Paul Hoetjes: Defender of Caribbean Wildlife and Environment

The Wider Caribbean Region has lost a wonderful conservation champion. Paul Hoetjes of Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands, died in November after a short illness. AWI was fortunate to have worked with Paul over the past two decades, after being introduced to him by Col. Milton Kaufmann , another environmental champion for the region. We fondly remember Paul’s dedication, professionalism, kindness, and astute diplomatic maneuverings to achieve valuable conservation goals.

photo by UN Environment Program, Jamaica
photo by UN Environment Program, Jamaica

Paul was born in 1955 in The Hague, Netherlands. He spent his early childhood in Netherlands New Guinea (now part of Indonesia) before moving with his family to the Netherlands Antilles, where he graduated from Radulphus College in Willemstad, on the island of Curaçao. When Paul was 16, he returned to the Netherlands to attend the University of Amsterdam, where he studied zoology and aquatic ecology. In 1984, he obtained a master’s degree in natural sciences with a minor in tropical botany. 

The following year, Paul returned to the Caribbean as curator of the new Curaçao Sea Aquarium, a job he held for 13 years. He oversaw the design, construction, and operation of the aquarium and managed its educational programs, species identification, and animal health program for the facility’s fish, sea turtles, sea lions, and other fauna. During that time, Paul established the nonprofit Reef Care Curaçao, aimed at combating the destruction of coral reefs in the region. As chair of the organization, he helped raise public awareness and organize civil actions against developments that would negatively impact reefs.

In 1998, Paul became a senior policy advisor for the Netherlands Antilles’s Ministry of Public Health and Environment. He stayed in government service until his retirement in 2020. This role gave him direct opportunities to influence government decisions locally as well as regionally, and always on the side of conservation. He was directly involved in developing national environmental and nature conservation policy and promoting sustainable development, including sustainable tourism and energy policy. 

Paul was the Netherlands Antilles’s deputy national authority for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), monitoring imports and exports of endangered species. He was the coordinator of the country’s small grants fund for environmental and nature conservation projects, the Saba Bank biodiversity survey, and the Netherlands Antilles Coral Reef Initiative and Monitoring Network. He was also a board member of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and represented the Netherlands Antilles at meetings of the UN Caribbean Environment Programme, including the SPAW Protocol (a regional agreement for the protection and sustainable use of coastal and marine biodiversity in the Wider Caribbean Region).

Before the political division of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010 (into Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, and the Caribbean Netherlands—the latter of which encompasses the island municipalities of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba), Paul helped to establish the large Saba Bank submarine atoll as an International Maritime Organization “Particularly Sensitive Sea Area” to recognize its ecological and scientific significance and protect it from damage by international maritime activities. He later went on to help establish the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary in the territorial waters of Bonaire and Saba. Until his retirement, he served as policy coordinator for nature with the Caribbean Netherlands under the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. 

During the last decade of his career, Paul directed the Caribbean Netherlands nature policy plan implementation and served as a CITES national management authority, secretary of the Committee for the Joint Management of Biodiversity and Fisheries of the Dutch Caribbean, and national focal point (responsible for facilitating the nation’s compliance with the treaty) for the Inter-American Sea Turtle Convention. He also chaired the Consultative Committee of Experts of the Inter-American Sea Turtle Convention, was a member of the Steering Committee of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network in the Caribbean, and was national focal point for the SPAW Protocol.

AWI best knew Paul through his work with the SPAW Protocol. (AWI has been an active participant in the operation of this protocol since it was adopted in 1990 and entered into force in 2000.) He could always be counted on for leadership, dedication, and willingness to promote progressive ideas. He was, in fact, the go-to person for everything concerning the SPAW Protocol. The SPAW secretariat relied on Paul as a resource for long-standing knowledge of the program and to chair or moderate meetings. SPAW member governments turned to him for assistance in understanding tricky concepts and new proposals and to lead discussions and negotiations. 

To AWI and other nonprofits working to push the SPAW governments to do more to protect the Caribbean natural environment, Paul was a champion. His practical and wise advice, friendly manner—even under difficult and testy situations—and, above all, ardor for protecting the natural world were valued beyond measure. He will be missed by all who seek to protect the animals and plants of the Caribbean. He will be missed especially by the AWI staff who were lucky enough to have worked with him.

Paul’s work on the Cartagena Convention—the overarching treaty that includes the SPAW Protocol and two other protocols covering pollution prevention—was legendary. In 2020, Paul was nominated for an award from the United Nations for his work. In addition to its lengthy description of his work with the convention over several decades, the nomination states as follows:

Hoetjes has been a champion for conservation in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR). He has been at the forefront of marine conservation objectives of the Secretariat for the Cartagena Convention and its Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol for over two decades. He was one of the architects of this Protocol, the only regional agreement for Marine Biodiversity conservation. His scientific expertise, leadership, diplomacy and negotiating skills have facilitated collaboration among multiple stakeholders leading to increased awareness and biodiversity protection. Mr. Hoetjes’ tireless engagement and dedication to the implementation of the SPAW Protocol for over two decades has resulted in the listing of several species for protection and conservation of critical habitats. Through his leadership, innovative programs for establishing and connecting marine sanctuaries were established. His great leadership, equanimity and scientific knowledge of marine issues has made him an invaluable resource for the Cartagena Convention and the region.

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