Bonaire Nature Tour
Part 1

There's far more to see on the island than coral reefs.

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Bonaire , essentially a desert island surrounded by an oasis of reefs, is best known for its world class diving.

Normally, I'd be swimming through one of the many offshore coral gardens, but today I've joined a nature tour to learn more about Bonaire 's topside world.

It turns out to be just as remarkable as the marine environment, though in a starkly different way.

After parking at the dive site known as Ol Blue, the seven of us follow a pathway inland to a huge, candelabra-shaped cactus growing in the shadow of a limestone cliff.   

This is a Kadushi cactus, the larger of Bonaire 's two most important cactus species. The Kadushi is easy to identify because of its size--up to 30 feet tall--and its branching limbs start well above ground.

The smaller Yatu cactus, one the other hand, branches out close to the ground. The Yatu grows easily anywhere: just plant pieces of the stem in a row and they'll soon form an impenetrable fence. In fact, most of the fences on Bonaire consist of Yatu.

I notice that the big Kadushi has many deep gouges on its branching arms. The gouges remind me of skin sores, so that it's easy to speculate this old grandfather cactus might be suffering from some sort of disease.

Actually, these holes are caused by parrots, and they are quite common during serious periods of drought, our naturalist-guide tells us.

"Parrots depend on the cactus fruit to survive," Jerry Lignon explains. "In a drought, they'll eat holes in the cactus, which is what they're doing this year. It's been really dry since February."

And since El Nino appears to create drought conditions every seven to eight years, Jerry said this cactus and all the others like it are really living monuments to many past El Ninos.     

Then Jerry points to the rock cliff beside us. It has a deep horizontal gash all along it about 20 to 30 feet off the ground, an impressive reminder of the high level water mark that existed here somewhere between 340,000 and 510,000 years ago.

The sea level was much higher then because of the melting of the polar ice caps during one of the interglacial periods.   

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