Deep Sea Archaeology on Bonaire

Project type: Expedition (non-diving)
Dates: 22 June – 2 July, 2021
Project language: English
Minimum age: 18

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 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.

This expedition aims to explore, study, and map these archaeological remains in deep water using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) down to a depth of 200 meters / 656 feet. Technical divers have reported archaeological finds down to 120 meters / 393 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 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. No SCUBA diving will be conducted as part of the program, making this project suitable for anyone with an interest in history and archaeology. 

The Expedition

The expedition will comprise an 11-day program focused on surveys of Bonaire’s deep waters using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) launched and operated from a boat. We will be surveying historical anchorage areas at the salt pans, plantations, and off the island’s capital Kralendijk. Participants will have the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding and training in the use of ROVs, and conduct archaeological surveys down to 200 meters / 656 feet using this state of the art surveying device. Presentations, workshops, and excursions will complement the fieldwork. The expedition includes the following components:

Underwater research

  • ROV surveys at several deep-water sites
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Photogrammetry (3D modeling) and photomosaics
  • Site reporting

Presentations

  • History and archaeology of Bonaire
  • Underwater cultural heritage management
  • Underwater archaeological documentation

Workshops

  • ROV training
  • Photo and video editing
  • 3D modeling
  • Data processing

Excursions

  • Island tour
  • Washington-Slagbaai National Park

Venue

The project team will spend 10 nights in a fully-equipped, large villa on the island. This is where we will also hold presentations and workshops.

Food

We believe that good food is key to a successful and productive project. Food will be provided for the duration of the project. We will ensure the fridge is always 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 program, and might organize a barbeque or get take-out once in a while. Restaurants on Bonaire serve a variety of foods, including delicious local seafood and local meat, Western cuisine such as burgers, pasta, and pizza, and delicious Asian food. Every restaurant we go to also has vegetarian options.

Requirements

  • As this expedition does not involve diving, anyone with an interest in underwater archaeology and exploration can sign up.

Cost

The total course fee is USD 3,900. This includes:

  • 10 nights shared accommodation
  • Food and drinks based on three meals per day
  • All training, presentations, and workshops
  • Airport pick up and drop off
  • All transportation on island
  • Excursions and park fees

How to apply

As we like to keep our groups small, the expedition is limited to just 8 participants. Our programs 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.

How to get here

Getting to Bonaire is easy. There are direct international flights into the island from Houston, Newark, Atlanta, Miami, and Amsterdam. There are multiple flights a day from Aruba and Curacao as well.