assumed all the packages had been collected but in case we spotted some more, the request was to mark it…. Exciting times. We’re now looking for turtles and drugs!

Bonaire East Coast Diving

Well to safe you the expense, we did not find any drugs. But what we did find was a crazy amount of turtles! I’d reckon about 30, but some divers on the boat claimed closer to 50. And who am I to argue? I was a very novice diver back then, completely overwhelmed by all this turtle magic. I’m sure I missed a few being distracted by other turtles. By far most of the turtles we saw were Green Turtles, but there were a few Hawks-bills and I was able to identify the right species. Besides turtle’s another thing that really impressed me on the East coast was the huge school of Tarpons I ended up in. They’re not shy at all and just swim next to you peacefully. Awesome experience.

So to conclude, if you go to Bonaire and you like to learn about turtles… this is by far the best way to do it. You’ll get to meet several different parties, loads of turtles and some good quality diving… what more can you wish for?!

My own pictures, please mind you… I had like 20 dives at the time!

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