PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — The Junior Rangers just wrapped up their annual exchange event. Youngsters from all six islands got together to learn about the unique biodiversity within the Dutch Caribbean and lay the foundation for future inter-island collaboration. From sea view sunrises to late night glow in the dark treks, these students had a fun filled week full of memories they will cherish for a lifetime.
A foundational pillar of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) is the desire to elevate nature-focused education across the Dutch Caribbean. One of the tools available to the islands is empowering the youth, and what better way to harness this energy than through the annual DCNA Junior Ranger exchange program. This unique opportunity brings together youth from across all six islands to learn all about the exceptional biodiversity within the Dutch Caribbean, and work together developing positive, cooperative, and social skills.
Ecosystem Services and How They Support Us All!
This year’s theme for the exchange was Ecosystem Services and How They Support Us All! Throughout the week, Junior Rangers learned to identify marine and terrestrial flora and fauna while snorkeling, hiking and kayaking through the various habitats across St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.
The week started at St. Eustatius with camping in the botanical gardens, providing the perfect opportunity for everyone to immerse themselves in nature. No one seemed to mind the early morning start when waking up to the stunning sunrise over the sea view. During the day, the Junior Rangers were able to gain hands on experience in invasive species monitoring by going on iguana patrols with STENAPA rangers. Through the monitoring, each ranger learned to distinguish between the different subspecies of iguanas and learned why its important to track population trends.
Dahlia Hassell Knijff, DCNA Projects Officer added that “Junior Ranger Exchanges that are facilitated for the Dutch Caribbean islands are opportunities for youth to explore different environments, create friendships over borders, and most importantly spark their curiosity for the natural world through different activities. As DCNA‘s main goal is to support the local parks, we aim to provide different experiences for youth in nature education by ensuring that exchanges across the islands can happen for these groups.”
New Islands, New Experiences
Throughout the week Junior Rangers were able to share stories from their own islands, whether it was during an activity or around a campfire eating marshmallows. Each participant was amazed that, although they are all island neighbors, each island’s natural ecosystems has its own uniqueness. Whether it was learning about brand new species, or simply swapping local names for those which were shared, these students will leave the island with a diverse range of local knowledge and new friends which DCNA hopes will lead to a lifetime of collaboration between the islands.
The week was filled with a variety of marine and terrestrial activities which entertained the Junior Rangers from dawn to dusk. They were able to explore the different ecosystems in Statia through many activities including snorkeling while gaining fish identification skills and learning how to identify different bird species. At the end of this week, the rangers were also able to enjoy a morning kayak in St. Maarten’s lagoon to grasp an understanding of the mangrove ecosystem. In the afternoon they learned about the negative impacts of plastic pollution with a fun game activity in the pool.
“Hosting this year’s Junior Ranger Exchange has been an honour for STENAPA. We saw children from the Dutch Caribbean enjoy nature education and share their new understanding of ecosystems and their services with others” Achsah Mitchell, STENAPA Education Office/JRE and Chair of DCNA’s Youth Participation Working Group.
This event was made possible by The Prins Bernhard Cultuur Fonds, World Wildlife Fund-Dutch Caribbean, and sponsors in St. Maarten such as The Azure Hotel & Art Studio, Domino’s Pizza and Winair. DCNA’s activities are generously funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.
Interested in joining the Junior Rangers? Contact your local park authority to learn more!