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Collaborating in Curaçao: Planting mangroves for a sustainable future

Local expertise, scaled up: Reforesting Curaçao’s mangroves


By teaming up with the Ryan de Jongh Charity Foundation to reforest mangroves in the Dutch Caribbean, Deloitte colleagues in the Netherlands are helping to create a sustainable and social legacy.


Sometimes it's the little things that can have a huge impact.

The unassuming mangrove forests seen peppering the edges of paradise islands not only absorb more carbon than other trees, they’re coastline defenders, binding the soil and reducing wave force. As the only trees to live in salty waters, their nutrient-filtering capabilities improve water quality, allowing fish and birds to thrive. This also supports a supply of food and income for fishermen.

A big dream, with a bigger impact

For local partner and mangrove expert Ryan de Jongh, the benefits are obvious. He's spent the past 17 years on a largely solo mission to reforest masses of mangroves that have been cut down on Curaçao, the island he calls home.

But after nearly two decades, he feared the planting would never be finished in his lifetime, leaving the island exposed to flooding, polluted coral reefs and heavier erosion.

Deloitte Netherlands, along with Deloitte Dutch Caribbean, not only wanted to help make his dream a reality, they saw an opportunity to have an even bigger impact by working with his eponymous charity foundation.

“By sharing his knowledge and methods, we can scale up and plant a big mangrove forest during Ryan’s lifetime. It’s amazing.”

Kirsten Nijland

Senior Consultant, Deloitte Netherlands Sustainability team

Organising a life’s work

The Ryan de Jongh Foundation was previously using intuition, local knowledge and trial and error to plant successful mangroves. A clear framework has been adopted by Mangrove Protection organisations all over the world under the guidance of the World Economic Forum. Deloitte has translated this framework to the specific local circumstances. In addition, we are working towards a best practice model that can be used at scale around the island, and hopefully other territories too.

Ryan says, “Inspired by Carmabi in 2006, it felt right to start doing something about restoring our mangroves. With a significant number of mangroves planted in inlet bays, two years ago Julian Lopez Ramirez from Deloitte Caribbean, approached me for a kayak tour which triggered this amazing mangrove restoration project! Come feel it for yourselves.”

“Ryan knows everyone gains from the mangroves, whether it’s fisheries, tourism or coastal protection,” Rieneke van Noort, Innovation Consultant with Deloitte Netherlands, adds. “It’s nice to be able to help transfer that passion and knowledge to the local community so there is a focus on conservation. The project is now much bigger than what Ryan had done in the past and that gathers more traction on the island as well.”

The first Deloitte-supported mangroves were planted as part of a year-long pilot, around the Boca Sami Bay. The area was chosen for its protected status, meaning everything planted is automatically safeguarded from future destruction.

It’s a long process; it takes three months for the first leaves to emerge, and six years for a mangrove to become bushy. After eight years, it’s considered an adult tree.

Julian Lopez Ramirez, Managing Partner, Deloitte Dutch Caribbean expanded on this, “Mangroves have unique characteristics which have a huge positive effect to help us in our endeavors to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change. Mangrove forests act as efficient carbon sinks, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can sink a lot more carbon than rainforests. Mangroves provide an essential habitat for thousands of species in our waters whilst also stabilising shorelines, preventing erosion and protecting the land — including the people who live there — from waves and storms. By replanting Mangrove forests as we are doing in Curaçao, we really make a substantial impact that matters!”

The internal sustainability team in the Netherlands is now covering the cost of hiring and training more people to plant the mangroves, with an increasingly experienced team working alongside Ryan at any given time. The project team aims to accelerate the pace of the project soon by scaling up: hiring more people to plant the mangroves and expanding to other areas and islands.

Helping more than the environment

To have an even bigger impact, Ryan has hired a diverse group of local people who previously faced barriers to employment, including those of retirement age and recently released offenders.

After the pilot is over, Deloitte hopes the whole Boca Sami Bay will have been planted, with the team able to move on to the Rif Sint Marie area and a nearby uninhabited island, Klein Curaçao, that has become a tourist attraction.

Danique Henriquez, project team member, Deloitte Dutch Caribbean has been working on the initiative and is clear on the benefits: “Being involved in this mangrove project enables me to make a meaningful contribution to my community. Planting mangroves not only yields substantial ecological benefits by improving biodiversity, natural ecosystems, coastal protection, water quality, and climate regulation but also serves as a means for people in less fortunate positions to channel their time and efforts toward a valuable cause. What I cherish most about this project is witnessing the engagement of our community and the tangible results of the team's hard work, which translate into positive change and a long-lasting impact that will benefit generations to come, both in ecological and social terms. This, in essence, is an impact that truly matters.”


Sharing knowledge using Blockchain

The team is also working with Dutch university students to monitor and assess the mangroves’ impact over time. Findings on, for example, carbon storage will be monitored using secure blockchain technology.

"Blockchain technology enables transparent knowledge sharing,” explains Rieneke. “So we can record all the data we have about where we planted our mangroves, what’s happening in the area, how much carbon is stored, and what the impact on biodiversity is now and maybe in the future. We can communicate that using blockchain, so anyone in the world with blockchain access can validate it and transparently see the impact we're having.”

Education will also be a big part of the project, with plans to help local communities understand and respect the mangroves in the future.

“It gives me a lot of energy,” Kirsten says. “We know local people are interested and I really hope that it creates a butterfly effect on the islands.”

“What I particularly like about this project is that it started out as primarily environment-oriented, but we're also realising the social benefits that it has in the area, such as educating people and employing individuals who may not normally get a job,” Rieneke continues. “It’s very inspiring that the impact is going way beyond what we first anticipated.”

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