KLEIN BONAIRE HISTORY
After a 3 ½ year effort on the part of the Foundation for the Preservation of Klein Bonaire (FPKB), the small island of Klein Bonaire is back to the people of Bonaire! The purchase price was US $5 million. Most of the money (US$4.3 million) came from Department of the Interior and Kingdom Affairs of the Netherlands, some ($235,000) was donated by the World Nature Fund of the Netherlands and a smaller amount ($60,000) came from the Foundation To Preserve Klein Bonaire. But some funds still need to be raised to pay off the final installment. FPKB has pledged to raise the remaining amount and is well on its way to doing so with help from private donors.
Klein Bonaire was in private hands for 131 years. An August 1868 issue of the Curacao Courant describes Klein Bonaire as a 600 hectare island suitable for the breeding of animals since it has some potable water wells. On September 1, 1868, it was sold to Angel Jeserun and had been privately owned until the end of last year. For much of that time Klein Bonaire was used for raising goats and for agricultural purposes.
Klein Bonaire’s value as a diving paradise first was recognized in 1939. German dive pioneer, Hans Hass, just 20 years old at the time, explored and photographed the underwater reefs. He returned in 1953 aboard the 3-masted schooner Xarifa to further explore and study the pristine coral at Klein Bonaire. In 1966, American John Bogart bought the island for $15,000. He saw a future for Bonaire tourism. He already owned the Flamingo Beach Club, now the Divi Flamingo Resort. He and Bonaire’s scuba pioneer, Captain Don Stewart, thought that they might do some development at Klein Bonaire. John wanted to be able to land his Cessna 172 on the island, so a landing strip was roughed out. But the island was overrun with goats, which made landing a challenge. Captain Don organized "The Great Goat Round Up" that removed all the goats from the island.
The absence of goats for the last 33 years has allowed the natural flora of Klein Bonaire to make a comeback, so that it became home to many varieties of plants and animals, some not even present on Bonaire itself. The island was also exploited for its natural resources. Sand was removed from the beaches to be used for construction on Bonaire. Local fishermen would take eggs and catch a turtle or two in the surrounding waters.
Scuba diving began to grow as a tourist attraction for Bonaire but Klein saw few divers. Before John Bogart could do any development, he sold Klein Bonaire in a land package deal that included property on Bonaire and the Flamingo Beach Hotel. The new owners, Aruban Maurice Neme and his partners planned to put a resort on Klein. Their impressive 4-page brochure described Klein Bonaire "The Largest Privately Owned Island In The World." It laid out 3,044 residential lots, 29 administrative units, a shopping center, hotels, yacht clubs, fire station, heliport, theater, sports center, medical clinic, extensive beach development and even a bridge to Bonaire. There was no mention of environmental conservation.
After years of no development, a letter, dated March 25, 1995, requested permits to develop Klein Bonaire. A subsequent letter requested a meeting to discuss how they might "exploit" the island and a business license for a "hotel/resort and watersports" for their "own account or account of third parties". Alarm over these requests led Bart Snelder, a dive operations manager on the island, to write a letter to the English language newspaper, Port Call (now The Bonaire Reporter), in which he made a plea to save the island from development. Bart said, "We strongly believe that any development on Klein Bonaire will result in an ecological disaster for this extremely sensitive environment. Let’s make sure that we save this little piece of the world for the generations to come."
The word was out. Naturalist Dee Scarr called a meeting of all concerned individuals. Knowing that development on Klein Bonaire would wreck the reefs, eliminate the turtle and waterfowl nesting grounds and kill many of the native plants and animals, a small group of Antilleans, Americans and Dutch formed the Foundation Preservation Klein Bonaire (FPKB) in June of 1996. A worldwide campaign began to promote awareness and raise money to buy Klein Bonaire.
Geologist Gordon Younce did an extensive geological survey of the island, showing that any development would not only be costly but would destroy the reefs. A moving 20-minute video by U.S. director Matt Sellars captured the attention of the World Wildlife Fund who then produced a mini-telethon in The Netherlands featuring Klein Bonaire. With the help of Rodale’s Scuba Diving magazine’s online petition, thousands of people were reached worldwide. Signatures and donations started coming in. Bonaireans were kept informed by press releases, bumper stickers, receptions and an ethereal painting, "Preserve Klein Bonaire," by local artist Winfred Dania. The painting was made into posters which are still being sold at $ 10. The local musical group, Piedra Di Boneiru, produced a CD, "Ban Kuide" which made it to the "top ten" on Bonaire. Officials in the previous Island Government were able to block the developers, using old laws and Klein’s Ramsar Site status, but that position was legally tenuous. The developers could conceivably win in court. After 2 independent appraisals, the FPKB made an $3 million offer to buy the island, but the offer was rejected by the development company.
After the elections in 1999, a new government formed by a coalition of parties, came into office. They decided that getting Klein Bonaire back for the people of Bonaire by the end of the year was a priority. The Commissioners traveled to The Netherlands and eventually were able to get most of the needed financial support. Although the developers were asking U.S $10 million, a price of 9 million guilders (U.S.$5 million) was agreed upon. On December 30, 1999, the purchase contract was signed between the Government of Bonaire and Maurice Neme.
The Government of Bonaire has plans for the island to become one of the Antilles National Parks, whereby the island will remain untouched forever. However, the remainder of the money necessary to pay for it and formalize park management must now be raised. Everyone who has been to Klein Bonaire and enjoyed its beauty is encouraged to help.
People may now donate via the Internet with their Visa or MasterCards. Contact the website www.kleinbonaire.org or E-mail FPKB@caribinn.com
FPKB would like to thank all those who have helped in the successful effort to save this island.