Capt. Don Stewart and his
"Diving Freedom" sign
at Habitat, Bonaire
with"Cap'n Don," Legendary Founder of
"I've finally found a new color nail polish to help hold my split thumbnail together," explains Capt. Don as he uses a pair of tweezers to pull a tiny cactus spine from his leg. His khaki shirt is also sliced in the back and on one sleeve from past 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 continues. "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 grimaces with satisfaction as he removes the tiny cactus lance. In addition to his khaki shirt and shorts, Capt. Don wears a bandanna that covers and protects his ears in neck from the sweltering sun.
A Capt. Don's Habitat baseball cap anchors the bandanna in place, in kind of a French Foreign Legion style. As he uses a large metal rod to uproot a spiny cactus in a remote section of the Bonaire countryside, the Capt. Don appears completely at home in the desert wilderness.
There's no indication the role of gardner is only the latest of Capt. Don's many personas, or any hint he spent almost half of his life showing visiting divers the wonders of Bonaire's bountiful reefs. Certainly there's no clue that he is one of the true legends of the dive industry.
Capt. Don has even received the DEMA Reaching Out Award, the highest award in the dive industry. He also has been 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 formed the foundation for almost the island's entire economy.
He established the model that many other islands, including the Caymans, also followed.