About the project and the island

The Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire is best known as Diver’s Paradise. Its shallow surrounding waters are famous for the vibrant coral reefs that attract thousands of divers each year. Bonaire’s deep and remote waters, however, are almost completely unexplored.

Bonaire played an important role in colonial-period history, as it was a supplier of large quantities of salt. Its salt pans were very productive and produced high-quality salt, which was used to preserve food before the invention of refrigerators. Remnants of this industry can be found all over the island, including the surrounding waters. Moreover, as low-lying Bonaire was a navigational hazard that could not easily be seen at night, many ships wrecked along its rocky shores. As a result, Bonaire’s waters are littered with shipwrecks, cannons, anchors, remains of old docks, ballast piles, and artifacts.

The 2023 summer expedition builds on previous research around the salt pans and the remote east coast.

This field school aims to explore, study, and map archaeological remains in deep water using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) down to a depth of 650 feet. Technical divers have reported archaeological finds down to 400 feet, but virtually nothing is known about the deeper waters that are out of divers’ reach. Using an ROV with a high resolution 4K camera and powerful lights, we will survey the sea floor at select locations around the salt pans and historical anchorage areas to document what no one has seen before. Participants will have the opportunity to be part of this groundbreaking research by operating the ROV themselves and analyzing and processing the data gathered during the surveys.

In addition, we will conduct a SCUBA diving survey of the Spelonk area on the island’s east coast. Numerous ship have wrecked in this area over the centuries. We will document an as of yet unidentified 140-foot-long shipwreck and will look for others nearby. It is a very remote area that hardly any divers ever get to visit. This means the diving will be a bit more advanced than during our regular field school. We therefore highly recommend participants to have recent dive experience.

You are more than welcome to sign up for the program if you do not yet possess the required dive experience and certifications, as long as you meet the requirements at the start of the program. Bonaire is one of the best places in the world to do SCUBA training, so you can also opt to come to the island early for some dive training or fun dives.

The Field School

The field school will comprise an 13-day program focused on surveys of Bonaire’s deep waters using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and the documentation of an unidentified shipwreck on the east coast.

Participants will be completely immersed in Caribbean history and archaeology through various presentations, workshops, and site visits around the island. You will be actively involved in SCUBA diving surveys and archaeological documentation on the east coast, and have some fun exploring the island as well. You will also have the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding and training in the use of ROVs, and use it to conduct archaeological surveys down to 650 feet from our base on a research vessel.

The program includes the following components:
  • ROV surveys at several deep-water sites
  • SCUBA diving surveys on the remote east coast of the island
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Photogrammetry (3D recording)
  • Site reporting
  • Recording cannons and anchors
  • Recording shipwrecks
  • History and maritime archaeology of Bonaire
  • Underwater cultural heritage management
  • Underwater research methods
  • Underwater photography and videography for archaeologists
  • ROV training
  • Photo and video editing
  • 3D modeling
  • Data processing
  • Island tour
  • Washington-Slagbaai National Park and Brandaris hike
  • Public presentation to the people of Bonaire
  • ROV surveys at several deep-water sites
  • SCUBA diving surveys on the remote east coast of the island
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Photogrammetry (3D recording)
  • Site reporting
  • Recording cannons and anchors
  • Recording shipwrecks
  • History and maritime archaeology of Bonaire
  • Underwater cultural heritage management
  • Underwater research methods
  • Underwater photography and videography for archaeologists
  • ROV training
  • Photo and video editing
  • 3D modeling
  • Data processing
  • Island tour
  • Washington-Slagbaai National Park and Brandaris hike
  • Public presentation to the people of Bonaire

Program Details

We will spend 13 nights in a nice hotel. We are still working out the details, but it will be in a convenient location with plenty of amenities such as air-conditioned rooms, a kitchenette, wifi, a pool, etc. Accommodation will be twin share. A private room is possible for a surcharge.

We believe that good food is key to a successful and productive project. Food and drinks will be provided for the duration of the project. We will make sure fridges are stocked with a variety of foods for breakfast and lunch. For dinner we like to mix things up: we will visit several different restaurants throughout the course or get take-out once in a while. Restaurants on Bonaire serve a variety of foods, including delicious local seafood, Western cuisine such as burgers, pasta, and pizza, and some of the best Chinese food in the Caribbean. Every restaurant we go to also has vegetarian options.

Participants are required to be certified scuba divers (PADI Advanced Open Water Diver or equivalent certification from another agency), and have recent dive experience.

Participants are strongly advised to have dive insurance for the duration of the course. Our recommendation is DAN (Divers Alert Network) insurance.

The total course fee is USD 4,900. This includes:

  • 13 nights accommodation
  • Food and drinks based on three meals per day
  • Airport pick up and drop off
  • All transportation on island
  • All training, presentations, and workshops
  • All diving activities
  • All other activities, excursions, and park fees

We have space for just 8 participants as we like to keep the group small. Our field schools tend to fill up quickly so it is advised to apply as far in advance as possible. An application form can be downloaded here, and once filled out, emailed to info@theshipwrecksurvey.com. Once the application form is received, we will send you the payment instructions for a deposit to reserve your spot.

Getting to Bonaire is easy. There are non-stop international flights into the island from Houston, Newark, Atlanta, Miami, and Amsterdam.

The field school is carried out in cooperation with Bonaire East Coast Divers (www.bonaireeastcoastdiving.com). This is the only operator that offers boat dives on the east coast. They have been in business for many years and are experts when it comes to safe diving in this part of the island.

sign up for an adventure of a lifetime

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