Saturday 13th November 2021.
The water of the oceans, our way of life on a sailing boat, as well as the problems we all share connect us sailors, whether aboard a large modern yacht or a small, robust globetrotter boat, like mine. All of us will at some point face a blocked carburettor on the motor sailer, the batteries sometimes give us trouble, or the fridge isn‘t working. We spend a lot of time at sea, share the waters with the boat and its crew. Sailing into an unknown port or bay I will usually not know anyone. This is the same for everyone, and that too creates a connection. Most sailing folks are very open, and conversation comes easy to us. Sometimes the relationship remains very superficial, you meet for a beer at a bar, and chat a little about this that and the other.
Other encounters however lead to very special friendships. Often we don’t have much time and have to hurry to get to know each other better. We go on excursions together, help each other with repairs and cook dinner together. Yet it is the weather and the winds that determine when we have to set sail again.
Often it’s only a few days before a sailor is due to depart again, just when you’ve got close. You share a last beer, hug each other as tightly as possible, with promises to meet again on some island or other.
What took me to Bonair (Bonaire) was the diving. The first time I was ever exposed to corals was on the previous island I visited, Curação, while snorkelling. I was blown away by their beauty and learned that corals host even more organisms than rainforests do. I wanted to find out more, and everyone I asked named Bonair as the place to learn how to dive.
Jannika is another one of these special friendships. We met on our way to a 10-kilometre race on Grenada. Later on we met again at a few parties and would go running together. On Bonair, which belongs to the Netherlands, i.e. the EU, she became my diving instructor and introduced me to a new underwater world. While I was still busy concentrating on my breathing so I wouldn’t just shoot up out of control to the surface, Jannika would often hover right above the corals, inspecting the smallest detail and pointing out the tiniest organisms here and there whose existence I would never even have suspected.
Bonair protects its underwater world. The entire coastal region surrounding the island is a marine park, which makes the island one of the world’s top diving spots. Anchoring is strictly prohibited here. An anchor chain dragging across the sea floor would just mow down the coral stocks. Instead you have Mooring buoys set by STINAPA, the body running the marine park and whose profits benefit the conservation of the underwater world.
When I jump into the water in the San Blas Islands, which already belong to Panama, I’m stumped. „Hey, the corals here aren’t colourful!“ Most of them are white or sport a green, moss-like pelt spreading across its tentacles. Some reefs are completely dead and only covered by broken-off bits of lime. I ask myself how long these corals have been dead. Some do look very „cold“, with others I’m not so certain. They seem as if they’ve only recently died or are just now becoming a part of this bleak environment.
Corals are a subspecies of cnidarians and need very specific conditions to survive. An increase of the water temperature by one or two degrees may already be sufficient to provoke the infamous coral bleach which weakens the animals and eventually kills them off.
I can’t say how warm the water is exactly. In any case it’s so warm that in some place it’s not a refreshing experience for me when I jump off the boat into the water after cooking.
This year the Atlantic is warmer than usual. Provoked by generally increased surface temperatures and the effects of the El Niño phenomenon, the hurricane season in the Caribbean starts unusually early. After a few tropical waves in May and June, Grenada only just escapes the first hurricane of the season, hurricane Elsa, on 2 July, three days before my departure for Curação.
When Sofien and I are sitting in the cockpit in the evening asking ourselves how our children and their children will experience a beautiful place like this, we’re not only thinking about the dying coral. What we are asking ourselves is „will these islands even exist anymore once this has happened? Or will we see only the rotten stumps of palm trees peeking out of the water?“ In their report on „the future of sea levels“ the German Marine Research Consortium (KDM) writes that even if the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are met, by the turn of the century the average sea level will rise by between 30 and 60cm. If emissions remain the same, levels might rise by between 60 centimetres and one metre or more!
If that happens there won’t be much left of Dupwala, our campfire island in the Coco Bandero Cays. „Can we still prevent this threat?“, and if not, „what happens to the Guna Indians whose families are spread across the small islands of the entire Guna Yala archipelago?“ It’s now high time if ever there was one to seal a climate agreement in Glasgow offering all humans and future generations a peaceful climate-neutral future.