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Life Change: Escaping the California rat race for lionfish hunting (and more) in Bonaire

(DiverWire) – Imagine – packing up everything that you own, selling most of your belongings and moving away to a Caribbean Island. Most of us only dream about having such an opportunity, to be able to bask in the warm weather and enjoy everyday to the fullest. That is exactly what John and Cindi Jensen, originally from Calabasas, California, did in 2007.

After they both had successful careers, they were now officially retired and had decided to lift roots and re-invent themselves. John had worked as a research scientist and Cindi worked as a research lab procurement executive.  John and Cindi both received their Open Water certification in the waters off Catalina Island, California in 2001. They had enjoyed the sport so much they traveled extensively prior to their retirement.

Their first visit to Bonaire was in 2003, the azure waters, diversity of species and   accessibility to many dives sites captured their hearts. Over the years they would take many more visits to Bonaire, splitting their time between the island and California.  So in 2007 with their new status of being retired they made the decision to relocate permanently to the island of Bonaire. They were lucky enough to find a home, just mere feet from the shore and one of their favorite dive sites.

When asked “What is it about Bonaire that helped you decide to live here?” The pair said, “It is a small island with a comfortable infrastructure (there are still no traffic lights on the island). The local people are friendly and people live in harmony with similar interests”.  Cindi also commented “the diving is fabulous, it was an easy choice.”

Once settled on the island they began to put into motion their plan to contribute and give back to the island of Bonaire. They are both very active in the water working on different projects. They started with the L&M Sensor Project in 2007. This project monitors daily data that focuses on off shore water quality. John and Cindi also participate in regular volunteer reef clean up excursions, scouring the reefs for refuse and maintaining natural environments for the sea life.

To date their most passionate endeavor has been being members of the local Lionfish Removal Team. The non-domestic Indo-Pacific species is recognized as one of the fastest reproducing and migrating fish invasions in the North American and Caribbean waters. John and Cindi spend 5-10dives each week, rounding up Lionfish in the waters off Bonaire.  During a dive when they see a Lionfish, they give the ‘L’ hand-signal to let their team member know a location of a fish. They currently (at time of writing) hold the highest number of retrievals at over 900 fish. Likely by the time you are reading this – they will be well over 1000 retrievals.  As a team they also contribute to new and revised retrieval strategies that are implemented by other members of the removal team. They are also active training new team members on proper use of the ELF – eliminate lionfish tool.

Overall they have become the ultimate volunteers on Bonaire. They are giving most of their time to improve Bonaire’s waters and life within it. John remarks “We both have a case of OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Dedication”.

Fellow divers all around the island enjoy having the Jensen’s nearby and welcome the opportunity to join them on a lionfish dive whenever possible.

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