By Els Kroon, Independent Journalist for the Antilliaans Dagblad
More than 100 divers from all over the world came together last week on Curaçao to participate in the re-formatted Annual Curaçao International Diving Festival after ten years hiatus.
The enthusiastic driving force behind this successful renewed attention for Curaçao as a diving destination was Bryan Horne who humbly admits that he is “proud to lead the return of Curacao Dive Festival that has signaled an unprecedented collaboration for sustainable tourism, ocean conservation and a union of the Curacao tourism stakeholders that includes a long list of dedicated industry sponsors!”
As diver born in Canada, Bryan came to the island approximately fourteen years ago and never left. Since arriving, he has been closely involved in the ups and downs this unique underwater world. Bryan is the creator and founder of the Dive Curacao Network, an independent platform and a vast resource of information about diving and snorkeling on Curacao.
“It was love at first sight”, Horne said at the opening of the festival on the terrace of the Avila Beach Hotel… “I came to Curaçao for ‘Kids Sea Camp’ and have remained since. ” In his early years he served as a PADI Master Instructor, Commercial Boat Captain and safety diver, with experiences that have included Ocean Encounters, Go West Diving and Substation Curaçao. In 2009, in co-operation with Carmabi and GO WEST Diving, he even participated in the capture of the first lionfish on Curaçao, where he quickly realized the threat of this species for the surrounding reefs of Curaçao before the effect was well known for the fish populations around the island.
Meanwhile, the active under water specialist has not been quiet. Recognizing that the Curaçao diving world is a “best kept secret” and has much to offer, Horne founded the Dive Curaçao (DC) Network. Dive Curacao is not affiliated with one company; it is the marketing agency for the Curaçao Hospitality and Tourism Association’s (CHATA) Dive Task Force, a group of sixteen Curaçao Tourist Board (CTB) certified diving companies that are supported by the Curaçao Tourist Board. The DC Network is responsible for all online and offline marketing and international programs that promote Curacao locally and internationally as a world-class diving and holiday destination. Dive Curaçao also works in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism to achieve higher standards for the Curaçao diving industry that include mandates for safety, quality and sustainability.
“This public and private sector synergy is producing results – bringing and implementing improvements such as effectively placed mooring buoys, increased focus and support for coral restoration, and underwater clean-ups. Additionally, this strategy stresses several key components for Curacao to clearly distinguish our destination from other Caribbean and worldwide destinations, to focus on history, culture, language, food and music, but especially to promote the fact that we as a community are active with initiatives for marine conservation and sustainable tourism. Together, we are making a difference for Curaçao in an environmentally sustainable manner and put Curaçao in the spotlight like it has never been done before”, Horne says firmly.
Sustainability and Ocean Conservation
Sustainability and ocean conservation ran like a thread through this new diving festival which offered a wide range of activities for both local and international divers. The diversity of this week-long festival also offered the general public an insight to the captivating underwater world that Curacao is privileged to enjoy.
Besides daily boat and shore diving, activities included coral restoration and equipment workshops, Dive Against Debris clean-ups, underwater art exhibitions, demonstrations of full-face masks, freediving and technical diving all coupled by regular evening events, which led to social cohesion and a lot of interest.
Lionfish – a sustainable industry
Tuesday, the day was marked by awareness and skills related to the capture of lionfish. The result of the “lionfish hunt” was a social in the courtyard of the Carmabi Foundation. With Lionfish seminars by experts and the Academy Hotel students that prepared a tasty and healthy meal that included using sustainable materials and ingredients. Additionally, this night featured jewelery from Lionfish Caribbean which were made from the spines and fins of the lionfish.
Lisette Kreus, a former journalist is the driving force behind “Lionfish Caribbean ‘and by Horne aptly called the” Lionfish Lady “because of all various products that she has created from this maligned fish. Many restaurants on Curacao now serve lionfish and jewels provide awareness of the value of the reef”, says Kreus. She went on to say, “We will never eradicate them, but the application of catching and processing the Lionfish has become a sustainable industry.”
On Wednesday, an instructive and informative Sustainable Marketplace event took place beside the Dive Center Scuba Do at Jan Thiel Beach. This marketplace created a local and international platform for various organizations, businesses, foundations, and working groups on Curaçao that focus on conservation and sustainable solutions in their daily activities. Opening the night, Project AWARE recognized Curaçao for leading the way on global shark conservation and co-sponsoring a proposal to better enforce an Atlantic wide shark-finning ban. Accepting this recognition on behalf of the Curaçao Government was Mr. Alvin Daal – the Chief of Staff for Minister Suzy Camila-Romer (Ministry of Health, Nature and Environment). Other notables were present as well such as Blue Halo Curaçao – a Waitt Institute initiative of US billionaire philanthropist Ted Waitt. Blue Halo Curaçao which in many areas, including financial and legal, support to governments worldwide. The Curaçao government welcomed Blue Halo in 2015, which stands for a sustainable ocean policy, the development of a marine spatial plan and the implementation of them through a process-based involvement in scientific, social and economic data.
Punda Dive Vibes
Thursday was ‘Punda Dive Vibes’ at Queen Wilhelmina Square in downtown Willemstad. Eight Curaçao Dive operators for the first time ever came together under the stars to share their passion of scuba diving with locals and tourists alike. They were joined by two large catamarans from Bluefinn Charters and Blue C Watersports that provided an opportunity for a unique harbor tour.
On Friday, the evening ended with the ‘Ultimate Beach Party ” at Cas Abao Beach which brought an official close to this year’s Curaçao International Dive Festival even though activities continued into Saturday with another Dive Against Debris dive, Technical diving and of course, a night dive!
DEMA 2019 in Orlando, Florida
Dive Curaçao does not stop! Horne in collaboration with CTB and several diving schools are busy preparing for the DEMA 2019 show (the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association) which will be held in Orlando, Florida from November 13 to 16. The Dive Task Force will work with the CTB represent Curacao as a world class dive and vacation destination while underlining the active roles they play for sustainable tourism and ocean conservation.
And of course, the organization looks ahead to the second Curacao International Dive Festival that is now slated for September 27th to October 3rd, 2020!
Pictures courtesy of Turtle and Ray Productions, Dive Curacao and Project AWARE