History of the Bonaire WebCams Project – Then & Now…
An Idea is Born
The planning of the Bonaire WebCams project started during the summer of 1999, when Dan Senie and Jake Richter, long time friends and graduates of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute were talking about the new leased line Internet connection Dan had just helped Jake install in his office on the Caribbean island of Bonaire. The idea came about as a result of Dan wanting to re-live his visits to Bonaire, combined with the great weather and excellent diving Bonaire is known for.
Dan and Jake concluded that a WebCam would be the best way to tame Bonaire-envy, but that a typical WebCam installation, where you have a single, low-resolution camera mounted inside a window, was not the way to go. Putting their know-how together with their diving experience (Jake is a certified dive instructor and Dan an avid advanced diver), they set about trying to design a system which could be installed above the reef slope behind Jake’s office/house, in open water.
While Dan started looking at equipment options, machine tooling, and connectivity issues, Jake set about getting permission from Bonaire’s island government, and in turn, the protected Bonaire Marine Park, for permanently installing an underwater camera in the ocean behind his home/office. Once local government saw the tourism benefits of a permanent “ReefCam”, they were quick to assist moving the application through. And, since Jake was a responsible Bonaire Marine Park Volunteer, and had proposed a mounting system which the Marine Park felt certain would not be damaging to the environment, and would be in keeping with the philosophy of “take only pictures, leave only bubbles” (an eco-diving motto), they also granted permission.
With permission in place during October of 1999, Dan and Jake started in earnest with their efforts at procuring equipment and support. Initial efforts to get outside funding for the project failed to garner enough financial support, stalling the effort for a couple of months until a business plan could be developed. Ultimately, Dan and Jake, via their respective U.S. companies, Amaranth Networks and Stroke Of Color, funded the project themselves, via the creation of Caribbean WebCams, LLC (CWC hereafter), with the intent of recouping their initial investment via the sale of advertising space on the site.
Some basic mission items were decided early on:
- Use NTSC video cameras (these output live motion signals compatible with North American (and Bonairean) television systems, and with the proper hardware, allow for the capture of individual images from the video stream). The use of video cameras allows for, once Bonaire has the bandwidth, the ability to ship a video stream via servers in the U.S., instead of just snapshots as is currently the case. (Update: May 2010 – a number of our cameras are now IP cameras, but with Bonaire’s rough climate for electronics, we’re still serious about NTSC video cameras as a less expensive and more easily serviced and replaced component.)
- Use custom servers for the capture of images, weather information, compatibility, cost, Internet connectivity, and general programmability.
- Make the overall WebCam solution as rugged, secure, and reliable as possible, within acceptable cost parameters.
- Provide a end-user Web site which would encourage frequent viewing and build a community.
These goals drove the planning stage, and helped determine what equipment CWC ultimately put together for this effort.
Implementation & Equipment
After a couple of trips for meetings and equipment procurement, as well as some custom machine tooling, everything was ready. In mid-March, 2000, Dan came to Bonaire, and he and Jake spent about a week installing cameras, power supplies, cabling, hardware, and software. Miraculously, everything actually worked pretty much as it was intended to the first time, including the ReefCam, seen pictured at right in pristine condition, on a mooring block, attached to the WebCam server system on land via a 350 foot (107.7 meter) Kevlar coated cable. (Photo above shows the ReefCam in March of 2000).
At about the same time as the ReefCam was installed CWC installed two all-weather “bullet” cameras on the beach pavilion (these cameras were the South and North BeachCams). There was a camera left over, as well as another place to plug it into on the capture server, so, combined with a desire Jake had to see who was ringing the doorbell at his place, the StreetCam was born.
The camera used for the ReefCam was designed for extreme aquatic conditions (down to a depth of 300 meters / 975 feet), which far exceeded CWC’s needs, but was proof of the ruggedness required by the goals set for the project. A custom mounting bracket also needed to be designed (see photo above) which would allow for multidirectional positioning once the bracket was cemented and bolted into place on the private mooring.
A remote weather system, developed by Davis Instruments, was installed on the roof of the home/office, and connected to the local server so that real-time weather information could be provided.
All this captured information was posted in a very simple form on the Bonaire WebCams Web site at the end of March 2000 as a form of “beta-test” to solicit input on the concept and implementation. We’re proud to report that the Beta Bonaire WebCams site was responsible for an unprecedented amount of day dreaming at offices around the world, and the trend continues with this official site. In fact, an active community of Bonaire WebCam users has formed in a discussion group on the BonaireTalk Web site.
At first, CWC used a commercial WebCam server from AXIS Communications, which features the ability to capture images from up to five video sources and ship those to remote servers, but it was found that a capture device integrated directly into the CWC-designed Linux server was faster, offered better capture quality, and was more programmable. This transition was made in July of 2000. In later iterations, a shift to newer Axis capture devices became the equipment of choice, along with a few high-resolution digital capture cameras for above-water use.
CWC also determined that computer color adjustments of captured ReefCam images was not enough to remove excessive cyan from the images (water filters out colors from the color spectrum, including red, orange, yellow, etc.), so a special filter from URPRO was custom installed on the ReefCam, and serves the additional purpose of further protecting the lens of the ReefCam. That’s important when looking at how encrusted the camera has already become with algae and other denizens (see picture at right, featuring a juvenile blue tang (yellow phase) that lives on the mooring block). (Photo above shows the ReefCam as seen in September 2000).
Another major enhancement came about in August of 2000, when the official Bonaire WebCams site was finally launched. In February of 2002, we added membership as an option to raise funds to help keep the Bonaire WebCams operating.
And, in June of 2004, due to a number of factors, the entire Bonaire WebCams system was moved to the Eden Beach Resort. The entire mooring on which the ReefCam is located was floated over to the new location and then dropped into place on the reef slope. Both Dan and Jake were in the water for that event, which was quite exciting.
In 2006 we added three new top-side cameras – the DonkeyCam, the WindsurfCam, and the DowntownCam, and in May 2007 we recabled and replaced all of the top-side Bonaire WebCams at Eden Beach, extended our hosting agreement with them for another five years, and installed a second ReefCam, relegating the original to be the Bonaire Wreck ReefCam, and the new one to be the Bonaire Pier ReefCam. We also installed the Yellow Submarine Pier WebCam in June 2007.
However, at the beginning of October 2007, we sadly decided to permanently remove the Bonaire Wreck ReefCam due to on-going problems with the cabling from our supplier. And in October 2008, Tropical Storm Omar severly damaged the Bonaire Reef PierCam located at Eden Beach as well as our weather station at Eden Beach, rendering both less than functional.
In September 2009, we installed a brand new weather station at Jake’s home in Bonaire, and this added the ability to also show UV, sun intensity, and several other types of readings we did not have before. Then, in April 2010, we added a new StreetCam at Jake’s house in Belnem, in front of the Richter Art Gallery.
In early May 2010, we finally had a new Bonaire Pier ReefCam in place at Eden Beach again,, while at the end of May we added the new RooftopCam and AirportCam. And in June 2010, we installed a new Bonaire Wreck ReefCam on a wreck 60 feet down in front of Eden Beach. We also installed a new top-side HarborCam and ReefCam at Dive Friends Bonaire’s Yellow Submarine dive shop. Sadly, we had to remove the Wreck ReefCam from service in August 2010 after only 6 weeks of operation when divers damaged the cable.
End of an Era
Now eleven years after the project started, twelve since the idea was hatched, it’s time to say goodbye. The project never made money, though for the most part broke even. Equipment expenses for the 2010 reefcam installation were high, and it was a big disappointment when the damage occurred. Dan hasn’t been able to make it to Bonaire in many years. Jake was often off-island on business. Jake’s health issues forced us to realize it was time to end the era of the Bonaire WebCams. We had a great time with the project, got to know a lot of great folks, learned a lot and solved many problems.
Thanks for all the great memories.