Underwater Archaeology on Bonaire

Location: Unnamed Road, Kralendijk, Caribbean Netherlands

Season: January 4, 2025 to January 18, 2025

Session Dates: January 4-18, 2025

Application Deadline: October 4, 2024

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 Divers Paradise. Its shallow surrounding waters are famous for the vibrant coral reefs that attract thousands of divers each year. Bonaire’s underwater archaeological heritage, however, is largely 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 field school aims to explore, study, and map archaeological remains in the waters surrounding the island. We will be documenting remains of shipwrecks, historic anchors and cannons, and remains of maritime infrastructure around the historic salt pans. Located in the Bonaire National Marine Park, these sites offer easy diving conditions and are home to a large variety of marine life, which makes for a fantastic research environment. Participants will have the opportunity to be part of this highly varied project, gaining hands-on experience in underwater archaeological research while being completely immersed in Caribbean history and archaeology.

In addition, we will start a survey of Bonaire’s uninhabited sister island Klein Bonaire. Located just offshore, Klein Bonaire’s waters have never been archaeologically surveyed. If weather conditions permit, we will also conduct a diving survey on the remote east coast of Bonaire. Numerous ships have wrecked on this rough coast over the centuries. Some areas are littered with remains of foundered ships, but much of this coastline remains unexplored. Diving here is a truly special experience.

The field school will comprise an 15-day program focused on exploring Bonaire’s waters and studying and documenting maritime archaeological remains. 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, and have some fun exploring the island as well. You will also have the opportunity to brush up on your diving skills at the start of the program through several in-water workshops. 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 program includes the following components:


Underwater fieldwork

  • SCUBA diving surveys around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Photogrammetry (3D recording)
  • Site reporting
  • Recording cannons, anchors, and other artifacts
  • Recording shipwreck sites
  • Recording maritime infrastructure

Presentations and workshops

  • History and maritime archaeology of Bonaire
  • Underwater cultural heritage management
  • Underwater research methods
  • Underwater photography and photogrammetry for archaeologists
  • Diving skills for archaeologists

In the lab

  • Data processing
  • Photo and video editing
  • 3D modeling
  • Report writing

Tours and excursions

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

Dissemination of results

  • Public presentation to the people of Bonaire



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

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 15 days

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: PADI Open Water certification or equivalent

Room and Board Arrangements:
We will spend 14 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 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 14 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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