It's not always about the fish

Coral reefs around the world are endangered, but at Bonaire,

Coral reefs beneath azure seas give food, shelter, and safety to creatures of all shapes and sizes. The ocean is alive with technicolor fish that swim through the tropical waters alone and in schools. But, hiding in the nooks and crannies of a reef are critters as small as the nail on your little finger - and as varied and unusual as the tentacle of an octopus.

Scuba divers know each dive is a treasure hunt - you just have to know where to look for the living gems. Bonaire, a small desert island in the western Caribbean just 50 miles north of Venezuela, is a place of such treasure. Its calm waters and great visibility make for an underwater photographer's paradise. The Bonaire Marine Park is the first of its kind in the Caribbean to preserve an entire island. Its boundaries protect all the surrounding waters and inhabitants to a depth of 200 feet. While the really big fish - like sharks - rarely pass through the area because it's not a good hunting ground, the temperate waters are home to smaller tropical fish and the fanciful creatures that depend on the reef.

The tiny goby, a fish with a head perhaps an eighth-of-an-inch wide, hides inside a brain coral covered in a labyrinthine design. A 100-mm macro lens housed with my 35-mm camera in a waterproof case "hooks" him on film.

Locating lobster is easier, even though they hide their bodies under coral heads and ledges. Their long antennae give them away. Unlike their northern relatives, Caribbean lobsters do not have claws.

Since light falls off under water, strobes are mandatory for bringing out the colors of the undersea world, even on a sunny day. Worms, snails, and shrimp are cartoon-colored in yellow, orange, and purple. Reef species prosper through symbiotic relationships. The truism that nature possesses variety and beauty shifts from black and white to color in this underwater world known to those who - thanks to compressed air - swim with the fishes in the wonder of it all.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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