As long as you work smart, ecosystem restoration by means of reforestation is feasible even under the most extreme tropical conditions of drought and salt! By reintroducing the correct, hardy native plants over a 10-year period with volunteers, the totally barren coral island of Klein Curaçao has been undergoing large natural landscape changes and its terrestrial ecosystem has been successfully jump-started!
Photo on the right: "Before": planting of an acacia in 2004
Photo below: "After": the same acacia in the landscape in 2013.
Klein Curaçao is a small flat coral island of ± 0.7 km2 that lies 10 km to the southeast of the main island of Curaçao. It is extremely dry and windblown, with constant salt spray in the air and salt concentrated in the shallow calcareous soils. As such, it is one of the most desolate landscapes of the Leeward Dutch Caribbean. In prehistoric times it was visited by the Amerindians to harvest sea turtles. The island still has two freshwater karst springs. The presence of ancient shell middens confirms the island’s former use by Amerindians, as also corroborated by the early Dutch colonial reports.
Biological inventories over the last century show that, with exception of a few small fenced areas, no species of tree or bush have long occurred in the wild on the island. During the English occupation around 1800 the island was rigorously deforested (for firewood and forage for horses) and around the beginning of the 20th century it was extensively mined for its phosphate deposits. Since then it remained intensively grazed by a herd of about 50 goats owned by the lighthouse keepers.
Photo on the right: "Before": freshwater karst spring in 2005
Photo below: " After": the same freshwater karst spring in 2013
First in 1996, the Curaçao Department of Agriculture arranged to buy out all remaining grazing rights and the last goats were caught and removed. Since 2000 Dr. Debrot organized annual reforestation expeditions to the island and today the effect of that effort is clear to be seen. No less than 16 new plant species have established themselves and are producing flowers, fruits and seedlings. Effective reproduction is the first requirement to maintain a population and to allow it to spread further on the island.
The most important tree species for the island is the green buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus. Starting from just a few hundred plants, this extremely salt drought resistant tree has since spread to many parts of the island. After 13 years, the largest specimens already exceeded 4 m in height. Ground-covering species like the hardy flatleaf flatsedge, Cyperus planifolius, today forms extensive fields in areas where there was first was only bare coral rock and rubble. In the beach dunes, fruits of the sea lavender, Mallotonia gnaphalodes, were sown and cuttings of the native Inkberry, Scaevola plumieri, were planted. These bushes now provide shelter and nectar for several small species of butterfly.