Volunteers with a Passion

Interview with Marjo van den Bulck and Maryke Kolenousky

Marjo and Maryke have just emerged from the water. Returning from a research dive to the newly placed coral plugs on the reef balls, they sit down – shivering slightly – at the beach terrace. The three-week long intensive survey has come to an end. "Sixteen days, two-and-a-half to three hours each day under water."

by Marius Noort

All the reef balls along the two snorkel trails to the east and west of the PortoMari Bay were subjected to thorough investigation. Taking big slates with them, the ladies recorded the condition of the reef balls, the types of coral growing there, took measurements, and counted the different species of fish. The three-week survey involved diving twice a day, five days a week, though not Saturdays or Sundays. The weekend break was planned to avoid the high activity with recreational divers. For the same reason, they planned their dives for early mornings. "If you can get into the water first before the other divers, the water is clearer and you can see more fish species." Marjo explained.

Marjo, on the Reef Ball Research Project: "More reef balls are planned for the coming year, perhaps a hundred, and these too will be fitted with plugs." Maryke added that the two hundred or so reef balls already placed have proved their worth. "What struck us was the variety and quantity of juvenile fish that used the balls as a refuge. Creole wrasse, parrotfish, blue tangs, damselfish and sergeant majors – all in large numbers." Maryke went on enthusiastically, "It is possible to conclude from this observation that the fish population is growing, all the more since previously no specific concentrations of juvenile fish were encountered."

Maryke: "The reef was of course badly damaged by hurricane Lenny, especially in the east part of the bay. Nevertheless, we now see new coral growing – not only the transplanted coral." The combination of transplanted and naturally occurring new corals is very encouraging for the researchers. New growth has also been observed on coral that had fallen over. "Of course, a percentage dies off but, in particular, the brain coral, lettuce and staghorn species appear to be able to withstand stress." During their dives, they did see one case of sick (blackband) coral, and some natural damage such as scraping by parrotfish. However, the marine biologists from the Reef Ball Foundation confirmed the generally good condition of the reef at PortoMari.

Marjo and Maryke’s work began with the reef ball project last year, in particular, the coordination of volunteers to make reef balls. They also assisted in the fish surveys organized by the Reef Care Foundation. Both ladies have a remarkable love for and interest in PortoMari’s double reef: "We are helping to keep it alive!" says Marjo. Her first experience of the under-water world was in 1996 in Holland, and then she came to Curaçao. "From the very beginning my interest lay in the ‘nature’ aspect of diving. I read a lot and was continually immersed in the subject. Slowly but surely I’m building my own history here." The lady from Zeeland is pleased that PortoMari places so much importance on awareness and she wants to contribute her share.

Maryke is a regular contributor to Footprints with her beautiful photographs. She has been diving since 1974; within two years she became an instructor in her homeland Canada and afterwards, taught diving in St. Lucia. For the past six years she has been photographing Curaçao, both above and below water.

The duo is very enthusiastic about the double reef at PortoMari. Marjo: "The unique ecological emphasis underlying the work people are doing here is one of the main reasons we are involved in this project." Maryke: "We are very impressed with PortoMari’s environmental policy." There is a plan to carry out similar surveys on a quarterly basis. Marjo: "These surveys, which take seasonal influences into account, will give us an overall indication of the health and status of the reef and marine populations."

Footprints 2002/5

Strengthening Biodiversity at Plantages PortoMari

Volunteers with a Passion