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Playa Hundu Corals

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In May 2023 I started photographing dying corals. 

 

When I moved to the Santa Cruz area a couple of years ago, I was familiar with a hidden dive site nearby. The first time I dived there was sometime in 2018 when the access road was still dirt and the drive was about an hour from where I used to live in town. Those were the days when I would still eagerly go on such an expedition on a day off from diving everyday for work. I remember finding it to be a beautiful mix of soft and stony corals with lots of little sandy patches in which slipper lobsters and stingrays hung around. The place is also special for its perfect mix of full and vibrant back reef, steep wall, and deep pinnacles alternating with steep sloping sandfalls. I dived there in 2022 as well, when I would go to show visitors the incredible thicket of Staghorn coral. That's what Playa Hundu dive site is known for, one of the largest remaining natural Staghorn thickets on Curacao. Now in hindsight, I was taking its health and beauty for granted.

In 2023 we heard that Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, or SCTLD, had purportedly started to spread in Bonaire, and had likely arrived in Curacao as well. In a panic, we went for a dive at Hundu, at the time deemed our "favorite dive site", to see if there were any signs of the disease. For some reason, after checking on a few arbitrarily chosen pillar corals, I couldn't let it go. And I started going back, as regularly as once a week when it was possible. Once it started to get really depressing, when the reef also endured perhaps the worst bleaching event in Curacao's history, I'd visit only when I could muster the courage. I would keep going even though I didn't want to.

Now, I'm not sure what to do with the images, knowledge and loss. After each dive I would relive the destruction on the computer screen organizing the files or even editing. They are evidence of a painful defeat, reminders of the dread of continuing to watch corals die, so I never felt I could share on social media for fear of contributing to the pervasive doom and gloom. I wish I hadn't become so attached. In the grand scheme of the living, complex, ancient habitat it once was, I am just one random person. But I come out of the water with so much sorrow. I'm mourning. I feel I shouldn't burden others with the truth of this dying place. What's the point? But at once, somewhere deep within me there's a rejection of that defeat, as if there is some obvious naked truth that is impossible to keep to myself. Just as this living place is not for ownership, but a system of shared and complex life in a habitat foreign to humans, the fact that it's dying doesn't have any one owner or arbiter. It's a belabored point that we are all collectively culpable of natural degradation as humans living during climate change. I am keenly aware that most people I know feel tired by this fact. Still, this reef's death is a truth that I can't stop documenting even though I don't want to. And I guess it would be a waste not to publish it for whomever might be out there that cares.

Examples of Mortality

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May 2023

April 2024

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March 2024

May 2024

Large Colonies Lost

Dead PSTR Timeline
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playa hundu corals-3.png

What do you think should be done about this?

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