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Image: Casper Douma (WWF-NL)

What started as an experiment in the Oceanium at Diergaarde Blijdorp has evolved into RoffaReefs, a startup dedicated to saving coral by breeding fish. The method, proven successful in Bonaire, now requires scaling up. As a long-time partner, Diergaarde Blijdorp has officially incorporated RoffaReefs into its Caribbean hub, creating a piece of Blijdorp in Bonaire.

With the expertise and resources of the Rotterdam zoo, RoffaReefs aims to transition from a startup to a scale-up, a critical step given the urgency of the coral crisis. A severe coral disease is spreading, making the techniques developed by the originally Rotterdam-based company more relevant and urgent than ever.

Years ago, RoffaReefs founder Sander van Lopik recognized the global decline of coral reefs. Instead of simply planting cultivated coral, he sought a different solution. Coral is a living organism dependent on fish for maintenance, such as the well-known surgeonfish. Due to decades of overfishing, climate change, and pollution, there are fewer fish in many parts of the world to sustain and nurture coral reefs, leading to their decline.

Van Lopik developed a method in the Oceanium to capture fish eggs, breed them, and release them back to the coral. After years of testing in the controlled environment of an aquarium, RoffaReefs took the plunge in Bonaire. Through extensive experimentation, it was found that the technique could be applied in the open sea. With the help of the local fishing cooperative Piskabon, and environmental organizations like STINAPA, DCNA, and WWF, RoffaReefs perfected the method and achieved significant results.

This success attracted the attention of numerous environmental organizations and other islands in the Caribbean, which could benefit from RoffaReefs' fish breeding methods. Healthy coral reefs form a natural and essential barrier against rising sea levels, a significant and real threat to many islands.

As the breeding ground for this fish farming technique, Blijdorp saw a perfect opportunity to implement its recently presented Masterplan 2050. This unique chance allows Blijdorp, in collaboration with RoffaReefs, to contribute to species conservation and nature restoration outside the zoo’s boundaries, aligning seamlessly with its new mission and vision. Consequently, RoffaReefs can now proudly display the “part of Blijdorp conservation” label on its logo. To solidify this special partnership, Blijdorp’s director Erik Zevenbergen will undertake an extensive working visit to Bonaire. Together with Caribbean Hub program manager Tim van Wagensveld, local fishermen, and numerous organizations, they will work towards future-proof coral reefs worldwide.