Captain Don Stewart – Bonaire

Captain Don Stewart – Bonaire

November 30, 2022

Captain Don Stewart, also known as the Father of Bonaire. A passionate diver, pioneer and someone that helped the island of Bonaire in many ways

He was a high school drop out by the age of 17 and joined the US navy quickly after. Later he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and was discharged from the navy.
He went on to become a successful entrepreneur. After selling his business and bying a sailboat he first arrived on Bonaire in 1952, eager to make things happen. He fell in love with the diversity of fish and the untouched corals surrounding Bonaire. He decided to never leave again (though some say it was because his sailboat sunk around Bonaire).

Don played a big part in the opening of Bonaire’s first hotel and dive operation, Zeebad. Once a German detention camp during World War II, Zeebad grew to the now well-known resort Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino. Don became the founder of the diving tourism.

Being in awe of the underwater world Bonaire had to offer, Don organized spearfishing competitions. Only realizing afterward what a damage it did to the marine life. He changed his mind set and became an avid protector of the seas. He even managed to ban spearfishing on the island years later.

He started the first diving center on the island, the council of underwater Resort Operators and installed 60 moorings. The moorings were installed so boats wouldn’t have to drop their anchors every time, leaving the fragile corals intact. The moorings/dive sites were mostly named by Captain Don himself, some with funny stories others named after woman. You can read all about this in his book ‘Reef Windows’.

In 1976 Don opened Captain Don’s Habitat, a large resort with only divers in mind. The first 24/7 dive resort, meaning you could dive 24 hours a day for 365 days a year. There was one rule, don’t touch the corals, and if you didn’t listen or destroyed a piece of coral Don would find you. There are stories that in some cases he drove people back to the airport making sure they left the island and couldn’t do any more damage. One of his famous scuba quotes is still used by many of the local divemaster today “take only pictures and memories, leave only bubbles”.

Together with others he ensured the safety of Bonaire’s nature resulting in the Bonaire National Marine Park. The first protected Marine Park in the world. Setting the standard for other Marine Parks to come.

Because of all he has done for Bonaire,  Captian Don was honored with the title of Knight within the Order of Orange-Nassau along with many other lifetimes awards.

On May 28 2014 Captain Don took his last breath on Bonaire.

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