Me and Bonnie

Because Bonnie worked as an ICU nurse and I as an embryologist, I sometimes feel our coral work can have a hospital flair. For example, when we out-planted the staghorn coral out on Thursday together, it felt like an operation.

Here we were, hovering over the bamboo frame Bonnie had put in earlier in the week with Sophia. We don’t see Sophia as she volunteers on the days Lu and I don’t. Not super happy about her getting to swing the John Henry hammer, but what can I do? This is Bonnie’s show.

Bonnie is very much the consultant surgeon in our operation. We swam over to the trees and I held the big basket while she chose which staghorn corals to cut off. Our corals are looking so beautiful at the moment. The last few months, with cooler water temperatures, seems to have been the apex of their growing season. Indeed, the purpose of this out-planting now was to thin the corals on the trees. This way, the ones which stay hanging have more room to grow.

Reef Renewal Bonaire, our parent organisation, have recently mixed things up a little. Instead of building the frames, and tying the corals to the frames as a solid base so they can mature into a ‘thicket’, Reef Renewal are introducing a new out-planting method. They want the corals to be wedged directly into the sea bed and onto other corals. To do this, you need to grow them on the trees for longer, so they are stronger when they are out-planted.

It makes sense. This is a more natural way of planting corals. You do away with both building the frames and using plastic to zip tie the corals to the frames. But at the moment, since our corals are so big and healthy, Bonnie has decided to complete the thicket project we’ve started during our time helping her. This is our sixth frame in the area we’ve been out-planting. And all the work goes which goes into this one spot! Propagating, cleaning the trees to keep the baby corals healthy – and now planting them out. We were proud mama bears.

Mama surgeon bears. And I’m a terrible underwater communicator. Bonnie points to her pile of zip-ties and then over to where I’m hovering, next to another pile of zip-ties and a piece of coral. I think she is saying, ‘Bring me that piece of coral, so I can use these zip-ties to tie it.’

Nope. She is actually saying, ‘Pass me those set of zip-ties. Like the ones I am holding in my hand.’ Aha.

We have many of these moments. Really, I think if we were in a hospital, doing an actual operation, I’d be fired by now. When she gives me the part of the zip-ties she’s cut off, I put them into her main bag, not the rubbish container she brings for the job. But still, much of our underwater work is about being together. Eye contact and touch count too. So, when Bonnie chooses which of our specimens to tie to which part of the frame, like a large coral jigsaw, I’m there, ready to help. I can hold the coral in place while she secures it with a zip-tie. I can secure it while she holds the coral. I can be her cheerleader. I like doing that.

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