December 19

Sunniva (32) fled from corona to save coral: ‘In Curaçao I found a new purpose in my life’


The life of 32-year-old Sunniva Verheij from the Netherlands has changed drastically when she fled the corona virus. She decided to grow coral on Curaçao.

She was tired of it. In March of this year, the disasters followed each other in rapid succession due to the spreading coronavirus. Verheij has been working in the entertainment world for fifteen years as a dancer and make-up artist, and that industry was hit hard. ,,The festival season starts in March and because of all the cancellations I was in my head. How was I supposed to earn a living now?”

The entertainer wanted to get away from the misery and at the invitation of her friend Marijke Pelders and her friend Hans Pleij she left for Curaçao. Pleij runs a diving school there and when Verheij was unable to get a normal flight back to the Netherlands due to the lockdown, she decided to make a virtue of necessity. From them she learned how to breathe new life into the coral. Convinced of the importance of a healthy sea, Verheij set up the ‘Fix the Reef’ foundation to save the coral in our kingdom.

big loss
“I really miss the events,” she says. “You miss your festival family, the fun and excitement of new assignments, but in Curaçao I found a new purpose in my life. Water has always been a big part of I was a fanatic competitive swimmer In the water I felt free and I love the sea, but I never realized how important the sea really is for our existence You hardly see what happens under water, but corals are importance for 25 percent of marine life and that is not going well at the moment.”

The urgency is great. “Corals should be seen as an underwater forest where many animals live. Coral reefs are used as a home, breeding ground and for food. As it stands now, it seems that within thirty years all coral reefs will have disappeared due to human activity. Global warming, pollution or destruction of the reef. That will be an ecological disaster.”

Not for everyone
To prevent that, she is now planting coral herself. And that is not so easy. ,,First you look for a large piece of broken coral. You cut it into smaller pieces, which you hang from a coral tree; a kind of underwater staircase. This allows the coral to grow out on all sides. The corals we grow are fast growers. Within two years it can grow to thirty to forty centimeters. We plant them back in the reef, because this size is big enough for fish to use for shelter and sustenance. So we already have results after two years, but with other corals it can take up to 50 years before they reach that size.”

You can’t put a coral tree everywhere if the conditions are not right.

You can’t just do this. ,,You really have to understand light, currents and food supply. You cannot place a coral tree everywhere if the conditions are not right, and the same goes for staking. If they’re not properly secured, the sea will knock them loose and they die.”

To save the coral reefs, Verheij would like to create more involvement. “Of course people can donate, but also adopt coral. Those who do this will receive a monthly update on the progress by e-mail. Then people know what they are spending their money on.”

Link to the article,  by Avon Senstius van der Meulen



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