Deep Sea Archaeology on Bonaire

Location: Unnamed Road, Kralendijk, Caribbean Netherlands

Season: July 29, 2023 to August 11, 2023

Session Dates: July 29 - August 11, 2023

Application Deadline: April 1, 2023

Deadline Type: Rolling


Program Type:
Field School

RPA Certified:

The Shipwreck Survey

Project Director:
Ruud Stelten, Ph.D.

Project Description:

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 project 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 aim to 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.
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:

Underwater fieldwork:

  • 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

In the lab:

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

Tours & excursions:

  • Island tour
  • Washington-Slagbaai National Park and Brandaris hike


Period(s) of Occupation: Colonial period (15th-19th centuries)

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 13 days

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: PADI Open Water certification or equivalent

Room and Board Arrangements:
The project team will spend 12 nights in a hotel or large villa on the island. This is where we will also hold presentations and workshops. 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. The total course fee is USD 4,900. This includes 12 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

Contact Information:

Ruud Stelten

Phone: +31642311256

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