On the 25th of March this year, Dr. Walter L. (Wòti) Bakhuis passed away at the ripe old age of 80 in Maarssen, The Netherlands. With his passing, the Dutch Caribbean conservation community lost a good friend and longtime colleague who served as the director of Carmabi and Stinapa-Netherlands Antilles for a period of 25 years (1981-2006). In addition to brothers and sisters, he leaves behind his wife Rineke, two sons, Walter and Jimmy and two granddaughters.
Wòti was a very modest person who avoided the spotlights as much as possible. He was first and foremost a people person; friendly, warm, ready to help, and an excellent listener. It was a great pleasure to his many colleagues to have worked with him throughout the years. During his 25 years as director of Carmabi and Stinapa he spent almost all his time selflessly helping, leading and enabling others. Right from the beginning there hardly was any time for his own research and his last peer-reviewed scientific contribution titled “Size and Sexual Differentiation in the Lizard Iguana iguana on a Semi-Arid Island” was published in 1982 in the prestigious Journal of Herpetology. Afterwards, Wòti left the details of science to others and instead dedicated the rest of his career fully to the many concerns of colleagues, board members, university students, visiting scientists and the conservation of the natural and cultural patrimony of the Dutch Caribbean.
Wòti received his doctorate in brain research from the Rijksuniversiteit of Groningen in in 1977 and began working for the Caribbean Marine Biological Institute (Carmabi) and Stinapa (Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation) in 1978 as the first island-born, non-European staff member and scientist. On the 3d of March 1981, he took over the reigns from his predecessor Dr. Ingvar Kristensen and uninterruptedly served as an exemplary director of both organizations till July 2006, after which he emigrated to The Netherlands together with his Dutch wife Rineke. In the subsequent years he repeatedly served his successors with wise advice. His last visit to the island was in October 2021 on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
Because of his unwavering resolve at critical moments he was often able to ensure the continued survival and functioning of his institutions in an environment that often was not very understanding of the need for natural science and nature conservation. In the Dutch Caribbean, putting ideals into action and results can be especially challenging. The lack of understanding of the need for sustainability, financial limitations, and petty politics can be very discouraging and frequently delay or stagnate critical progress. However, thanks to his particularly positive Christian attitude of hope and untiring patience, discouragement and frustration never were able to get hold of him.
His untiring efforts and patience contributed to many major milestones for both science and conservation in the Dutch Caribbean. Some of the most important lasting results in which he played a key role, and unbeknownst to many, were the establishment of the Bonaire National Marine Park, the Curaçao Underwater Park, the Saba Marine Park, Parke Nashonal Shete Boka in Curaçao and the purchase of 240 hectares of crucial conservation habitat of the Jeremie plantation in Curacao for expansion of the Christoffel National Park and the conservation of rare endemic trees.
A country without institutions would be little less than an unorganized and uncoordinated collection of individuals. For this reason, institutions form the backbone and key infrastructure of nations to be treasured, nourished and built. In the Dutch Caribbean small economies of scale and fragmentation undermine performance and continuity within many sectors of society. However, during Wòti’s years with Carmabi and Stinapa he did everything he could to strengthen and anchor these organizations as being key infrastructure of the Dutch Caribbean. In that he has certainly succeeded and which arguably constitutes one of his most important and lasting contributions to society in the Dutch Caribbean. In 2003 he received the royal distinction of Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau for his enduring and multifaceted contributions to society.
Dr. Adolphe O. (Dolfi) Debrot, Wageningen Marine Research, The Netherlands, Carmabi and Stinapa subdirector (1989-2006), director (2006-2010)
ir. Paul Stokkermans, Carmabi director (2010- present)