By Reef Check Curacao Coordinator Paul Hoetjes
Earlier this month, Reef Check (RC) Executive Director, Dr. Gregor Hodgson visited St. Maarten to train people to become certified Reef Check EcoDiver Trainers. This training was organized by the St. Maarten Nature Foundation, the dive shop Ocean Explorers, and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA); with funding from the Caribbean Marine Protected Area Managers (CaMPAM) network. Participants included the rangers from the Nature Foundation, Ocean Explorers staff, Bonaire's National Marine Park Manager Ramon de Leon, ranger Joi Jenkins, Reef Care Curacao volunteer Marjo van den Bulck, and Paul Hoetjes of the central government department of Environment and Nature (MINA), and coordinator of the Netherlands Antilles Coral Reef Initiative (NACRI). The workshop also discussed the most appropriate reef sites for a regular monitoring program in St. Maarten.
The RC training was a follow up to a CaMPAM "train the trainer" workshop. These CaMPAM workshops are part of the work program of the SPAW (Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife) Protocol of the Cartagena Convention, which aims at protecting and developing the marine environment of the Wider Caribbean Region. Participants in the CaMPAM workshops commit to subsequently organize trainings on their islands. In the case of St. Maarten, the workshop served to train the Nature Foundation's marine park rangers in the RC methodology. Within the Netherlands Antilles the coral reef monitoring data are collected through NACRI, and a summary is included in the "Status of Coral Reefs of the World," which is published every two years by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.
DCNA facilitated the participation of people from the other islands in this RC training in an effort to help build capacity for protected area management on all Dutch Caribbean islands. As a result of this training St. Maarten, Bonaire, and Curacao now have certified Reef Check EcoDiver Trainers. St. Eustatius and Saba already have similarly certified marine park managers. With the help of these trainers, volunteers on each of the islands can be trained as EcoDivers to carry out regular RC monitoring. On St. Maarten a number of volunteers were trained in the RC method some years past. It is hoped that this group can be reactivated to help conduct a Reef Check monitoring program on St. Maarten.