Preserving Cultural Heritage and Coral in Curaçao

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On Wednesday, our Pace documentary team prowled ancient alleys reflecting Curaçao’s extraordinarily rich history, then got a closeup view of a remarkable effort to restore an endangered coral species, devastated by a mysterious disease, by growing it in tanks and then “planting” small corals back in the sea.

FullSizeRender_3(1)                   photo by Yumeng Ji

We spent the morning learning about the history of this amazing island, marked by big moments: the arrival in the early 1600s of the Dutch West India Company, which our tour guide Michael Newton referred to as the first “multinational” company, the oil industry’s arrival in 1915 and the urban revitalization that began at the end of 1980’s. Also, we learned Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, is on the World Heritage list of UNESCO.

The oil generated a boom by creating jobs and modernizing the island after World War II when the population quintupled. But industrial development has positive and negative consequences: economic growth and pollution, respectively. On that subject, an article published in 2008 by the Christian Science Monitor provides a picture of the tarry consequences for wildlife and a lake.

In the afternoon, we returned to the core theme of our documentary: the fate of coral reefs. We went to the Curaçao Sea Aquarium where we spoke to researcher Valerie Chamberland about her successful efforts to grow coral from larvae in tanks and then transplant them into the sea.

She is part of an international Secore Foundation research effort devoted to helping tropical corals reproduce. In an interview on the foundation website, Valerie details why she started studying coral reproduction. It was fascinating to learn that this kind of work is taking place largely behind the scenes at a commercial aquarium that also welcomes tourists with close encounters with flamingos, dolphins and sharks and offers submarine trips. Who would’ve thought?

DSC_0331                     photo by Yumeng Ji

After she explained the reproductive strategies of corals, some of our team went snorkeling near the aquarium to see the results of her research. There were many healthy three-year-old “juvenile” elkhorn corals glued to boulders beneath the waves.

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This success hardly means the problem with Caribbean corals is solved. Valerie reminded us in the presentation that 95% of the elkhorn and staghorn coral in that family are gone, killed off by an introduced pathogen since 1970’s.

Always stop by so you won’t miss out on our daily routine here in Curaçao. Follow us on Twitter, on Instagram and like our Facebook page. We are getting ready for more interviews and amazing sights tomorrow. Stay tuned!

And of course, don’t forget to keep watching our vlogs to see some sneak peaks into the footage we’re filming!

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