Ascend: Sea Heroes

Scuba Diving|May 2020

Ascend: Sea Heroes
Sea Hero FRANCESCA VIRDIS Bringing divers together to protect Bonaire’s greatest treasure
By Lorenzo Mittiga

“People from all over the world want to be part of this effort,” says Francesca Virdis, head of Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire, which has raised and transplanted tens of thousands of corals.

When Francesca Virdis was introduced to coral farming, she was skeptical. Assisting a restoration project, she was convinced she had just watched divers cut up healthy coral for no good reason. Fast-forward six months, and Virdis was a believer: None of the harvested coral nubs had died, and all had shown substantial growth. That was 2012; today Virdis leads Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire, a nonprofit supported by local dive operators dedicated to protecting and restoring coral reefs in Bonaire. Virdis oversees everything from field work to training volunteers—more than 1,200 visiting divers, instructors and locals—data collection and monitoring. Bonaire today counts more than 15,000 corals grown in eight nurseries; more than 25,000 have been outplanted to reefs. For her efforts, Virdis is our May Sea Hero.

YEAR DIVE CERTIFIED: 1994

AGE WHEN CERTIFIED: 16

DIVE CERTIFICATION LEVEL: PADI Master and Tec Instructor, GUE Tec2, Cave2, CCR

WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Be brave and take risks. If you win, you can lead. If you lose, you can guide.” —Swami Vivekananda

Q: Elkhorn and staghorn nurseries have thrived off Bonaire; now you are expanding to different species. Why?

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May 2020