Sunniva, warrior for healthy coral reef
A nice idea, such a ‘Lara Croft’ photo shoot, but the Dutch Sunniva Verheij has much more to offer than just good looks. The coral reefs need help and Sunniva is committed to that.
We agreed in TODI to have a photo shoot with the theme ‘Lara Croft’. For those who have never seen the Tomb Raider movies or video games: Lara is an adventurous young lady who is played (in the first two films) by actress Angelina Jolie. Both the games and the movies are a huge success worldwide.
When you see Sunniva with her long braid in her silver-grey neoprene diving suit, the resemblance to the character Lara Croft is immediately apparent. That’s also why I asked her to do an underwater photo shoot. Sunniva has a diving license and is also a free diver, which makes posing underwater a bit easier. For the first part of the photo shoot, she poses without a diving mask and fins. Then we swim around looking for photogenic spots. We are in the water for more than two hours. We look forward to a hot drink and a hearty bite in the TODI brasserie. Time for a chat.
Sunniva has been working in the entertainment world for many years and is also a makeup artist. That sector was hit hard by the Corona measures. That is why she decided in 2020 to go on vacation to Curaçao. However, the local lockdown meant that she had to stay longer because there were no longer any return flights to the Netherlands. There she sees the beautiful underwater world of Curaçao for the first time and she does volunteer work at the ‘Sea turtle conservation Curaçao’ foundation. Her friends Hans Pleij and Marijke Pelders run a diving school there and teach her how to breathe new life into coral. That gave her the idea to set up the ‘Fix the Reef’ foundation. The foundation aims to protect and restore the coral reef and the associated biodiversity. The main activity, with which they want to achieve their goal, is breeding different types of coral in their natural habitat. In doing so, as many people as possible are activated to make a contribution. They also work on prevention through education.
Tropical coral reefs are one of the most impressive communities on Earth. A wide variety of organisms settle there and still others seek refuge and food. For about 25 percent of all life under water, the coral provides a breeding ground.
Coral reefs are home to more than a quarter of all marine species, making them the most important and at the same time the most vulnerable and threatened ecosystem on Earth. Over the past twenty years, fifteen million hectares of reef have disappeared off the coasts of ninety-three countries.
Sedimentation (caused by construction work or deforestation) causes large amounts of mud to be washed into the sea. Turbid water blocks the life-giving light and can directly suffocate the corals. Pollution (sewers, agricultural toxins, industrial waste and petroleum) threaten reefs worldwide. The most commonly observed phenomenon is coral bleaching, which is probably associated with abnormally high water temperatures. The corals then expel the unicellular algae species that live in their tissues. These algae provide the corals with not only their color but also food and oxygen. If they don’t return after a short time, the coral is doomed to die.
However, the forecast is that the water temperature of our sea will rise by two degrees in the next thirty years. This is a death sentence for the coral and therefore for the entire ecosystem on earth.
But there is still hope. Corals can be replanted and that is exactly what Sunniva and her foundation do. A large piece of broken coral is being sought. This is cut into smaller pieces and hung from a construction, also known as a ‘coral tree’. That way it can grow back. The corals that are cultivated are fast growers and can grow to a size of about thirty to forty centimeters in two years. Then they are planted back on the reef. It is not possible to place such coral trees everywhere. They need to be well secured and light, currents and food supply are extremely important for their survival. It is thanks to the work of volunteers that young corals can be rescued in these controlled environments.
As divers, we know all too well that coral reefs are necessary for the survival of humans and animals. All people who work for the foundation do so on a voluntary basis. That is why donations are needed to be able to purchase material and carry out plans, but ‘Fix the Reef’ is also looking for people who work behind the scenes. For example, are you good at writing or using a computer? Sign up now, your help is desperately needed.
Pictures By Filip Staes