The Bonaire National Marine Park


The Bonaire Marine Park is considered by many to be one of the world's most successful marine protected areas (MPAs). Bryant et al (1998) estimate that there are at least 400 MPAs including coral reefs in more than 65 countries and territories. However, many MPAs exist only as "paper parks" where legislation is not enforced, resources are lacking and management plans are not properly carried out.



Problem Overview:

Finding a viable model for marine protected areas

The Bonaire Marine Park is considered by many to be one of the world's most successful marine protected areas (MPAs). Bryant et al (1998) estimate that there are at least 400 MPAs including coral reefs in more than 65 countries and territories. However, many MPAs exist only as "paper parks" where legislation is not enforced, resources are lacking and management plans are not properly carried out. Indeed, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), most MPAs are "under-resourced and poorly managed, offering little in the way of real protection. Global estimates suggest that as many as 70-80% of the MPAs that have been established worldwide are protected in name only and are not actively managed at all".

With so many MPAs not being able to fulfil their objectives, an important issue is raised: what characterizes a successful MPA? In an attempt to answer this question, this study will draw on the Bonaire National Marine Park, which many consider to be an examplary model for marine protected areas. There will be a strong emphasis on the role of tourism as it plays a primary role in the success of the BNMP.


Bonaire Marine Park was established in 1979 with a grant funding from the World Wildlife Fund, Holland together with matching funds from the Dutch and local governments. The management body for the marine park is STINAPA (Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation). Although serious conservation work was carried out in the early days of the park’s creation, by 1984 it had run out of funds. According to Dixon et al (1993), these financial problems resulted in a “decline of management effectiveness, resulting in a decreasing frequency of patrols, inadequate law enforcement, lack of information and educational activities, and discontinuity of research and monitoring”. With no staff or funding, Bonaire Marine Park became a “paper park”.

Tiger grouper towing along a trumpet fish which is hooked into the tiger's nostrils. In this way the trumpet fish gets close to its unsuspecting victims (Caribbean).


In the early 1990s, the Island Government of Bonaire, concerned with this lack of management and an increase in damaging coastal activities took a stance on the situation. Several recommendations were made, one of which was the introduction of a visitor fee. The implementation of this fee lead the Dutch Government to approve funding and technical assistance for the revitalisation of the park for a period of three years. In 1991, a new park manager and consultant were appointed and in 1992, the Bonaire government introduced a US$10.00 annual admission fee, payable by anyone scuba diving in the park. By the end of 1992, the park had become entirely self-financing. This fee goes toward park upkeep and maintenance, law enforcement, information and education, and research and monitoring. Activities that have been essential in preventing the severe degradation of the Bonaire coastal area.

The introduction of user fees is one of the Bonaire Marine Park’s main achievements. Using tourism as a source of funding could be a solution for many MPAs in tourist areas. Indeed, a central issue to the success of a marine protected area is its ability to secure funds for its running costs. According to McClanahan (1999), most of the world’s existing marine reserves are failing to achieve their objectives simply as a consequence of their inability to cover the costs of management. He emphasises that MPAs in poor countries have generally failed due to the “short-term goals of donors, and opportunistic, uncritical and wishful thinking of recipients, backed by unrealistic financial projections”.

Tourists can represent an excellent source of income for MPAs and enable self-financing. There are various mechanisms to capture tourism revenues such as user fees, concession fees, sales and royalties, taxation and donations (Table 1):


  • User fees are charged to people who use an area or facility. Examples include admission to parks or monuments, fees charged to divers, special fees for accommodations, trophy and hunting fees, or even special fees for rescue services (in case of mountaineering).

  • Concession fees are charged to individuals or groups licensed to provide services to visitors at selected sites. Common types of services include food, lodging, transportation, guide services, and retails stores.

  • Sales and royalties are a percentage of earnings from activities or products of a site tourists visit. Examples are sales and royalties from books, photographs or postcards, films, or pharmaceutical products made at or from products at the site.

  • Taxation of goods and services used by tourists are a common way to generate revenue. Hotel, food, and airport taxes are among the most common.

  • Donations can be solicited from tourists for special projects or routine maintenance. Examples include restoration of historic buildings, archaeological excavation, improved species protection or habitat purchase, or community development activities such as schools or clinics

Table 1: Mechanisms to capture tourism revenue

Source: Hawkins (1998)

Diver-fees are the most common kind of user fee in marine protected areas and one of the most successful tools for securing funding. As mentioned previously, the Bonaire Marine Park charges its divers a flat annual fee of US$10. However, these fees can be significantly higher as suggested by the Tubbataha Reef National Park in the Philippines, which imposes a conservation fee of US$50 per person for foreign divers and US$25 for Filipino divers (Spergel, 2001). Studies conducted on divers have shown that they are often willing to pay higher fees than the actual rate. Indeed, according to Roberts and Hawkins (2000), “divers are willing to pay significant sums to protect marine habitats, on the order of $20-$30 per trip”. In general, divers prefer to travel to good quality reefs and are willing to pay for this. A study compiled by Rudd at al (2000) in Turks and Caicos have indicated that high fees can be sustained if the marine site is comprised of high quality reefs (Lindberg, 2001). Therefore, an MPA with high quality reefs could significantly benefit from the introduction of diver fees.


Half an hour later all polyps are fully extended. Clearly visible are the ridges of little stinging cells on the tentacles used to paralyze the


Hotel and airport tax are another widely used method for collecting revenue from tourism. Bonaire does have such taxes but not for conservation purposes. These could be a further means of obtaining funds for MPAs. There are various examples of countries that charge a conservation fee as part of their airport tax. Belize, for instance, collects a US$3.75 conservation fee on departure. This is accompanied by a short brochure explaining how it goes directly to the Protected Area Conservation Trust (PACT) and then distributed to conservation projects in or adjacent to the country’s protected areas. Similarly, the Republic of the Cook Islands places 20 percent of its US$10/person departure tax in an environmental fund, called the Environmental Protection Fund (EPD) (Spergel, 2001)

Hotel taxes have the same effect. In many areas around the world, hotels may add a “nature conservation surcharge” to the guests’ bill. The bill generally explains that the surcharge goes toward conservation projects in the area and that it is an optional fee. The Turks and Caicos, for example, have recently raised their hotel room taxes from 8 percent to 9 percent. The additional amount is placed in a trust fund supporting protected-area conservation (Spergel, 2001).

Other sources of funding for marine protected areas from tourism include individual donations, “Friends of the Park” programmes and adoption programmes.

According to the Bonaire Marine Park, individual donations significantly boost their income. IUCN (2000) state that individual donations are “probably the easiest to raise money from the sense that there are no proposals, deadlines or guidelines. Individuals are also the most flexible, and most likely to give donations that can be used according to the protected area manager’s own priorities”. Tourists may also wish to join a “Friends of the Park” scheme, thereby making a long-term contribution to an area they have visited and are keen to support. The Bonaire Marine Park does not have a “Friends of the Park” scheme. However, an example of a successful “Friends of the Park” program is the one set up by the Saba Marine Park in 1988. Indeed, the “Friends of the Saba Marine Park” program, having recruited supporters via a variety of means including a brochure, slide shows and mailing recent users, contributed 9% of the revenue for Saba Marine Park between 1993 and 1995 (Dharmaratne et al, 2000; based on Van’t Hof & Buchanan 1995).

Finally, adoption programmes can attract funds for the conservation of particular species, such as turtles, dolphins, seahorses, etc. The Sea Turtle Conservation on Bonaire has an adoption program.

Although tourism may bring in important funds to an MPA, it is also important to consider the impact tourism may have on local communities. In order to attract tourism, local communities may decide to get involved in the management of the MPA and exploit its economic potentials. Badalamenti et al (2000) suggest an array of activities connected to tourism that can be profitable to local residents. In their study, they concentrate on two local groups: resident fishers and resident young people. In their view, resident fishers could diversify their trade and consider tourism-related activities to supplement their income such as leading boat tours and fishing trips, producing handicrafts, providing holiday accommodation and meals for tourists, and offering services such as tank refilling for divers.

Resident young people could cater for tourism in a similar manner, seeking opportunities in fields such as diving centres, diving and snorkel guiding, tourist boat trips, hotels and hostels, conference centres, outdoor equipment, shops, local natural products, handicrafts, books, photography, films and restaurants offering local cuisine. Badalamenti et al (2000) also support their involvement in educational activities such as sea-watching, nature trips and fieldwork courses.

The revenue generated from these types of activities can be illustrated by Dixon’s (1993) study on the Bonaire Marine Park (Table 2)


US $ (millions)

Direct Revenue:
Diver fees (1992 est.)


Indirect (private sector) Revenue


Hotels (rooms/meals)


Dive operation (including retail sales)


Restaurant, souvenir, car rental, misc. services


Local air transport





US $ (millions)

Costs of protection


Direct costs


establishment, initial operation, rehabilitation


annual recurring


Indirect costs


Opportunity costs


Table 2: Revenues and Costs Associated with Bonaire Marine
Source: Dixon et al (2000)

Although Table 2 indicates that hotels, dive operations, restaurants, souvenirs shops in Bonaire profit substantially from tourism, it is important to note that most of these operations are foreign owned. Indeed, Fallon Scura & Van’t Hof (1992) estimated that 50 percent of the hotels and dive operations were foreign owned and 24 percent of the workforce was composed of foreign workers. Furthermore, visitors to Bonaire usually buy their holiday via offshore travel agents in the form of package deals, also referred to as voucher sales. Along with the airfare, the package will include a number of goods and services such as hotel accommodation, ground transportation, diving tours, meals and beverages. These goods and services are paid to the hotel or dive operation in the form of a voucher. Tourists will then only make a limited amount of additional purchases once they are on location. According to Fallon Scura & Van’t Hof (1992) these expenditures are as low as US$275 per person per average 6-day stay. They explain how only a small portion of tourist revenues are retained in Bonaire:


The agent sends the revenue from voucher sales less a commission of between 10 and 20 percent to the United States or European marketing office of the hotel and/or dive operator. There are instances of non-payment on the part of the agent. Before remitting the funds to Bonaire, the marketing office offsets operating expenses and costs of procurement of goods to be imported to Bonaire. The balance, which can be a small portion, is sent to Bonaire to cover local expenses including salaries and procurement of local goods and services (Fallon Scura & Van’t Hof, 1992)


Furthermore, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Bonaire (DROB), local involvement in conservation matters is low, with the exception of local dive staff that attend yearly Bonaire Marine Park orientation courses. However, in the past five years, environmental awareness programmes have been set up for schoolchildren and these have been proven to be fairly successful.

In recent years there has been an increasing recognition that the coastal environment cannot be effectively managed without the co-operation and participation of resource user groups (Box 1).


Full control by the agency in charge


Shared control by the agency in charge and the community


Full control by the community






actively consulting


seeking consensus


negotiating (involving in decision-making) and developing specific agreements


sharing authority and responsibility in a formal way (e.g. via seats in a management body)


transferring authority and responsibility

No interference or contribution from the community stakeholders



No interference or contribution from the agency in charge



increasing expectations, contributions, commitment and accountability of the community’s stakeholders --------------->



Involving local communities in coastal resource management has proven to be extremely effective in many regions of the world. There are several benefits to doing this, among these are: reef users tend to have an extensive knowledge of local ecology based on observation and experiences; community participation helps to ensure that traditional management systems are documented, respected, and built upon; response to community needs is more immediate when there is a process of community participation and communities are more likely to accept a solution when they are involved in the decision-making process (White et al, 1994).

However, tourism in MPAs may also have a negative effect on local communities. Although there is no evidence of tourism having a negative impact on local communities in Bonaire, it is important to note that this has proven to be an important issue in other marine protected areas around the world (Box 2).

Tourism may impact local social and cultural norms in several manners. Indeed, tourism may bring about coastal urbanization in the vicinity of the protected area eroding local traditions and welfare. In Egypt, for example, workers in resort towns often have to live apart from their families, as facilities are too scarce to accommodate them. There is also evidence of Egyptian fishermen from the North displacing Bedouin communities as they move into more fertile fishing grounds to cater for the tourists' appetite for fish (Hawkins & Roberts, 1994). Tourists may also impose their cultural values on local communities. Indeed, a study of the Komodo National Park, Indonesia, established that "local people do recognise some cultural impacts, most noticeably an incompatible style of dress among international (mainly Western) visitors" (Walpole and Goodwin, 2001).

Another impact of tourism is coastal development. Human expansion and development in coastal areas can lead to construction projects, such as the building of airports, harbours and shipping channels, which encroach on reef communities and ultimately destroying coral reef habitats. Furthermore, in many areas, coral ecosystems are mined for construction material - sand and limestone - for new buildings - including hotels and tourist facilities. On a localised level, hotels can produce a substantial amount of waste, including the disposal of rubbish, energy consumption, and sewage. According to Hawkins and Roberts (1994), hotels in the Red Sea are degrading marine life in several manners. Many hotels irrigate their gardens with wastewater, which gradually seeps into the sea, increasing the nutrient levels in the area. Desalination plants and generator water are another problem, as the hot brine that they produced is dispelled onto local reefs. They also refer to rubbish as a problem: "plastic bags can smother corals and rubbish litters the seabed in the Eilat Coral Reserve".



Tourism in MPAs may also have a significant impact on an environmental level. Several environmental measures have been taken in Bonaire to reduce the negative impact of tourism. Divers and snorkellers may break, crush or abrade living surfaces, as well as kick up sedimentation that may then settle on coral. Anchors from tourist boats can further aggravate this damage, if the marine park has not installed mooring buoys. The Bonaire Marine Park imposes a compulsory orientation briefing for all new divers and publishes information leaflets on specific issues such as diving, snorkeling, underwater photography and filming, sailing, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) protected species. The dive staff will usually caution a diver who damages the marine environment and may refer him/her to a member of the marine park staff. The use of anchors was banned in 1999 and mooring facilities introduced. There are 40 yacht moorings where visiting yachts can moor overnight for a fee, as well as 70 public moorings on the island’s dive sites for all crafts below 38 feet (the use of which is restricted to a maximum of 2 hours and only permitted during daylight hours).

Another problem confronted by Bonaire and other marine protected areas is the demand for fish in restaurants and tourist curios (shells, starfish, seahorses, etc) that often result in the overfishing and overharvesting of key reef species. Overfishing has led to a significant decrease in reef fish populations in many areas of the world. The removal of large numbers of fish from a reef can upset the fragile balance of its ecosystem. In many cases, it can led to certain species or organisms that may be harmful to reefs to become dominant, e.g. algae or certain species of urchins that would be controlled by a large fish population in a balanced ecosystem, may smother or eat live coral. In well-run marine protected areas, fishing should be restricted so that the demand for fish should not affect the local fish stocks and marine curios should not be available for purchase. Although Bonaire has a strict no-take policy within its own waters, there are, however, shops that sell coral jewelry, notably from the Philippines.

Environmental measures can be more effectively implemented if groups of similar interest can organise themselves into coalitions to protect the resources in their MPAs. The environmental NGOs on the island have organised themselves into an association called ALIANSA to protect the natural resources of Bonaire. These include the Bonaire Marine Park, Tene Bonaire Limpi (Keep Bonaire Clean), Save Klein Bonaire Foundation, Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB), that all have outreach programmes. The STCB for instance holds a weekly slide show for tourists.

Westmacott et al (2000) suggest several activities directed at raising tourist awareness (Box 3), many of which are applied in Bonaire.


Box 3 - Conveying information to the public through outreach and education
Source: Westmacott et al (2000)

  • Fact sheets on the "dos and don'ts" of enjoying coral reefs, which can be included on the information packets that hotels provide to their guests.

  • Colourful and informative posters that can be sold in local tourist shops or park offices

  • Training courses for tourist operators on how to educate tourists on reef biology and threats to reefs

  • Free boat tours of MPAs and slide show lectures for members of the community, especially those who deal extensively with visiting tourists, so that they feel a sense of stewardship towards the reefs and will help to educate tourists that they meet.



Water conservation and sewerage treatment measures still need to be resolved in Bonaire. According to the DROB, water conservation is stimulated by the price of drinking water as opposed to environmental considerations. There is no central sewage plant on the island. Inland houses have cesspools and coastal hotels and houses have septic tanks. However, there are current attempts to resolve these matters.


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Web pages:

Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP)
International Marinelife Alliance (IMA)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas

Sample video footage from Bonaire filmed by Horizon International is available for viewing at Horizon's Magic Porthole Web site:

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