Legendary Capt. Don Stewart
The Man Who Made Bonaire Famous
Capt. Don Stewart died in May of 2014, but his memory is still alive in the minds of countless divers. This was
Capt. Don Stewart, founder of Bonaire's diving industry and one of the Caribbean's most renowned reef conservationists, was sporting a green thumb, literally, one of the last times I saw him. And it had nothing to do with the fact the 78-year old Capt. Don had been doing more horticulture than diving on Bonaire for the past decade.
"I've finally found a new color nail polish to help hold my split thumbnail together," explained Capt. Don as he used a pair of tweezers to pull a tiny cactus spine from his leg. His khaki shirt was also sliced in the back and so was one sleeve after previous encounters with cactus spines.
"I split this thumbnail right down the middle years ago, and it's finally grown back enough that I could glue it together," he continued. "So I started using nail polish to keep the nail from getting brittle. Used to paint my thumb nail red until I got this neat new green color."
He grimaced with satisfaction as he removed the tiny cactus lance.
In addition to his khaki shirt and shorts, Capt. Don wore a bandanna
that covered and protected his ears and neck from the sweltering sun. A Capt. Don's Habitat baseball cap anchored the bandanna in place, in
kind of a French Foreign Legion style.
Capt. Don received the DEMA Reaching Out Award, the highest award in the dive industry. He also was inducted into the Diving Hall of Fame, which includes Jacques Cousteau, inventor of the aqua-lung; Hans Haas, who explored underwater years before the more famous Cousteau; and Lloyd Bridges, who portrayed Mike Nelson on TV's "Sea Hunt," the first series about diving.
What's Capt. Don Stewart doing among such international celebrities?
It's in recognition of Capt. Don's profound influence on Bonaire. It's no exaggeration to say that Capt. Don Stewart is responsible for Bonaire's thriving dive tourism industry, which in turn creates the foundation for almost the island's entire economy.
He established the model that many other islands, including the Caymans, also followed.