Bonaire 2011- A change in perspective

I should’ve expected this. Months of research means nothing until you actually get into your project. I’ve learned more in a few hours on the island than I learned from all my background research combined. The most important thing I’ve learned so far? Things are worse than I thought.

Our lecture this morning was an introduction to tropical marine conservation. We emphasized the difficulties of protecting a marine environment as opposed to a terrestrial environment.

The main problem? People don’t live in the water.

People can understand the difference when we alter the land. In our minds, we can picture what the land should look like. We can envision dense forests, rolling prairies, and pristine mountains. People have been observing the land long enough to see changes over time, so we have a (relatively) clearer idea about the consequences of our actions.

The oceans, on the other hand, are a completely different story. They aren’t clear, and without specialized equipment we mostly have no idea about what lies beneath the surface. Because of that, we lack the historical data to compare our observations today.

Think of it this way. When a new diver jumps into the water for the first time, the reef that they see is the only reef they know. To his knowledge, that reef is thriving and healthy. Any other reef he sees after will be compared to that first reef, until eventually he believes he has a fairly solid idea about what constitutes a “healthy” or “unhealthy” reef.

But the “healthy” we think of today, could be extremely off. Because the reefs that we’re observing now have already been subjected to human influence for hundreds of years. Marine research didn’t really take off until the 1960s or 70s, and since then we have seen huge changes in the reef systems. And that’s just in a matter of 50 years. Just think if we were able to go back a few hundred years and observe the reefs back then, knowing what we know now. It’s actually mind boggling to think about.

The point of this tangent is this: the problems in our reefs could be much, much greater than we even realize. I came here with a thesis based on studying the “healthiest reef ecosystem in the Caribbean”. The key word is healthiest. So Bonaire is fairly healthy compared to other reef systems, but that does not mean that it is “healthy”.

It’s just a lot to think about.