Meat and Potatoes

‘Do we get the certification card?’ I asked Lars after the third and final dive. He’d just told us we’d passed the course. Lu and I were now Reef Renewal Specialist Divers!

Lars shook his head. ‘It’s probably quicker for it to be sent to the UK than to Bonaire.’

Oh. No certification card? Oh well. The work was the important part. ‘When can we come and volunteer?’ I asked.

Lars shrugged. ‘Write to Reef Renewal Organization. They will decide where the best places to volunteer are. They’ll put you in the places they need you.’

Aha. Again, wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for. I’d been expecting something a little less formal.

I’d expected Lars to say, ‘No worries – come to the dive shop anytime. Since you guys live so close by. We’ll give you a scrubbing brush and a scourer and you can clean any of our 30 nursery trees.’ Hell, I could have brought my own scrubbing brush. We have enough of them for cleaning Quest’s bottom.

I had to check myself. Was the disappointment I was feeling – was it normal? Was I sucking up someone else’s? Or was this actually a Dutch thing? So organised and efficient during the course, but after it finished, it was all nods and bare goodbyes.

People talk about the British being cold, but this wasn’t the British way. Definitely not divers. It would be all camaraderie, witty (or not so much) jokes and hearty thank yous. In Poland, they’d be getting ready for an epic party. At least homemade cake.

I thought again. Here I was – paid 220 bucks for a course about coral and was now expecting to change the world. Whereas day in and day out – that was the real work.

And environmental challenges like this are often mentally-taxing. We’d spent much of the day learning about coral. We learned that from the 1970’s to the present day, Caribbean corals have declined to an estimated 8% of their original range. Even in healthy-seeming Bonaire, only about 10% of coral’s original range is left.

Qualifying a statistic is usually abstract work for me. But there was a living baseline too. Lars told us that when Buddy Dive was started in the early 1990s, they had to physically create a gap through the staghorn coral for the divers and boats to use.

We shook our heads at this. That whole area is empty now. Just sand. The only staghorn coral by Buddy’s Reef is the small amount the team of divers and volunteers have helped to restore. To borrow a line from Tesco’s – every little helps. Still, isn’t exactly a reef-cutting amount.

We had helped, on our last dive, to cut and tie four-month old staghorn coral onto bamboo frames set into the ground. We’d helped clean the nursery trees. Watched the pruning and tied new pieces of staghorn and elkhorn coral to grow. Meat and potatoes. I just wouldn’t mind a bit of British laughter at the end. Little swearing thrown in.

I shrugged. One thing for it. I’m going to have to go home and find my husband.

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