BONAIRE — The islands of the Dutch Caribbean hosted a Junior Ranger exchange student for the first time this summer, and so I had the opportunity to be the first to spend a week on Bonaire learning about the environment, the people, and the culture in a different part of our Kingdom. I also participated in an education workshop with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, where I spoke about my experiences as a Europarc Junior Ranger.
Through the Europarc Junior Rangers, I have been on other exchanges with Scotland and Germany, but the differences within our own Kingdom to go to the Caribbean were greater.
Everything in Bonaire is very different than it is in the Netherlands.
At first, the temperature stood out the most. It is hot. But Bonaire is outstandingly beautiful, and the sea, the snorkeling, and the people make it special.
I went snorkeling several times and learned about the coral reef and how important it is to preserve the reef. Most of our medicines are based on research from plants and animals, and the sea has much more to offer us. We saw the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle and many fish. At first, it was a little scary seeing those fishes so close up. The Pufferfish was especially nice to see.
Kneeboarding was another new experience. We were pulled behind a boat and tried to get ourselves up on a board on our knees when we gained enough speed. I was able to get up, but the next day I really felt the pain in the muscles in my shoulders—especially when I tried to pull my trousers on.
The Junior Rangers of Bonaire and I went hiking in Washington Slagbaai National Park where we saw the Caribbean Flamingo, Whiptail Lizards, and many species of cacti. The strange thing was, that one of the cacti was called the ‘tuna’. With the name tuna I immediately thought of the fish. Many of the species are unique to the island, and the park staff are working hard on preservation and on education.
I also was able to help during a party for Wild4Life, the islands’ education programme. Although I don’t know the Papiamentu, the island children’s first language, I still was able to help them with puzzles to name animals and corals by using gestures and the pictures. We all had fun with the activity, and I was very impressed with the people who all seem to know one another and are very friendly.
Being outdoors with Junior Rangers makes me feel very good. I think children need to be active and to learn more about nature and protecting it. It’s our future, and if we destroy it, then it’s gone and we can’t get it back.
Each species is an aspect of our whole ecosystem. If one changes, it will have an effect on the whole. If we lose one of the birds that migrate between Bonaire and North America, then it affects other species and the effect continues through the world. We can’t even really predict accurately what the result will be if one is gone.
As a founding member of the Netherlands Junior Rangers, I have learned more about appreciating our environment and about conservation, as well as about other cultures and about public speaking as I present my experiences to others in meetings around the world.
These experiences have shaped me and my plans in life. I think in the future I may study biology, but I am not yet sure what kind—perhaps now even marine biology.
By Laura Peters, junior ranger