Nature Foundation and IHE Delft visit local schools

Philipsburg – Last week staff of the Nature Foundation St. Maarten and members of IHE Delft Institute for Water Education visited several local high schools to give presentations about the importance of coral reefs and the threats and issues facing St. Maarten’s reef system. During the school visits the team introduced their Coral Competition and encouraged students to participate to come up with ideas to save St. Maarten’s coral reefs and win great prizes at the same time. The Nature Foundation is stimulating all students in between 12 and 19 years old to participate in the creative competition and register their group before the 27th of March.

Students learned about how corals grow, what they need to survive, and the important role they play in our ecosystem from Dr. Erik de Ruijter van Steveninck. “It was nice to see that many students were well aware of the status of coral reefs and showed interest in coming up with ideas to help save St. Maarten’s coral reefs,” said Steveninick a senior lecturer of Aquatic and Marine Ecology for IHE.

The students also learned about the specific threats facing St. Maarten’s coral reefs from The Nature Foundation’s Educational Outreach Officer, Leslie Hickerson. Several of those that attended the presentations had already been introduced to some of the environmental issues on St. Maarten by their teachers and had a basic understanding of what needs to change. However, some of the statistics about the rapid decline in marine environment’s health and problems with Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease were introduced for the first time.

Several students were eager to ask questions about what they could do to help, or even volunteer with the Nature Foundation outside of school. “It was very encouraging to see the student’s reaction to the information we were giving them. Not only were they attentive to the introduction of coral reef basics, but they also were inspired to help make changes in the way we treat our environment to ensure a brighter future for themselves and next generations,” said Hickerson, “Even during the presentations the students were engaged and asking questions about what could be done to help bring a strong coral system back.”

An important part of the presentation was an introduction to the Student Competition: Save St. Maarten’s Coral Reefs by Nirajan Dhakal a lecturer in Water Supply Engineering from IHE. This truly unique opportunity has been launched by the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in an effort to mobilize St. Maarten’s youth into taking a greater role in protecting the marine environment of SXM.

The student competition is available to all students on the Dutch side of SXM between the ages of 12 and 19. Those wishing to participate should form groups of a maximum of 4 members that can be from a mixture of schools. In their groups the students should work together to come up with a way to help save and protect St. Maarten’s reefs. There is no limit to creativity for these projects which can consist of formal presentations, artwork, or any other method of raising awareness or limiting negative effects on our ecosystem. Student groups can register for the project before Friday the 27th of March 2020 by sending an email to with their proposal name, their names and their contact details.

The only restriction for the project is that the budget for executing their idea should be maximum Euro 4000. The Nature Foundation has received a grant for that amount making it possible for the winning idea from the students to be implemented on St. Maarten utilizing both Nature Foundation staff members and students from the winning team. In addition to seeing their idea come to fruition on the island the first-place team will also receive a cash prize of 800 Euros. The second-place team will win 400 Euros and the third-place team will win 300 Euros.

The opportunities for students to take part in making their project proposals a reality is what truly makes this competition special. “Rather than working on ideas and just thinking about what we could do, with this competition we will actually be able move forward and show the students that they can make a difference. Often people talk about what we should do, or what the government should do, but there is no action. Showing students at a young age that they can make a difference will teach the next generation to be proactive and help them to take pride in our environment and become part of protecting it,” stated Hickerson.  

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