Ramón de León
Founder of Reef Support
I first moved to the Caribbean in 1997 where I worked in the dive industry. From 2004 to early 2015 I served as manager of the Bonaire National Marine Park, a world-renowned dive destination recognized for its biodiversity conservation, advanced educational programs and pioneering “diver tag” user fee system.
In 2015 I founded Reef Support with the only purpose of improving marine protected area management effectiveness and build community support.
After 22 years in the dive industry and 11 as a manager of the Bonaire National Marine Park, I can say I have been on both sides of the counter long enough to recognize the burden of having to run an users fee system that, although effective, puts an enormous and unexpected workload on dive operators, it is unsafe and expensive to run and difficult to enforce. One of the most important factors in establishing and managing effective marine protected areas is ensuring that sustainable, long-term financing is available.
Like most of you out there trying to make a difference in coral reef conservation, I struggle to carry out projects based on grants from NGOs, financing agencies or government offices. More often than not, they are inconvenient for long-term goals achievement and put an outrageous workload in our already messed up and endless agendas. Besides, where did the money from the funding organizations come from? You got it, in great part from simple citizens that enjoy and support nature, just like to ones that visit your area. So, why not offer them the opportunity to give their money directly to you?
About my idea
I decided that it was about time to create a cutting edge tool to help Marine Protected Areas management organizations across the tropics to improve their financial situation and finally achieve financial sustainability. My goal from the beginning was to create a simple, user-friendly mechanism to flow as much money as possible directly to you, to the organizations working at the shoreline. To you, the ones that get your derriere wet monitoring your reefs, to the ones that risk more than they should enforcing the law and to the ones that give everything they have every day to educate our kids, adults and visitors.
My first step after so many years of struggles was to conduct a feasibility study; Bloomberg Philanthropies to whom I’m enormously grateful generously financed it. I asked tourists on Bonaire, Curacao, and Sint Maarten about how they use Internet to plan their vacations and their possible level of acceptance to pay the marine park fee through Internet. The results show that as much as 91% of them use the internet to buy their ticket, pay or reserve their accommodation, their rental car or their marine recreation package. This is undoubtedly a new trend that was simply non-existent in early nineties when marine parks users fees started being more popular. And you guessed it; most of them will prefer to pre-buy the marine park fee before arrival, save time and contribute to eliminate “over the counter” plastic.
Then I started visualizing potential visitors of our marine parks sitting in their homes after months of cold weather dreaming about their next tropical holidays. I could see them happily looking at hotel rooms, car rentals, dive packages with their credit card right next to them ready to make the best expenditure of the year. I asked myself, if the option were right there, at their fingertips, what would inhibit a happy future marine park user to pay the local marine park fee or make a donation? So, I combined all my experience in the dive industry and marine park management with hundreds of hours of conversations and talking with friends in the IT, financial and hotel sector. I spoke with dozens of my colleagues and referents of the dive industry on several islands, I pestered conservation friends and harassed management organizations across the region and I chased a good number of friends in more bars that I can count……and I did it.
About Reef Support
After almost 4 years of intense research, development, and tests, I’m proud to offer to conservation and management organizations this tool.
Reef Support Internet Based Payment System is here to help you streamline your sales procedures, help the marine recreation providers to save time, to increase safety of your marine park rangers, to reduce financial risks and to manage the most easy accessible database of your marine park users. Not to mention entering the XXI century in technology use.