Protected Marine Species

Bonaire’s National Marine park is home to a wide array of species. From the tinest of invertebrates to massive whales, there are nearly 400 protected species inhabitating our local waters.

There are nearly 400 protected coral, crustacean, fish, mammal, mollusk, plant and reptile species found throughout the Bonaire National Marine Park. There are even a number of bird species which rely on the marine environment as their main food source which can be included in this number. Protection status comes in many forms including being listed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity species, included on the IUCN Red List, listed in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species in wild flora and fauna (CITES), lited in the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), noted in the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol, if its noted for being endemic, or as a flagship species.

Below three species have been highlighted to demonstrate the diversity of these protected species within the marine environment, check them out to learn more!

Sterna dougallii

Roseate tern

This species of tern gets its name from it’s distinctive pink breeding plumage, which helps it stand out from other similar looking terns species. Roseate terns plunge dive for fish, in fact, the offering of fish to a potential mate is an important part of their courtship display. Typically, these terns nest on the ground, along open areas of sand or rock.

Unfortunately, populations have been in decline over the last few decades. Roseate terns are often hunted in Africa and South America, and their eggs harvested throughout the Caribbean. In addition, marine pollution including oil spills and chemical pesticides further threatens these species. Disturbances to nests, including human activity and invasive species (such as cats and rats) lead these birds to abandon their nests. Lastly, due to their preference for low-lying lands, their nesting territory is disappearing due to erosion and sea level rise.

On Bonaire terns nest across the island, particularly in the Washington Slagbaai park and throughout the southern wetlands. If you happen to see a Roseate tern sitting on the ground, make sure to give it lots of space as it may be protecting its nest!

Rhincodon typus

Whale shark 

These filter-feeding sharks are the largest known fish species roaming the oceans. Whale sharks can be found in tropical waters around the world. These sharks are dark blue with white spots and stripes, each with its own individual markings. With over 300 rows of teeth, these wide-mouth filter feeders sieve through water looking for plankton. Female whale sharks can be pregnant with hundreds of pups (or baby sharks) at a time. Amazingly, not all pups are born at the same time, in fact, a female can produce a steady stream of pups over a long period of time.

Although not common, whale sharks are spotted throughout Bonaire’s marine park. Make sure to stay on the look out next time you are swimming so you don’t miss out on this amazing shark.

Montastraea cavernosa

Great Star Coral

Great star coral forms massive boulders, sometimes even plates. Although this coral may look like a single entity, its actually a colony of many genetically identical smaller polyps. Great star coral can be found throughout most of the reef, and is the predominate coral at depths between 12 – 30 (40-100 feet). This coral comes in a wide range of colors, from brown to purple, and is easily identifiable by its large distinct polyp shape. To experience this coral in all of its glory, visit it at night when the polyps extend, filtering out zooplankton from the water to eat.

On Bonaire great star coral is a vital species for developing a robust and resilient reef. Unfortunately, Bonaire has not been immune to the overall decline in cover and abundance of boulder corals. Improving water quality and continuing restoration work is vital to protecting these corals for the future.

Learn more about terrestrial species

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Pay your nature fee

The Stinapa Bonaire nature fee is mandatory for all users of the Bonaire National Marine Park and the Washington Slagbaai National Park.

Valid per calendar year JAN-DEC

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