Ziggy Stardust

No more coral cleaning. This is a casualty of Bonaire’s new lockdown.

I heard it via email. All coral restoration efforts by Reef Renewal will be halted until further notice. This is to stop people collecting in groups. Shame man. I never saw any groups – except for groups of coral. And coral cleaning is so much fun. I love the hanging out feeling. As you hang by the trees, the fishes from the reef come to check you out. Try to tell them about social distancing!

Some of the fish aren’t so little either. The Spanish hogfish, aka Ziggy Stardust, is as long as your forearm. It has two small teeth both top and bottom. More goofy Stardust.

The fishes’ sense for movement is amazing. Using the brush, I am really scrubbing those coral trees. Taking the scraper out of my tool bag and scraping at the fire coral. All the while the fishes manage to move fast while still sticking around.

They catch tasty morsels. Seriously, it’s amazing what looks good to eat. When you dive and snorkel you see the beautiful parrotfish for example, spending much of its time munching on rocks. Rocks? You can hear and see them crunching away on the reef. I know parrotfish make sand out of coral – but how can that stuff possibly taste good? Or have any nutritional value in it? It really looks like rocks.

The fish seem more than happy though. They catch pieces of stinging fire coral, little molluscs, and clouds of algae which I scrub from the coral trees. When they come with the same excited bustle, turquoise-striped and bright-eyed, it’s a great feeling. It’s the first time I’ve felt more than a visitor to the underwater world. I feel like one of the workers.

I packed up my kayak yesterday, until everything reopens. In the meantime, we’ve been trying to figure out whether Lu continues with swim club and water polo. This is one of the things which haven’t stopped in lockdown. It’s been hard to understand this, especially water polo. It has lots of physical contact.

Jack and I went to speak to the teacher on Monday. Maybe if they had some distancing protocols, we thought, or would be stopping the actual games, that would be ok.

I went to the swimming group on Monday. The usual crowd of kids and parents milled around. No one wore masks or stood 1.5m apart. I walked up to the teacher – my mask back on.

The teacher explained to me that normal activities are ok, ‘because the virus doesn’t spread in the water.’

‘Are you sure about that?’ I asked. I couldn’t help it. I felt like my mother had just jumped into my bones.

Everyone went quiet. The jolly Dutch suddenly not so jolly anymore. It was hard not to feel I’d committed an unfortunate faux pas. Can’t clean the coral with a bunch of fish, but a bunch of teenagers can carry on dunking each other? The looks were like knives in my back. I’m going to miss Ziggy Stardust.

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