Project Trains Young Conservationists to Protect
“The Narrows,” a Unique Caribbean Ecosystem

August 16, 2019

A landscape view of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The Island of Saint Kitts with Nevis in the distance. Credit: slack12 / Creative Commons via Flickr

The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, located in the Caribbean, is divided by a unique marine area known as “The Narrows.” This area constitutes the body of water, known as a strait, that lies between the islands. While small, it also has considerable biodiversity including a variety of coral species, fish, birds, marine mammals, sea turtles, conch, and sting rays.

A recent project funded through a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs Caribbean Program and USAID aims to train young conservationists to lead efforts to change local behavior in the long-term, such that the Narrows and its wildlife are protected from threats including infrastructure development, unsustainable fishing practices, and plastic pollution.

Led by Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, with collaborations from the St. Kitts and Nevis government and conservation partners, the project primarily aims to train young leaders in what’s needed to successfully engage people in conservation efforts within their communities. Once that objective is achieved, the goal is for the trainees to help develop a subsequent campaign to reduce plastic pollution.

So far over 20 individuals have participated in the training sessions that started earlier this year and have benefited from a diverse set of lessons and activities led by conservation and behavior change experts. One very interesting aspect of the project, however, is that many of the participants, as well as some people living on island, are reserved when it comes to the ocean and swimming. The project leaders decided that to care about and relate to marine conservation, it was important for participants to experience it. For this reason, they organized a snorkeling expedition which included transportation, snorkeling gear, and food to help trainees experience the joy of the water and see coral reefs and the wildlife that live in them. With outstanding help and support from staff of the Department of Marine Resources, they made it as easy as possible for trainees to feel safe and comfortable, and the expedition was a huge success.

Credit: Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine

“We believe this experience sparked their interest in becoming more comfortable in the water because it was evident how they were planning to buy their own snorkeling gear and learn to swim and snorkel. This powerful experience rippled into our own project manager who found herself enjoying the snorkeling expedition as much as the trainees.”

It’s a good reminder that sometimes the most important aspect of wildlife conservation is to remember how personal experiences in nature can be a powerful motivation for people to help them take action to protect the environment around them.