[My OnEarth magazine article on the Bonaire fire is: “Another Oil Disaster- This Time in the Caribbean.”]
A major fire at an oil storage facility last week immediately caught my attention because of the location: Bonaire, a tiny Caribbean island just fifty miles north of Venezuela.
In the summer of 2001 I was invited to speak at a festival on this diver’s paradise. (I was writing mostly about marine issues at the time.) The diving lived up to its reputation — not an easy feat given endorsements such as this:
“Bonaire is to conservation as Greenwich is to time.” Captain Don Stewart, pioneering marine conservationist.
The Bonaire National Marine Park was created in 1979 and completely encircles the island, from the high-tide line all the way out to a depth of 60 meters (200 feet).
It is a unique underwater environment with some 60 species of coral alone and over 400 species of fish — everything from the ubiquitous stoplight parrotfish, to schools of squid, to the less common but spectacular spotted eagle ray.
And that’s just the ocean.
The desert landscape of Bonaire is home to its own rich variety of plant and animal life, including a flock of some 5,000 flamingos, many of which feast on brine shrimp in the salt lake Goto Meer.
The fire, which burned for 55 hours, poured thick black smoke into the air. The official word so far is that the tank contained naphtha — a general term given to a large number of petroleum-based products. An official investigation of the fire, including its environmental effects, is already getting underway.
Of course, everyone is hoping that any damage will be minimal. Still, while Bonaire may have dodged the bullet this time, if the hydrocarbons from the tank — which is only meters away from the shore — had flowed directly into sea, they could have devastated one of our hemisphere’s most diverse reef communities.
Which again begs the question: What costs are we prepared to pay (or have others pay) for our “cheap oil” economy?
Video by Sean Paton