Illegal Coral Restoration Project - Caracasbaai, Curaçao

For some time now, Hans Pleij – the Managing Director of “CURious 2 Dive NV” has been managing an illegal Coral Restoration Project, under the name of Reef Restoration Team Curaçao, at Tugboat Beach, inside of Caracasbaai.

The above statement is TRUE and not based on bias, rumor, or conjecture!  It is a FACT that has been confirmed by Curaçao Government sources that neither Hans Pleij, CURious 2 Dive, or the so-called “Reef Restoration Team Curaçao” has in their possession government issued permits to collect coral fragments, build and install underwater structures for the purpose of coral propagation or outplant corals back onto the fringing reefs of Curaçao.

Photo courtesy of CURious 2 Dive on Facebook - Reef Restoration Team Curaçao works with Staghorn, Sponges and Gorgonians

“To be clear THESE ACTIVITIES ARE EXPLICITLY PROHIBITED (i.e. criminal offense), based on the Curacao Reef Ordinance 1976 no. 48 and the National Foundations for Nature Management (art. 8).”

The Curaçao Government is aware that, for some time now, there are illegal nurseries and "plantations".  However, they have not been properly addressed by the competent authorities (Coastguard - tel: 913, Environmental Inspector(s)) because these authorities are not equipped to operate underwater. 

With that in mind, plus knowing that there are well established and LEGAL CORAL RESTORATION projects existing in Curaçao with years of proper data and experience, such as SECORE International and Coral Restoration Curaçao

WHY does Minister Steven Martina from the Ministry of Economic Development visit this Illegal Coral Restoration Project?

“Today we had the Minister of Economic Affairs "Steven Martina" at Tugboat Beach. Especially for the better nursery and to give his thoughts about tourism, sustainability and the Eco way.”

“He even changed his clothes for the swimming suit and went snorkeling to the nursery. He wanted to see it all, nursery outplant of corals and the replant of sponges. He was really happy about this public initiative of me and CURious 2 DIVE.” Source:  Facebook post by Hans Pleij.

Photo courtesy of CURious 2 Dive on Facebook - Curaçao's Minister of Economic Development, Mr. Steven Martina at Tugboat Beach.

Currently, the Government of Curaçao is in the process of formalizing a protocol, for propagation and out-planting, where it can take place under certain strict conditions and a government license.

However, in the meantime the Government will have to determine how they can be equipped to operate underwater in case of a report of an alleged criminal offense!  Mr. Martina has now witnessed this illegal initiative first-hand.

About CURious 2 Dive and CASHA

The Curaçao Apartments and Small Hotels Association (CASHA) clearly acknowledges via their website that CURious 2 Dive, as a CASHA member, is “fully compliant with our quality mark requirements”.

Interestingly, “CASHA members must be in full compliance with Curaçao’s local laws and regulations to qualify for membership.”

According to CASHA’s website: “We partner with specialist institutions to carry out annual safety and quality inspections and reviews on all of our members. All CASHA members must, at a minimum, maintain the established quality and safety standards, but also actively work to improve them.”

Protect What We Love

Mr. Miles Mercera, the former President and CEO of CHATA (Curaçao Hospitality and Tourism Association) once said, “the contribution of the diving and snorkeling industry to our economy is huge: We have to take advantage of all the opportunities that this industry has to offer. We propose to promote Curaçao as a diving destination as well. There are still many people who are not aware of the undersea splendor of our island. CHATA wants to emphasize the efforts and contribution of the dive operators to our economy. It is important to protect the dive sites and to ensure a sustainable growth of this industry. The same way the operators take part in certification programs to raise their service level, CHATA urges the government to come up with initiatives and legislation that would change and strengthen the position of the dive operators. As the recent studies have shown, the contribution of the Curaçao Dive Industry to the Curaçao economy is of great value.”

With that being said, the 104 square kilometers of extremely bio-diverse coral reef systems that surround the island of Curacao are of immense economic importance.  Globally, coral reefs provide $375 billion USD in goods and services including $130 billion USD in coastal tourism. Yet, the estimated total investment in coral reef management and conservation is approx. $350 million USD worldwide. That means that for every $100 US dollars that the tourism industry generates in coastal areas, only about $0.27 US dollars goes toward marine protected areas management and conservation.

However, without proper training and scientific supervision, illegal coral restoration initiatives such as Hans Pleij’s project – despite their positive intentions – are detrimental to the environment and set a dangerous precedent for others to follow that includes local / international recognition. Left unchecked, these illegal activities can severely damage the good reputations of legitimate coral restoration organizations, create an inability to generate long-term funding opportunities and cast doubt into the global community about Curaçao’s commitment for their long-term sustainable development and tourism goals.

Simply, the time for blatant cowboy behavior needs to come to an end.  The attitude of “apologizing after the fact, rather than seeking permission in the first place” must stop if we want to protect what we love for the future of our island.  Do it right, or do not do it at all. 

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