Capt. Don Remains Bonaire's Most Eloquent Spokesman
|He deserves Bonairean citizenship but has never received it.|
Capt. Don's days of serious diving ended in 1980 when he injured his foot and ankle in a salvage accident. He remained at Habitat until 1987, when he sold the resort and became a minority shareholder.
The hotel still uses his name and his famous symbol of the skull and cutlass to form the diver's flag that he originated almost 5 decades ago. (Capt. Don has no affiliation with Curacao's Habitat, which does promote many of his concepts though not his name.)
Capt. Don appears at Habitat once a week to narrative a slide show on Bonaire's early days of diving. For information, habitatbonaire.com/
Today, Capt. Don lives in a modest home at his plant farm, Island Grower. He shares his kunuku (farm) with Janet Thibault, his lady and sidekick since 1982.
If their home is unpretentious, the plagues, trophies and other wall hangings there are amazing. Among the many environmental awards is a framed 1977 Sunday front page comic strip from the New York Daily News in which Dondi is learning scuba from "Captain Don" on the island of "Bonairy."
The comic strip panels impart a very strong marine conservation message, something that made Capt. Don particularly pleased because of the comic strip's 4 million readers.
Don admits the large number of conservation awards bothers him. "I began to feel almost illegal in receiving these awards. A psychologist told me it makes no difference, that people need to have a hero. I've felt like the Lone Ranger with the white horse and all the silver bullets, but it was Tonto who did all the work."
Still bursting with energy, Capt. Don at the moment is working on establishing
a combination marine museum/time capsule that would reemphasize Bonaire's
role in reef conservation. The museum would be called The Accolade and
built in a shape of a star.
"They're stealing our thunder all over the place. I want credit for this island! I say Bonaire is the universal center of reef ecology, like Greenwich is to time...small, unknown, yet setting the standards and pace for all. Bonaire is no just some sandy tourist island. We are an island with a destiny."
Which, to be sure, Capt. Don helped create and shape.
The plaque at Don's Reef, a dive site on Klein Bonaire dedicated to
Capt. Don on his 30th anniversary, summarizes Capt. Don Stewart's contributions
best: "From all of the marine life his efforts have helped to save,
and from all who have enjoyed the wonders of the sea...thank you."