Princess Beatrix visits Rif St. Marie - Hermanus nature reserve

New opportunities for Bandabou 

WILLEMSTAD - As the patron of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), Princess Beatrix is currently visiting the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Aruba. The focus of this visit is on nature. Stichting Carmabi (Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity), as a member of DCNA, is hosting her in Curaçao. On Tuesday, a visit was made to Christoffel Park, Landhuis Savonet, and Shete Boka Park, while on Wednesday, the Rif Sint Marie - Hermanus nature reserve was on the program. This is Curaçao's newest park, managed by Carmabi, and it will soon be actively developed. The princess was briefed on Carmabi's plans to collaborate with the residents of Willibrordus and the surrounding area to create a different form of nature experience in this region. 

Rif Sint Marie - Hermanus Nature Reserve 

Enclosed by the land houses Hermanus, Jan Kok, and Rif Sint Marie, former salt plantations, there is a unique nature reserve that was designated as recognized Ramsar area #2120 in 2013 under the name Rif Sint Marie. It is one of the five Ramsar areas that Curaçao possesses and must be protected as an internationally significant wetland. The new director of Carmabi, Manfred van Veghel, informed the princess that this area is particularly unique because, within a relatively short distance of 667 hectares, it contains five different ecosystems. Along the coast, there is one of the least disturbed and best coral reefs in the Caribbean. Moving further inland, there is a seagrass ecosystem that leads to a saltwater lake. The water is surrounded by a mangrove ecosystem and a semi-arid dry tropical forest. According to Van Veghel, you will hardly find anywhere else in the world such compact biodiversity in a relatively undisturbed and undeveloped environment. 

Middle Curaçao Biosphere Reserve 

About 10 years ago, the island of Curaçao initiated the "Middle Curaçao Biosphere Reserve" through the UNESCO Man and Biosphere program. The Rif Sint Marie - Hermanus Park forms the core of this biosphere along with the Ramsar area of Malpais - Sint Michiel. Carmabi biologist Erik Houtepen captivated Princess Beatrix with beautiful stories from nature about flamingos and other waterfowl, as well as unique limestone vegetation. Van Veghel spoke about the island's history, including various interesting historical elements in the landscape, such as the land houses, an old lime kiln, indigo pits, and a large cistern built by the Dutch West India Company (West Indische Compagnie). These components offer excellent opportunities for ecotourism, community-based tourism, or regenerative tourism. Several activities have already been organized with local residents to explore these possibilities together. Currently, there is only one biosphere reserve within the Kingdom, Maasheggen in North Brabant; it would be wonderful if the Middle Curaçao Biosphere becomes the second on this special UNESCO list. 

New possibilities for park management 

As nature becomes increasingly important to people, with both tourists and the local population showing more interest in Curaçao's nature, Carmabi is working on a new strategy and approach for managing this area and environment that suits modern times. It will be a different concept than in other parks, as Carmabi Chairman Odette Doest explained to the princess. This nature reserve is most suitable for low-impact use, with minimal disruption to nature. Therefore, visitors won't come by car but rather on foot or by mountain bike, preferably accompanied by local guides. Training these guides, as well as birdwatchers or other nature enthusiasts, can also be a useful aspect of managing this area. The historical elements in the landscape lend themselves to outdoor museum-like features visible from the road to attract tourists and open up the area. The creation of observation towers or shelters for easily observing nature without disturbance, for example, would also be a good fit for managing this area. They plan to experiment with these new ideas in 2024, such as restoring one of the salt pans or introducing digital interactions like outdoor escape rooms or discovery trails. Odette Doest invited the princess to return for these innovative activities in the future.