• Stephanie Maher

Hilma Hooker Dive Site of Bonaire

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Writer: Stephanie Maher Cole

Photographer: Chad Cole






One of my top favorite dive sites on Bonaire is the Hilma Hooker. The other would have to be Salt Pier. Both dive sites are less than 5 miles apart from each other on the southwest coast. The Hilma Hooker is located near the beginning of the pink salt ponds. Salt Pier is right next to the solar salt facility known as Cargil; exporting between 300,000 to 500,000 metric tons of sea salt annually from the salt ponds, Cargil is the largest sea salt distributor in the Caribbean! Based out of Minneapolis, MN, the facility covers about 16 square miles of land located at the southernmost tip of Bonaire, all of which are salt ponds. The bright pink from the salt ponds is created from a microorganism called halophilic bacteria, a single celled life form that contains carotenoid pigments giving the ponds that beautiful pink color.


The Salt Pyramids can be seen next to the Salt Pier. The row of white pyramids can reach 50ft high and contain about 10,000 metric tons of 99.6% pure salt each. It is a tourist attraction to look at the pyramids and take pictures. It is stunning to see the white salt crystals gleam and reflect light from the pink ponds. When driving south to the dive sites along the main highway, I enjoyed the beautiful contrast of the glittering pink salt ponds on the left and the aquamarine hues of the ocean on the right.





The Hilma Hooker dive site is named after the shipwreck that makes the dive so popular. The Hilma Hooker is a cargo freighter that was smuggling drugs at one time and was found with 25,000lb of marijuana by authorities. It was then intentionally sunk in 1984. We dove the Hilma Hooker early in the morning and entered this site from the shore. Since it is a popular dive site, it is best to go in the morning because day boats frequently visit the area and the buoys marking the dive site are situated about 100+ meters from the shore, which is quite a surface swim to get to.


When we arrived at the entry/exit area of the Hilma Hooker, we could see a couple of white rental trucks that we parked next to. A rental truck makes it easy to haul gear and tanks to the different dive sites. Wannadive center is part of Eden Resort, and they gave us all the information about the Hilma Hooker and the other different dive sites and distributed tanks and gear. Staying at the Eden Resort was worth it because of the great dive center, and the beach is right next to Front Porch and Bari’s reef dive sites, which is recorded to have the most biodiversity in the entire Caribbean.





The parking lot is a cleared-out area, surrounded by low growing bushes and the coral rubble beach. Many beaches surrounding Bonaire are made up of coral rubble (big chunks of heavy, rounded coral pieces). There are few sandy beaches on Bonaire and the best ones are on the east side near the windsurfing spot called Lac Bay, and at Klien Bonaire, a small uninhabited islet just west of Bonaire. The Eden Resort provides a boat taxi service to the little islet.


Chad and I changed into our gear and hoisted the tanks on our backs. There are no changing areas or bathrooms except for the bushes. We left all our windows down and doors open in the car because there is a big risk of people stealing stuff. We did not leave any valuables and stashed away our phone.


Entering the water can be precarious because there is a reef flat lip right at the shoreline and even with the small surf I was struggling with my footing. Chad had to help me step down from the reef flat lip. We are great dive buddies because we always stick together under the ocean and help each other when we need it. Chad and I feel like we connect even better under the ocean because we must use communication other than speech. Sometimes, I feel like we can read each other’s thoughts during the dive.







The ocean was very flat and warm (80 degrees Fahrenheit) as usual. No white caps as far as the eye could see. We made our surface swim over the white sandy bottom to the closest buoy that sits at the beginning of the first reef at 20ft. At this point the ocean changed from the bright turquoise to the darker blue color. The second and third buoys mark the Hilma Hooker, located at the bow at 80ft and the other at the stern at 66ft. Even though this is an easy dive, it requires an intermediate level of diving because of the range in depths. The depth ranges between 20-100ft.


At the 20ft buoy, we watched for incoming boats and descended into the ocean. We floated down the reef that extends just next to the bow of the Hilma Hooker that rests in sand at about 100ft. Chad can easily equalize so he was able to quickly descend straight to the bow. I must slowly descend because I need to carefully equalize. However, I was able to enjoy the reef as I continued to descend.


Soon, I began to see the rope of the buoy that was tied to the bow of the Hilma Hooker at 80ft and noticed a cluster of small Blue Chromis fish swimming together around the middle of the rope. They are no bigger than the palm of your hand. Their scales have a strikingly vivid color of blue that is mesmerizing when they swim together in clusters. As I got closer to inspect the Blue Chromis, I began to have feelings of vertigo because the reef dropped away from me.


As soon as I started floating over the wreck, I noticed the sharp contrasts in depth around the wreck. I had to swim back over to the reef to get over feelings of vertigo. Under the ocean, I rarely get feelings of vertigo. However, I usually just dive reefs. The clarity of the water in Bonaire (150+ feet) makes the depths easier to see. The Hilma Hooker was my first real shipwreck, and I was not used to the sharp contrasts in depths as opposed to diving over a reef.









My heart started to quicken again as I began to leave the reef, but I slowly continued to swim towards the bow. I concentrated on just looking straight ahead at Chad and the mesmerizing Blue Chromis that swam around me as I made my way toward the eerie, dark shipwreck covered in corals that lied on its starboard side. I could see details of the orange tube corals forming around the bow when I finally rejoined Chad. Chad gave me the "OK" hand signal and I returned with “OK”.


We proceeded around the wreck and peered into the freight-hold and forward bridge, which faces the double reef. Yellow sponge and purple tube sponges grow sideways from the wreck. Translucent gobies swam around the corals. The angel fish brighten up the dark shadows of the bridge and freight hold. They are like little yellow/blue forms of light zigzagging in and out of the maze of metal.







I don’t know if it was the creepiness of the wreck, but I started to space out and realize how precious and weird life is. It is only my tank of air keeping me from instantly dying under the ocean. Chad and I traveled far across the globe to experience this diver's paradise. At that moment I felt like an astronaut in deep space inspecting a fallen ship covered in otherworldly life forms.


The ocean is so incredibly clear that I tried not to look down for too long in order to evade feelings of vertigo. As much as I struggled to stare straight ahead of me, I looked down, and my heart quickened with the sensation of vertigo. I gasped when I noticed huge tarpons hovering in the lowest and darkest corners of the wreck. I concentrated on slowing my breathing so I could conserve my air, holding my regulator mouthpiece as I did so. I tapped on my tank with a clip to notify Chad and when he turned around, I pointed to the Tarpon and made the "shark sign." At first, I thought the tarpons were sharks because they were so big, and the darkness below obscured their shape. Chad shook his head saying “no” and I relaxed and continued to space out and enjoy my exciting journey around the Hilma Hooker.







We swam the length of the ship which is about 236ft (72m) long. Nearing the stern, at around 70ft, colors started to stand out and things became brighter and less looming. The prop and big rudder of the propellers were covered with yellow, red, and purple sponges. Upon seeing the shallower reef again, I felt more cheerful as I spotted all the incandescent fish swarming around the endless rainbow of corals. Some corals were as tall as small trees. I saw this monster of an eel snaking its away in and out of the corals. Maybe it was a giant moray eel because it must have been at least 4-5 feet long and looked like a dragon as it weaved through the corals and then out of site to the deeper reef. We unfortunately didn't get a picture of it because it was too fast.








We shallowed up gradually as we kicked our way back to the first buoy tied at 20ft. We completed our three-minute safety stop with a shallow swim back over the white sand towards the entry and exit point. When we surfaced, we could see the parking lot full of white rental trucks and the piles of coral rubble that indicated the entry and exit point.






“Good dive baby!” said Chad

“It was amazing!” I replied. I will never forget the 60-minute dive! I have over 220 dives under my belt and diving the Hilma Hooker made me realize I have still much to learn. Chad has way more dives, 2,000 + dives and he is proud of how far I have advanced in diving. It wasn’t until my 50th dive that I started to become comfortable and to safely equalize my ears.


Chad helped me up and over the tricky reef flat lip by getting me out of my scuba gear first. I helped him out when I had a stable footing. We undressed from our wet gear and packed it up. We snacked on some oranges from one of the popular grocery outlets called Vanden Tweel and drove to Salt Pier.


Follow us for more on an upcoming blog of Salt Pier.


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