“Waterrat” leaves the Netherlands to volunteer with the Reef Rescuers
Demi Damstra, an MSc student from the University of Groningen, is currently Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers with a coral experiment. She tells us a little about herself and why she was has always been drawn to coral reefs.
Demi Damstra is assist ing Nature Seychelles Reef Rescuers with a coral experiment
“Waterrat”, that’s what my parents often called me when I was young. It’s a sizeable semi-aquatic rodent, but in the Dutch language, it’s also used to point out someone who loves to swim.
I’ve been drawn to water for as long as I can remember. Whenever I’m near a body of water, serenity washes over me. During holidays you’d always find me in the ocean, but rarely on the beach. Whenever I had a chance, I’d be snorkelling, and you wouldn’t see anything other than my backside for a couple of hours. I’ve also been playing water polo from my 9th until my 20th year, because what other sport would I possibly be doing, really?
My love for water expressed itself in many ways including water polo
Instead of cartoons, I watched nature documentaries about beautiful, colourful reefs and their inhabitants. At 8 years old I knew I wanted to study marine biology. With my parents’ support, I was able to start diving at 12 years old, and I got my Open Water license at 13.
Once I finished high school, I pursued my dream of studying Marine Biology. After completing my bachelor's in Ecology and Evolution I was accepted for the Master’s program in Marine Biology at the University of Groningen. The further I progressed in my studies, the more apparent it became to me that Earth’s marine ecosystems were not doing so well (gross understatement!). Over the years of studying, my love for the ocean has only deepened, and with it came a clear sense of purpose: to contribute to the conservation of marine ecosystems, which brings me to the present moment.
Daily activities can be quite varied with the Reef Recuers from monitoring corals to outplanting building nurseries or creating mooring lines for new restoration sites
I am currently in beautiful Seychelles for a total of six months to help the Reef Rescuers on the coral reef restoration project and to conduct my Master’s research project. In parallel to partaking in the daily activities of the Reef Rescuers I will be running an experiment related to optimizing the outplanting and restoration process. This is important knowledge as coral restoration is a relatively young field of research that still has a lot of knowledge gaps. Filling in these gaps will lead to better and more efficient restoration practices.
Currently, nurseries are stocked with coral fragments from healthy donor reefs, which then grow into larger adult coral colonies before they are outplanted. This puts a lot of pressure on the few healthy reefs that are left. The experiment will test the effectiveness of outplanting entire nursery-grown colonies versus fragmented nursery colonies. If the outplanting of fragments proves successful, we could outplant a larger number of fragments that originate from just one fragment taken from a healthy reef. This means less stress on precious healthy reefs and a more effective restoration process. This experiment also looks at the difference between colonies or fragments grown in the nurseries with different stocking techniques: grown on rope or grown on fishing lines. We expect the corals grown on fishing lines to perform better once outplanted. This knowledge will help optimize the nursery phase of the restoration process.
After the plots for one of my experiments were planted with corals it was time to monitor them
Although I am used to diving in challenging conditions in the Netherlands, with cold water and poor visibility, since my arrival in the Seychelles I’ve been humbled by the ocean and the work more than once. Diving here comes with its own challenges. The very strong currents and big surges, combined with working on coral outplanting, nursery maintenance, or monitoring, while holding on to all your tools and equipment is really something else!
Luckily, there is a strong team here with a lot of knowledge, great diving skills, and enough patience to help guide me through these challenges. With their help, I’ve found good ways to store my equipment without it getting in the way, and last week I managed to break the magical barrier of outplanting one plot of corals per dive! It was a steep learning curve that left me with a newfound respect for the ocean, and even more admiration for the work that coral restoration practitioners do. I’m looking forward to completing my thesis while I further improve my new skills and outplant many more corals in this beautiful part of the world!