Bonaire's Legendary Capt. Don Stewart
Part 1

Island Descriptions

Hotel Search

Cruise Planning

Island Tours

Caribbean Recipes

Caribbean Weather

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
published many years before his death. In it, he is still alive.
No past tense for Capt. Don Stewart.

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.

A minute later and he was using a large metal rod to uproot a spiny cactus in a remote section of the Bonaire countryside. Capt. Don was completely at home in his desert wilderness. The role of a gardner was only one of Capt. Don's many personas. Living so far inland without any view of the sea was an odd place to find the man who spent almost half his life showing visiting divers the wonders of Bonaire's bountiful reefs. In the process, he not only made Bonaire world famous, but he became one of the true legends of dive tourism's earliest days.

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.

Next Page (Capt. Don Stewart Part 2)

Return to Bonaire Homepage