In October 2003, Nicole Esteban, National Parks Manager on the island of St. Eustatius, was forced to shut up shop. ‘We had simply run out of income,’ she says. Suddenly the island’s terrestrial national park along with a marine park and substantial botanical gardens were unmanaged and completely unprotected. It was three weeks before the local government was able to make extra subsidies available, allowing Nicole and her staff to go back to work.
‘It was a shock and something I wouldn’t like to go through again,’ says Nicole, who worked for the St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) for seven years. ‘We had tried everything for months to find alternative funding but failed. That day we had no choice but to close down.’
It might have been a shock to Nicole, but conservation groups in the Dutch Caribbean had been worrying about just such a scenario for over a decade.
In 1996, the Nature Forum, a bi-annual meeting for the region’s conservationists from grassroots level to government, discussed the lack of reliable long term funding. It was, they agreed, seriously undermining efforts to protect biodiversity and habitats on the six Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.
Only by curing this chronic funding problem could a sustainable future be guaranteed for one marine park and one terrestrial park on each island – regarded as the minimum level necessary to safeguard the islands’ unique habitats and wildlife.
It was a conclusion that sparked two years of intense debate. Finally, in 1998, the Forum agreed that the establishment of a trust fund for conservation would be the best way to move toward. The fund would be a joint ‘pot’ of capital generating interest that could be used to cover the basic running costs of each protected area on each island.
The Netherlands government agreed to fund a feasibility study after some persuasion by a team at MINA, (Central Government Department of Environment and Nature, Netherlands Antilles). In 2003, Dutch consultants AIDEnvironment, EcoVision, a Curaçao-based consulting company, and international trust fund expert Barry Spergel were commissioned to carry out a study entitled “Sustainable Funding for the Nature Parks of the Netherlands Antilles”. In February 2005, the study concluded a Trust Fund was a viable option – at the same time a new organisation capable of managing such a fund was emerging elsewhere.
Experts at MINA had been trying for several years to find a way around an international fundraising barrier that has confounded conservationists in the Dutch Caribbean for decades.
The inclusion of the islands within the Kingdom of the Netherlands means that they are considered by the international funding community as part of The Netherlands. This makes them ineligible for grants from donors such as the World Bank, or from major conservation organisations in the United States and beyond, that target poor, developing countries.
At the same time, the islands face entrenched difficulties fundraising within The Netherlands because most of the conservation funds are only available to conservation groups based there.
The team at MINA, led by Letitia Buth, had come up with the idea of applying for a grant from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, a charity that disburses profits raised through a national lottery in the Netherlands to a select list of beneficiaries. With the help of Dutch national commission for IUCN (World Conservation Union), a successful proposal produced a grant of € 500,000 from the Dutch Postcode Lottery in February 2004.
It was a double victory for the embryonic Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. The grant provided significant financial support for struggling parks on St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, and funded the set up of the fledgling organisation. To set up and run DCNA, Kalli De Meyer, an experienced conservation consultant based on Bonaire was taken on board.
It quickly became clear that DCNA was also the logical choice to oversee the birth, and guide the future development, of a Trust Fund. DCNA’s suitability for its new role was reinforced when, in the same month, it received a second injection of € 1.9 million from the Dutch Postcode Lottery’s special project funds.
On April 1st 2005, Kalli De Meyer took over as Executive Director of DCNA and began working on the organisation’s core objectives:
- Securing long-term finance for the parks and establishing the trust fund.
- Providing professional training for park staff and developing their operating procedures, management and strategic planning.
- Creating a shared pool of information and expertise about biodiversity, protected areas and conservation management in the Dutch Caribbean.
- Formulating an international fundraising and com-munications strategy.
With the Dutch Ministry of the Interior on the brink of approving a ten-year grant to support the parks of the Dutch Caribbean, the Dutch Postcode Lottery took an unprecedented step. It agreed to allow the remaining funds from their grants to be used as seed capital for the Trust Fund.