CIEE Bonaire High School Program

IMG_7382by, Bud Gillan & Cinde Wirth

Imagine you are 17 and standing at the edge of the ocean for the very first time at the Yellow Sub pier. You are wearing a borrowed wetsuit, have a mask on your face and fins in your hands. The ocean looks very big. Maybe a bit scary. The rest of your group walks into the water chattering, puts on their fins, and begin to snorkel around in the shallows. You look for your new ‘buddy’ and see she is just beside you waiting for you to get in.

PIC_2832The water feels nice and cool when it makes its way into your wetsuit. You manage to get your fins on and swim a few feet, keeping your head above water.  Not so bad, you think. You take the snorkel out of your mouth for a second. Yuck!  Salty water! Your mouth feels strange, like you ate an entire salt shaker. You try again and the water doesn’t taste so bad.  A third time and you wonder what the big deal was a few seconds ago.  You put your face in and turn toward the pier. So many fish!  All sizes, colors- they are everywhere.  you raise your face from the water and realize you are still almost in the same spot as when you put your face in the water.  You know want to see more.

FB_IMG_1436498678230_resizedThree weeks later, you have compiled a list of over 100 marine and terrestrial species that you have seen and identified- things that you have never seen before! You are quite knowledgeable about squid and octopus and how they change colors and give a short presentation about it to the rest of your group. You have snorkeled for hours and learned how to scuba dive. Watching Christmas tree worms re-emerge is your favorite shallow water memory.  You don’t want to get on the plane and leave your new friends, but you can’t wait to get home and tell everyone else about the amazing things you have seen in the ocean.

High School students participating in the inaugural session of CIEE Bonaire High School Marine Ecology program arrived on Bonaire June 16 and departed July 18th. This amazing group of young people came from all over the US and were joined by two exceptional Junior Rangers from Bonaire. Some, like in the story above, had never swam in the ocean.  Others learned to refine their skin diving skills and underwater photography skills. Students participated in the reforestation of Klein PIC_2930Bonaire, learned from guest lecturers and staff about Sea Turtles, STINAPA, Communication, Coral Reef Restoration, and jellyfish.  Lionfish and jellyfish dissections gave students a first-hand look at structures & functions of marine life.  Digital microscopy labs allowed students observe what they collected on plankton tows. Students toured the island learning about the history and culture, visited a pre-columbian rock art site and spent a day exploring the Washington-Slaagbai National Park. Students also got to know Lac Bay when they toured the mangroves by kayak, snorkeled the mangroves and Sorobon reef inside the bay and learned how to windsurf as well as participated in the 12th annual Jellyfish jamboree, the night the Alatina box jellies come ashore.

All of the students successfully completed their SCUBA certification and AAUS Scientific Diver In Training rating.  The second session began with students arriving July 18th and they will depart August 8th.

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