Number 02 Don the Happy Fisherman
Capt'n Don is president of the Bonaire chapter of the Audubon Society and also president of the local chapter of the American Littoral Society. "I am not only president of both," he admits proudly, "but also the only member. I can tell a little bird called a kibi kibi from another little bird called a kibi kibi geo, and, of course, I know a flamingo when I see one.
There is some kind of a yellow-headed parrot on the island, but to be honest, I wouldnâ€™t recognize it if it flew in here and bit my nose."
How does a man, in a mere 37 years, get to be manager of a hotel as well as its plumber and its electrician and accountant and substitute water-ski instructor and minnesinger and social director and scuba guide and part-time bartender et cetera?
Literally, Don Capt'n Don came to the Flamingo Beach Club out of the sea. Last year, he sailed into Bonaire on his schooner ducking coastal pirates. Don was a diver and an experienced tropical fish collector.of small marine tropical fish that are cherished by aquarium faddists. Many freshwater tropical species are quite durable and relatively easy to handle, but the perverse little sea jewels such as Don sought usually need more loving care than most men are willing to give their ailing mothers. Even in an aquarium where the salinity, oxygenation and water density are controlled precisely, a saltwater tropical fish is susceptible to freakish ills. In the best regulated tank, a saltwater specimen can contract tail rot, belly rot or Lord knows what rot. As Dr. Herbert Axelrod, Americaâ€™s tropical fish genius, puts it, "An aquarium of saltwater tropicals is prone to catastrophe. Drop a cigarette ash in the tank and you can wipe out the lot."
The underwater collector who is not steeped in the queer ways of each saltwater species and its particular physiological and social requirements -- and who does not have fancy gear to cope with the problems usually ends up with few fish to sell.
The journey to market alone takes a fierce toll. If some clod at an airport puts a shipment of fish on the wrong plane, or leaves it sitting in the sun for a few hours, well sir, by the time the shipment gets to the North American or European market, all the precious little captives are floating belly up and are worth their weight in cat food.
Although there were plenty of bad connections between Capt'n Don and his fish markets far across the sea, he succeeded largely because -- as in so many of his undertakings -- he did not spend much time sitting around believing he would fail. His first holding tanks were whiskey crates lined with plastic table cloths. His aerator was fashioned from the discarded guts of a refrigerator.
Before shipping fish to market, Capt'n Don would take each plastic bagful to an auto shop and give it a refreshing blast of pure oxygen from the welding tank. Having done as much as he possibly could for his little captives, Capt'n Don would take them to the airport and pray that they would soon be flown to Amsterdam or Germany without going by way of Auckland.
It so happened that at the time Capt'n Don was starting in the fish business, the Bonaire chapter of the International Lions Club had 5,000 guilders (about $3,000U.S.) in their treasury. The Bonaire Lions -- boosters all -- were planning to use the money to import two real, live, roaring African lions to the island, God knows why. Capt'n Don persuaded the local Lions that, rather than buying two out-sized African cats that would consume about a cubic yard of raw meat a day, they should use the money to promote Bonaireâ€™s, finest tourist asset.:The wondrous profusion of colorful fish that live in the bright waters around the island.
Between the reefs that decorate the outskirts of most Caribbean islands there are vast submarine wastelands. There are extensive shallows where the water is frequently roiled by storm swells, thus stifling any reef coral that might otherwise get a foothold. Near many islands there are also barren deeps behind barrier reefs and submarine ridges that do not admit enough clean, oceanic water to support the complicated ecology of a coral reef.
In contrast, the 70-mile coastline of Bonaire is virtually an unbroken chain of beauty. There are few wide shallows where silt can accumulate; there are no barriers to induce stagnation.
On the lee side of the island, the 100-fathom line -- the edge of never-never land -- lies only a half mile offshore. There is an easy interchange of water between the benthos and the littoral, so that to contaminate the shallows of Bonaire you would virtually have to contaminate the whole Caribbean.
At almost any point on the lee shore of Bonaire a novice diver can prowl through coral gardens within 100 feet of land. "Where else, "Capt'n Don asks, "can you stand in front of the post office, take a dozen steps to the left and fall into a sea of beautiful fish."fter listening to Capt'n Don, the Bonaire Lions Club shelved their plan to buy two real lions and invested instead in an aquarium where home-grown beauties of the sea could be displayed.
The Bonaire Aquarium is a modest one, but unrivaled in one respect. It is there and only there that a man can gaze upon a small, lavender-and-orange, striped, black-fringed fish that was discovered six years ago at a depth of 120 feet by Donâ€™s and his diving partner. Percy Sweetnam. Capt'n Don gave the little fish the name "mardi gras" because of its extravagant colors.
The mardi gras fish has since been examined and officially described by Ichthyologist Jack Randall of Hawaiiâ€™s Bishop Museum as a new species carmabi of the genus Chorististium . A half dozen other men at most have ever seen the mardi gras fish underwater, and Capt'n Don is the only man who has brought it back alive. (A second mardi gras specimen that Capt'n Don brought back alive used to be the prize display item at the Rotterdam aquarium in Holland, but, alas, someone put incompatible species in the tank with the mardi gras and it was killed).
Since finding the mardi gras fish,Capt'n Don has discovered two more new species which, until properly classified by a trained ichthyologist, have been dubbed by Capt'n Don "the stranger" and "the tiger."
There are for sure many odd creatures below that man has not yet seen. Capt'n Don's discoveries are not, in themselves, exceptional, but it is remarkable that he has done so much with so little.
Capt'n Don is a double anachronism. In an age when most experts diving deep carry about as much instrumentation as the dashboard of a Ferrari, Capt'n Don travels light. He sometimes uses an underwater watch, but rarely trusts it. Today when hunting fish below 120 feet, where minutes are precious, he depends on his own built-in sense of time. In an age when most fish experts are armed with two or three college degrees and an extensive library, on his distant outpost Bonaire ,
Capt'n Don must rely on the simpler assets of old-style naturalists.
He has an exceptional power of observation and the sort of uncanny intuition that served Charles Darwin when he roamed the world establishing revolutionary truths out of seemingly unrelated fragments. Although he was well aware of the decompression problem as it applied to man, for example, Capt'n Don had no literature to guide him in the matter of bringing fish up from depths. Before bringing them straight up, he learned to observe them carefully at different depths, noting the distension of their gut and their swimming behavior.
Based on what he observes, he brings some all the way up from as deep as 120 feet, others must be left for 12 or 24 hours, or more, at a depth of around 35 feet, undergoing a stage decompression.
When all his merits and demerits are balanced out, Capt'n Don's success underwater can be explained in the same way as his success as a hotel manager on land. From the outset, without benefit of books, he recognized that each species of fish, like each guest above, has a particular character. When hunting the pygmy angelfish, for example, Capt'n Don uses an explosive technique -- akin, you might say, to rousing a hotel guest from his bed with a firecracker.
The pygmy angelfish flourishes in the loose tangle of coral detritus. To catch the pygmy, Capt'n Don stirs up the loose coral, and the pygmy, addled because his world has suddenly been turned topsy-turvy, does not know which way to go. With a swoop of his net Capt'n Don takes his prize -- sometimes.
In contrast, the purple and gold jewel known as the royal gramma -- very abundant around Bonaire -- habitually swims upside down under living coral ledges.
To take it, a violent approach simply will not do. Instead. Capt'n Don first looks for a small hole that seems to have only one entrance. Then, by advancing, slowly moving an arm here and his net there, Capt'n Don gently persuades the royal gramma that the hole is a good refuge. Once the gramma has withdrawn into it, Capt'n Don inserts a slim prod into the hole and gently persuades the gramma that it really is not a safe retreat. Other species might dart out in any direction: straight forward, up, down, or to the side. From experience, Capt'n Don knows the gramma will always swim out diagonally down to the left or right. By shielding one route with an arm and placing a net across the other, Capt'n Don gets his gramma -- sometimes.
On sandy flats where most divers see nothing but discarded beer cans and other offal, Capt'n Don hunts the jawfish, a pop-eyed, big mouthed clown that seems constantly mad. To spot a jawfish, Capt'n Don lies flat on the bottom, so flat that the mouthpiece of his regulator is sometimes half buried. If he is lucky, in a minute or so in the distance he will see a jawfish dancing in the water an inch or so above his hole.
Capt'n Don does not close in until he sees a second jawfish hanging over a hole nearby. Sociologically jawfish are years ahead of homo sapiens, thinking man. Boy jawfish and girl jawfish get together and mate, but they dwell apart, thus sparing themselves a great deal of the petty grief that makes domesticity such a burden for the human race.
Capt'n Don has learned that the easiest way to catch a jawfish is to be sure that it is a male and that it has a paramour nearby. Once he has determined this, Capt'n Don advances. When he does so, both the male and the female jawfish return to their holes, but they never go deep down in the holes for they are curious as well as fearful. After approaching within three feet, Capt'n Don reaches out and slips the broad blade of a small pick in the soft bottom, transecting the tunnel of the male jawfish and preventing him from going deeper.
At this point Capt'n Don might put his net over the hole and by twisting the pick violently, flush the jawfish out. In the flurry of rubble he could easily lose the fish or injure it. Instead, after inserting the pick, Capt'n Don places the net a few feet away, in direct line between the abode of the jawfish and that of his lady love. Capt'n Don almost always gets his prize that way because, from experience, he has learned that the jawfish male, when evicted from his own diggings, usually heads straight for his girl friend's place
While Capt'n Don was eking out a happy, meager living as a fish hunter, the proprietor of the Flamingo Beach Club -- an American-Venezuelan-Nova Scotian named John Bogart -- asked him to lay an anchor rode that would take care of all the hotel's boats. When Capt'n Don finished that job, there were boats that needed mending, and after that Bogart wondered if Capt'n Don -- who seemed able to do anything -- would care to start a plant nursery to help the landscaping of the club. Thus it was, jack-of-all-trading, that Capt'n Don, like some silurian throwback, slowly emerged from the weightless sea on flippered feet a
In the busy tourist season, Capt'n Don rarely gets a chance to slip back underwater to chase the little fish that first attracted him to Bonaire. "But I am always comforted in knowing, "Capt'n Don says, "that whenever I feel as if my brains are coming out the top of my skull, all I have to do is throw a scuba bottle on my back and fall off the end of the dock.
Life is a series of compromises. Iâ€™ve got my defects, and this island has its limitations, so we get along fine together
edited bij Linda âˆš