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Preparing for a sustainable future
15 young people, in the age of 13 to 21 years, get together on their free Saturday morning to participate in the bi-weekly session of the Junior Rangers Program of Stinapa Bonaire. Today’s program consists of diving and snorkeling just off the coast of Kralendijk, to observe marine wildlife and record the types of species which were observed, the numbers of individuals of each species and any special behavior or other characteristics observed. It is a semi-scientific activity, with a high content of fun, and the group is concentrating on this task for hours. By choice!
And that is one of the features that makes this innovative project unique in its kind, the young people choose to become junior rangers members, and bind themselves to bi-weekly activities, which consist of a variety of elements aimed at forming citizens who are aware of sustainability and nature.
Lessons on sustainability and nature, lectures from third parties, hiking, diving, snorkeling, clean ups, debates on global and island issues regarding sustainability, planting trees, identification of species of flora and fauna on land and in the sea, monitoring activities, first aid, boating and boat maintenance and knowledge about car maintenance, it is a selection of all the elements present in the program.
The brain and the driving force behind this project is Desiree Croes, Environmental education coordinator of Stinapa Bonaire. Desiree not only provides environmental education classes for all schools on the island, she is also the regular coordinator and guide of the junior rangers group, which now consists of about 40 young people in a variety of ages. She gets help from several volunteers who provide the necessary guidance and extra hands when needed.
,,We are not trying to form youngsters who automatically end up with careers in nature and environmental sectors. It’s nice when it happens, of course, but what makes the program valuable is that it creates citizens with an awareness of sustainability and nature who get into all facets of society. Nurses, doctors, politicians, police officers, bank employees, it does not matter. They will become citizens who are careful with their environment and deal with nature and the environment in in a sustainable way”, says Desiree Croes.
She exudes calmness and self-confidence, and clearly enjoys the total confidence of the young people and their parents. She explains that it was not easy to also take into proper account the psychological characteristics of the target group besides the content of the program. Worldwide, in various educational programs including nature and environmental programs, the teenager group is considered as the most difficult group to attract, get interested and keep motivated on a long term. With the help of a child psychologist who has years of experience working with teenagers and who knows all facets of this age group through and through, Desiree worked hard to not only shape the educational side of the program, but also to provide elements to keep the young participants motivated to continue to be part of the group and to participate in all activities, both the fun ones like diving as well as the ones that are perhaps less fun, like lessons on sustainability.
Ranks and growth
The Junior Rangers program consists of 6 ranks in which the participants can evolve according to their age and performance. Each participant starts out as Aspiring Junior Ranger, which they stay for at least 6 months to receive basic knowledge which is needed to evolve through the ranks. The second rank is the one of Cadet Junior Ranger in which the young participants can get their PADI Open Water Diver certification. This is a very strong motivation for most participants to continue to stay part of the group. They all want to get a diving license, and especially when they see how much fun the other members are having while diving”, says Desiree, and points to the group enthusiastically preparing for their morning dip. One of the participants is a boy with a disability. He can manage on land just fine with a crutch, but in the water he is literally like a fish in water. He needs special attributes in order to make the plunge and is helped with his preparations for the dive by the entire group.
The third rank in the program is that of Trouper Junior Ranger in which the PADI Advanced Diver certification is the reward. Next comes the Deputy Junior Ranger who, if recommended by the supervisors based on performance and motivation, may do the Rescue Divers course. The fifth rank is the Junior Ranger Captain. Junior Rangers who are at least 18 have the opportunity to be trained and certified as a Lion fish Hunter. ,,This is done on the basis of recommendation. Not all young people are mentally mature enough to bear the responsibility. We analyze it and the youngsters who are ready for it and want to, can then become Lion fish Hunters”, Desiree explains. ,,The absolute top rank in the program is the one of Commander Junior Ranger, and we have one Commander in the group who assists in many areas and the other ranks program components.”
The Junior Rangers do not always come from families that are into nature and sustainability. Information sharing, the presence of the Junior Rangers on social media and the role they play in different activities make peers curious. And the different milestones that they can achieve, such as the various diving certificates, often provide the incentive to register for the program. ,,We do not only want the young people to get involved, the parents are as important in this. It is important that they know and see what their kids are doing, and of course that they get interested in the contents of the program”, Desiree explains. It is the intention to organize a parent session at least once a year. The latest parents session was this November.
,,What we have clearly experienced is that this program can not be purely run on a voluntary basis. There must be a full-time environmental education officer working on such a project, preferably paid for by the government, to coordinate and implement such a daunting task. And in addition, it also costs a lot of money just to run the program. Diving equipment and other such materials are expensive.” The Junior Rangers on Bonaire recently received a large amount of snorkeling equipment as a gift, thanks to the ACU, and the international Spaw protocol administration has given money for the junior rangers project as well.
Desiree foresees a great future for the Junior Rangers program, on Bonaire, but certainly also in the entire Caribbean. And the youngsters themselves play a crucial role in this future.
5 years in Junior Rangers
Luigi (20) is one of the oldest members of the junior rangers. Together with two other young people, he has been part of the group since the beginning of the program and experienced the entire process from the design to where the program is now very closely. ,,I love nature. I have saltwater in my blood, “he says laughing during the interview.
He just got out of the water after having snorkeled off the coast of Kralendijk for a bit and is observing the Junior Rangers group that is in preparing to go diving, with a lit up face. The Junior Rangers program is special for him because of the fact that it gives young people the opportunity to acquire knowledge, to socialize with peers and more importantly to grow within the program. ,,You can get ahead, get different ranks in the program and that actively motivates to keep going on. ”
To him the Junior Rangers play a very important role in order to get Bonaire’s youth interested in the island. ,,There’s so much you do not know and so much that you’ve never done before and within the program you get the possibility to learn a lot and participate in several special activities. I wish that young people, who lay lazily on the couch, realize how much they can learn and do”, says Luigi. The Junior Rangers should be an example for the rest of the Caribbean, and he hopes that more islands take the example and actively start working with youth and nature. ,,I see a beautiful and important task and role for the Bonaire Junior Rangers, to actively promote the program. Two years ago we already went to Aruba to do that and I would like to give a hand if we can do that elsewhere too.”
Since his 18th birthday, Luigi has become a certified Lion fish Hunter, due to his good performance and positive attitude. He is extremely proud of this accomplishment. ,,I actually think it’s the most fun thing to do at the moment,” he says, beaming. He has his own spear and lionfishkeeper, and goes out onto the reefs of Bonaire every Saturday with a group of other Lion fish Hunters to catch the invasive species. During every dive he manages to capture between 5 and 15 individuals of the fish species. The fish they catch are sold by the kilo. ,,Bonaire was the first island that immediately reacted when the lion fish was found on the coral reefs and therefore the population in our waters are controllable”, says Luigi while clearly and orderly explaining why the fish species is such a problem for the island.
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