Bonaire's capital is Kralendijk. The island has a permanent population of 18,905 and an area of 294 km2. Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country's dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands. It is one of the three BES islands in the Caribbean, along with Sint Eustatius and Saba.
The name 'Bonaire' is thought to have originally come from the Caquetio word 'Bonay', a name that meant low country. The early Spanish and Dutch modified its spelling to Bojnaj and also Bonaire. The French influence, while present at various times, was never strong enough to make the assumption that the name means 'good air'.
Bonaire's earliest known inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians, a branch of the Arawak who came by canoe from Venezuela in about 1000 AD. Archeological remains of Caquetio culture have been found at certain sites northeast of Kralendijk and near Lac Bay. Caquetio rock paintings and petroglyphs have been preserved in caves at Spelonk, Onima, Ceru Pungi, and Ceru Crita-Cabai. The Caquetios were apparently a very tall people, for the Spanish name for the ABC Islands was 'las Islas de los Gigantes' or 'the islands of the giants.'
In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda arrived in Curaçao and a neighbouring island that was almost certainly Bonaire. Ojeda was accompanied by Amerigo Vespucci and Juan de la Cosa. De La Cosa's Mappa Mundi of 1500 shows Bonaire and calls it Isla do Palo Brasil or "Island of Brazilwood". The Spanish conquerors decided that the three ABC Islands were useless, and in 1515 the natives were forcibly deported to work as slaves in the copper mines of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola.
In 1526, Juan de Ampies was appointed Spanish commander of the ABC Islands. He brought back some of the original Caquetio Indian inhabitants to Bonaire and Curaçao. Ampies also imported domesticated animals from Spain, including cows, donkeys, goats, horses, pigs, and sheep. The Spaniards thought that Bonaire could be used as a cattle plantation worked by natives. The cattle were raised for hides rather than meat. The Spanish inhabitants lived mostly in the inland town of Rincon which was safe from pirate attack.
The Dutch West India Company was founded in 1621. Starting in 1623, ships of the West India Company called at Bonaire to obtain meat, water, and wood. The Dutch also abandoned some Spanish and Portuguese prisoners there, and these people founded the town of Antriol which is a contraction of Spanish al interior (English: inside). The Dutch and the Spanish fought from 1568 to 1648 in what is now known as the Eighty Years War. In 1633, the Dutch—having lost the island of St. Maarten to the Spanish—retaliated by attacking Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba. Bonaire was conquered in March 1636. The Dutch built Fort Oranje in 1639.
While Curaçao emerged as a center of the slave trade, Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. A small number of African slaves were put to work alongside Indians and convicts, cultivating dyewood and maize and harvesting solar salt around Blue Pan. Slave quarters, built entirely of stone and too short for a man to stand upright in, still stand in the area around Rincon and along the saltpans as a grim reminder of Bonaire's repressive past.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the Netherlands lost control of Bonaire twice, once from 1800 to 1803 and again from 1807 to 1816. During these intervals, the British had control of the neighboring island of Curaçao and of Bonaire. The ABC islands were returned to the Netherlands under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. During the period of British rule, a large number of white traders settled on Bonaire, and they built the settlement of Playa (Kralendijk) in 1810.
From 1816 until 1868, Bonaire remained a government plantation. In 1825, there were about 300 government-owned slaves on the island. Gradually many of the slaves were freed, and became freemen with an obligation to render some services to the government. The remaining slaves were freed on 30 September 1862 under the Emancipation Regulation. A total of 607 government slaves and 151 private slaves were freed at that time.
In 1867 the government sold most of the public lands, and in 1870 they sold the saltpans. The entire population became dependent on two large private landowners, and this caused a great deal of suffering for many people. Many inhabitants were forced to move to Aruba, Curaçao, or Venezuela.
During the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, Bonaire was a protectorate of Britain and the United States. The American army built the Flamingo Airport as an air force base. After Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, many German and Austrian citizens were interned in a camp on Bonaire for the war's duration. In 1944, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Eleanor Roosevelt visited the troops on Bonaire.
After the war, the economy of Bonaire continued to develop. The airport was converted to civilian use and the former internment camp was converted to become the first hotel on Bonaire. The Dutch Schunck family built a clothing factory known as Schunck's Kledingindustrie Bonaire. In 1964, Trans World Radio began broadcasting from Bonaire. Radio Netherlands Worldwide built two short wave transmitters on Bonaire in 1969. The second major hotel (Bonaire Beach Hotel) was completed in 1962. Salt production resumed in 1966 when the salt pans were expanded and modernized by the Antilles International Salt Company, a subsidiary of the International Salt Company. Part of the facilities extend into the Caribbean Sea and form the popular dive site known as Salt Pier. The Bonaire Petroleum Corporation (BOPEC) oil terminal was opened in 1975 for trans-shipping oil.
Bonaire lies about 50 miles (80 km) off the coast of Venezuela on the continental shelf of South America, and is thus geologically considered a part of the continent.
Geologists believe that Bonaire was formed relatively recently. As the nearby continental shelf (now located near Montserrat, and the cause of the volcanic activity on that island) moved through the area, it forced a large mass of rock to the ocean surface and created the islands of the Lesser and Greater Antilles, including Bonaire. As the sea bed rose a vast coral reef grew on what is now dry land. These corals were eventually exposed to air and perished, becoming surface limestone deposits over the millennia.
Vast amounts of coral skeletons may be seen along the shoreline, and across the interior of Bonaire. The island is essentially a coral reef that has been geologically pushed up and out of the sea. This also resulted in the natural fringing reef system seen today, in which the coral formations start at the shoreline. Tidal variations are only about 1.8–2.0 feet (55–61 cm), so the corals start at the low tide line and continue on, following the underwater topology of the island's base. Bonaire's tides are more affected by a combination of wind and low/high pressure systems than by the moon.
The northern end of the island is relatively mountainous, although its highest peak is only 240 metres (790 feet). The southern part of the island is nearly flat and barely rises above sea level. A significant portion of this southern region is covered with sea water in process of evaporation for salt production. This area also contains Lac Bay with its large mangrove forest. The shoreline of Bonaire is dotted with lagoons and inlets, the largest of which is Goto Lake in the north. These lagoons and wetlands provide an excellent habitat for a wide variety of shorebirds.
Bonaire has a warm, dry (though humid), and windy climate. The average temperature is 81.5 °F (27.5 °C) with a 2.5 °F (1.4 °C) seasonal variation, and 10 °F (5.6 °C) daily variation. The ocean temperature around the island fluctuates between 78 and 86 °F (26 and 30 °C). The highest recorded temperature is 96.4 °F (35.8 °C) and the lowest, 67.6 °F (19.8 °C). Nearly constant winds blow from the east with an average speed of 12 knots (22 km/h).
The humidity is very constant, averaging 76% and fluctuating between 85% and 66% on a daily basis. Average annual rainfall is 20.5 inches (520 mm), most of which occurs in October through January. Bonaire lies outside the hurricane belt, though its weather and oceanic conditions are occasionally affected by hurricanes and tropical storms. This semi-arid climate is conducive to a variety of cacti and other desert plants.
Klein Bonaire, the small island in the sheltered lee of the Bonaire, has the same geological history. While Bonaire has some hills and variations in altitude, Klein Bonaire's surface is quite level and just a few feet above high tide. Because the island is as-yet undeveloped, the fringing reef system surrounding Klein Bonaire is truly pristine. The smaller island is entirely ringed with dive sites.
Bonaire has a land area of 288 square kilometres (111 sq mi), while Klein Bonaire is an additional 6 km2 (2.3 sq mi).
Washington Slagbaai National Park is an ecological preserve on the north side of the island. The highest point of Bonaire, Mount Brandaris, 240 m (790 ft) high is located within this preserve and has a complete view of the island.
Bonaire is fringed by a coral reef which is accessible to divers from the shore along the lee side of the island (facing west southwest). The entire coastline of the island was designated a marine sanctuary in 1979, an effort to preserve and protect the delicate coral reef and the marine life that depends on it. There are more than 350 species of fish and sixty species of coral living in Bonaire's reef. Boulder Star Coral (Montastraea annularis) is the most common coral, according to a 2011 survey.
Bonaire is also famed for its flamingo populations and its donkey sanctuary. Flamingos are drawn to the brackish water of the island's lagoons, which harbours the shrimp upon which they feed. Bonaire is home to one of only four nesting grounds for the Caribbean flamingo. Located in the Pekelmeer in the southern part of the island, no human entry is permitted in this sanctuary. In the 16th century, Europeans introduced sheep, goats, pigs, horses and donkeys on Bonaire, and the descendants of the donkeys, goats, and pigs roam the island today.
Bonaire is also home to the ecologically vulnerable yellow-shouldered amazon parrot, Amazona barbadensis.
The island of Bonaire has long been a leader in nature conservation and ecological responsibility. Stichting Nationale Parken (STINAPA), Bonaire's National Park Foundation, was founded in 1962 for the purpose of actively protecting nature on the island. In 1969 STINAPA succeeded in establishing both the flamingo nesting sanctuary and Washington National Park, the first such nature preserves in the Caribbean. In 1979, the Slagbaai plantation was added to the park, now known as Washington Slagbaai National Park. The Bonaire National Marine Park was also established in 1979. The Marine Park consists of the whole coastline of Bonaire from the high-water mark down to a depth of 200 feet (61 m) and includes a large mangrove forest in Lac Bay. Lac Bay, Klein Bonaire, Pekelmeer, Slagbaii, and Gotomeer are internationally recognized RAMSAR sites.
Due to a public-private sector partnership, programs are being developed to advance the local awareness and attitudes toward conservation and habitat preservation in order to proactively protect Bonaire's ecosystem. A new sewage treatment plant will contribute to protecting the reefs and the seawater quality.
Bonaire gets a significant amount of its electricity from an array of twelve wind generators along its northeastern coastline which began operating in 2010. This renewable source now fills 40-45% of the island's electricity needs. Work continues in developing additional renewable sources of energy, including bio-diesel and solar, with the goal of becoming 100% reliant on renewables.
Prior to the 2010 referendum, the Netherlands Antilles comprising the islands of Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Saba, were governed as a parliamentary democracy based on the Dutch system of government with free elections held every four years. Dissension about the political future resulted in four of the five islands advocating for separation from the Netherlands Antilles. Some of the island residents wanted autonomy while others wanted more integration.
In 2005 a conference was held by the governments of the Netherlands, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles to discuss future constitutional reform and dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. In 2006, Saint Maarten and Curaçao chose autonomy, and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba opted for a closer relationship with the Netherlands. Constitutional referendums and dismantlement of the Netherlands Antilles was scheduled to take place in 2010.
Bonaire's announced referendum scheduled for 26 March 2010 was cancelled in February 2010. The Governor of the Dutch Antilles, Frits Goedgedrag, decided to cancel it because it probably contravened international law, since part of the population is barred from voting. European Dutch nationals are only allowed to vote if they arrived on the island before 1 January 2007. The referendum was postponed to September and then October 2010. Eventually the referendum was held on 17 December 2010, with 84% voting in favour of becoming part of the Netherlands. However, as the 35% voter turnout rate was below the required 51%, the results of the referendum were declared invalid.
On 10 October 2010, the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved. As a result, the government of the Netherlands assumed the task of public administration of the Caribbean Netherlands or BES Islands comprising Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. The three islands acquired new status as "special municipalities" (bijzondere gemeenten), making them part of the Netherlands itself, a form of "public body" (openbaar lichaam) as outlined in article 134 of the Dutch Constitution. Special municipalities do not constitute part of a province.
As a special municipality, Bonaire is very much like ordinary Dutch municipalities in that it has a mayor, aldermen and a municipal council, and is governed according to most Dutch law. Antillean legislation remained in force after 10 October 2010, with the exception of those cases where Antillean law was replaced by Bonaire's municipal law. It was believed best for the island to not introduce the entire body of Dutch legislation at one time as it would cause confusion. Therefore, Dutch legislation is being introduced in stages. Bonaire retained its own unique culture while residents enjoy the same rights as Dutch citizens, including the right to vote in Dutch parliamentary elections in the Netherlands. Residents also have access to new or improved facilities and government benefits including, but not limited to, universal health care; improved health care facilities; better educational facilities with additional training for teachers, new teaching methods, and new school buildings; social housing for low-income individuals and families; a centrally dispatched single police force, fire department and ambulance service. While the three islands are considered to be land of the Netherlands, they are not a part of the European Union, therefore not subject to European Union Law. They are considered to be an overseas country and territory and will remain as such until at least 2015.
Bonaire's non-governmental organization, Nos Ke Boneiru Bèk ("We Want Bonaire Back"), is against the current constitutional relationship with the Netherlands. With reference to Bonaire's 2004 referendum, the organization is of the opinion that such an arrangement was never the choice of the people. The Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Ronald Plasterk, replied to the organization confirming that only the "Island Councils in the Caribbean Netherlands have the authority to decide on holding a constitutional referendum, not the Dutch government." In response, the organization gathered more than 3,500 signatures in 2013 favoring a new referendum. In a letter to minister Plasterk, James Finies, chairman of Nos Ke Boneiru Bèk, requested a "new referendum under the right of self-determination". Plasterk responded by advising Finies that preparations for the evaluation of the public entity structure have begun for 2015, but a "possible change of the constitutional relations is not part of that evaluation." The new referendum took place on 18 December 2015. 65% of the turnout voted that they were not happy with the current relationship between Bonaire and the Netherlands.
In 2011 the BES Islands replaced their currency, the Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG), with the US dollar rather than replacing it with the euro which is used in the European Netherlands. The decision was based primarily on the islands' needs in relation to tourism and trade. Most countries and territories in the Caribbean use the dollar as their currency or have a currency linked to the dollar as legal tender. The guilder (ANG) has been linked to the dollar for decades with an exchange rate of ANG 1.79 = USD 1.00. Adopting the dollar put an end to the dual-currency payment system, and foreign exchange charges.
The separate tax regimes for Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba presents a greater risk of double taxation or double exemption from taxes. In an effort to remove the risk, two plans were introduced. One plan prevents double taxation between the Netherlands (Europe) and the BES Islands while the other prevents double taxation between the BES Islands and third countries. The new regime will generate a total annual tax revenue estimated at $52 million which is equal to the current tax revenues on the three islands. The combined population of the three Islands is approximately 20,000 with about half that many being income-taxpayers.
Bonaire's economy is mainly based on tourism, taking advantage of its warm, dry climate and natural environment. The island caters to scuba divers and snorkelers, as the surrounding coral reefs are well preserved and easily accessible from the shore. Bonaire has been widely recognized for many years in the diving community as one of the world's best shore diving destinations.
Bonaire's Marine Park offers a total of 86 named dive sites, and is home to over 57 species of soft and stony coral and more than 350 recorded fish species. Most resorts and hotels have an on-site dive shop, and other accommodations are affiliated with a dive operation.The license plates carry the logo Divers Paradise (in English).
Lac Bay, in the southeastern part of the island, attracts wind surfers from around the world to Bonaire. The shallow Bay is on the windward side of the island, so trade winds are strong and constant. A barrier reef across the mouth of the bay allows windsurfers of all skill levels to select wave conditions they like. Lac Bay is one of the stops in the PWA Windsurfing Freestyle World Cup and has hosted the Prokids IFCA Championship. Five of the PWA's ten highest ranked freestyle windsurfers are from Bonaire: Kiri Thode, Amado Vrieswijk, Bjorn Saragoza, Tonky Frans, and Taty Frans. In the northern end of Lac Bay is one of the best preserved mangrove forests in the Caribbean, which is popular for kayaking and snorkeling.
Bonaire is also a port of call for more than fifteen cruise lines who make more than eighty calls per season at the island. The total passenger capacity for cruise ships in Bonaire is about 185,000.
Tourism infrastructure in Bonaire is contemporary and offers a variety of types of accommodations including hotels, full-service resorts, a few small bed and breakfasts, and self-catering vacation rentals of all kinds. Other tourist activities include kite-boarding, mountain-biking, hiking, sailing, charter fishing, boating, and bird-watching. All-in-all tourist expenditures in Bonaire are estimated at $125 million per year.
Salt production – Utilizing the naturally low-lying geography and traditional Dutch dyke design, much of Bonaire's southern half has been made into a giant system of ponds and pools which evaporate seawater to produce salt. Presently operated by Cargill, Bonaire's solar salt works produces 400,000 tons of industrial grade salt per year. After collection, the salt is then washed and stored in large piles. The salt facility operates its own pier where ships are loaded with salt destined for North American, European and Western Pacific markets. Bonaire's salt is used mostly in industrial roles.
The large condensing ponds which ring the crystallizer basins, called the Pekelmeer, are a natural habitat for numerous species of brine shrimp which in turn feed flocks of hundreds of pink flamingoes and other migratory birds. This is the location of Bonaire's flamingo sanctuary.
Oil storage and shipment – The Bonaire Petroleum Corporation (BOPEC) is a fuel oil storage and transhipment terminal on Bonaire. BOPEC is wholly owned by Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, and functions primarily as a storage facility for multiple grades of refined and non-refined oils from Venezuela and refineries on Curaçao and Aruba. BOPEC also has mixing and blending capabilities for its stored fuels. BOPEC's #1 pier can receive tankers up to 500,000DWT, which means there are only seven ships in the world that are too big for the BOPEC terminal. A fire at the BOPEC terminal in 2010 is believed to have had a significant impact on Goto Lake and at least one other nearby lagoon.
Bonaire's first airport was located near Tra'i Montaña Subi Blanku and crossed the current path of Kralendijk to Rincon and was built in 1936. The airport proved to be too small when American soldiers arrived on Bonaire in the second half of 1943. The commander stated that a new airport had to be built. Construction began in December 1943, with the new "Flamingo Airport" opening in 1945. A small terminal was built that was suitable for the number of passengers at the time. This building was used until mid-1976. The airport had received many extensions of both the runway and the terminal itself.
Today the airport is known as Flamingo International Airport and is served by a variety of both domestic and international airlines. Services from the US include Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Airlines providing European service include TUI Netherlands and KLM. Consistent air service from Curaçao is available through Divi Divi Air and Insel Air.
The airport is equipped with a fire station, control tower, and hangar. Plans are underway for modifications to the current airport facilities, runway and the fire station.
The two towns on the island are Kralendijk (the capital) and Rincon.
Kralendijk has many suburbs/neighbourhoods, although on an island with such a small population, the distinction is not always clearcut. Kralendijk's suburbs/neighbourhoods include:
Other smaller settlements include:
Labra, Ishiri, Kokorobi, Jan Doran, Vlijt, Rigot, Porto Spano, and Kunchi were several smaller towns that had existed in the national park, but were later abandoned.
Religion in Bonaire is predominantly Roman Catholic (68%) and there are Protestant minorities.
Bonaire's educational system is patterned after the Dutch system. Early grades are taught solely in Papiamentu, with more and more Dutch being introduced as the grade level progresses.
Dutch is the official language of Bonaire, as it is part of the Netherlands. According to the 2001 census, it is the main language of 8.8% of the population. The most widely spoken language is the creole language Papiamentu, which is the primary language of 74.7% of the populace and is recognized by the government. Spanish is the main language of 11.8% of the people, English is the primary language of 2.8%, and other languages account for 1.8%.
Trans World Radio relay station
Trans World Radio operates a radio relay station (PJB3-AM) on Bonaire with a mediumwave transmitter and several shortwave transmitters at 12°6′23″N 68°17′1″W / 12.10639°N 68.28361°W / 12.10639; -68.28361 (Bonaire Trans World Radio Station). The mediumwave transmitter is the most powerful mediumwave transmitter in America, having operated with as much as a half megawatt. The antenna of the mediumwave transmitter consists of four 231.6-metre-tall masts arranged in a parallelogram.
Radio Netherlands relay station
Radio Netherlands Worldwide operated a shortwave relay station at 12°12′48″N 68°19′23″W / 12.21333°N 68.32306°W / 12.21333; -68.32306 (Radio Netherlands Bonaire Radio Relay Station).
Because of widespread availability of Internet links providing higher audio quality and more flexibility, shortwave broadcasts by RNW from Bonaire were discontinued and at the end of October 2012, the radio station was closed and installations dismantled.
The most popular sports on Bonaire are baseball, windsurfing, athletics, association football, tennis, and volleyball. The Bonaire Football Federation is a member of CONCACAF and the Bonaire Volleyball Federation is an associate member of NORCECA. The Baseball teams play in the Caribbean region of Little league and Pony league. Bonaire was also confirmed as the 218th Table Tennis National association.