Friends of VINP Celebrates Earth Day With More Than 500 Students


Guy Benjamin School students were spotted having a great time at the annual Friends of the VINP Earth Day Fair in Cruz Bay on Friday, April 25.

Students from across St. John converged on the V.I. National Park ball field on Friday morning, April 25, for the annual Earth Day Fair hosted by Friends of V.I. National Park.

“We have more than 500 students from all schools on St. John here taking part in a number of activities and learning about ways to help protect our environment,” said Friends’ Program Manager Karen Jarvis.

Students kicked off the annual celebration by carrying impressively decorated signs while marching in a Litter Stomp parade from Julius E. Sprauve School to the VINP ball field. Students from each of the participating classes drew colorful posters depicting love for the Earth and the environment which were hung along the fence in the field.

Students were able to plant their own starter onions, above.

In addition to showcasing ways to help the environment, the posters also earned the winning schools — Guy Benjamin School and Gifft Hill School — tickets to Coral World and copies of Cristina Kessler’s latest book “Hope is Here,” explained Jarvis.

Even students who didn’t win the contest, however, enjoyed a fun-filled and educational morning at the Friends of VINP Earth Day fair.

There was a huge ling snaking away from the tent of St. John artists Livy Hitchcock and Aimee Trayser who traded in their canvases to paint Earths and hearts on little hands and faces.

“It’s so much fun to come out and do this,” said Trayser, who volunteers for the fair each year. “I get to see all the little kids grow from year to year.”

At a nearby tent, students gasped in surprise to learn from Island Green Living Association Director Barry Devine that it could take a million years for glass to degrade in a landfill.

Students were also learning about maps and the importance of all the different ecosystems on St. John, Devine explained.

“We’ve been learning about maps and garbage and how long it takes for things to break down,” said Devine. “We have also been learning about forests and why they are important and the marshes and mangroves and what they do as well.”

Next to IGLA at Gifft Hill School’s Education and Resiliency Through Horticulture Program table, students were transforming old plastic jugs into planters and taking home starters of everything from chives to kale.

“We had lots of kids who were very interested in planting and growing food,” said Dave Minder, EARTH coordinator.

The GHS EARTH program officials made sure to take part in the annual Earth Day Fair in order to share their message with students, explained Sarah Haynes.

“It’s important to come out to this Earth Day Fair because educating the next generation about the environment is the most important thing that we can do,” she said.

“We impact 70 students at GHS with one hour of EARTH instruction each week and we wanted to share that with other schools,” said Miner.

Students were enjoying a sweet treat and learning about coral polyp growth at the table hosted by the Ritz Carlton’s Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program.

Led by Naturalist Amber Saville-Andree and Director Audrey Penn, students could visualize how coral polyps grow and eat by topping the end of a marshmallow with frosting, sprinkles and a piece of licorice.

Penn also shared information about the many programs offered by Ritz’s Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors program available to local children at the St. Thomas luxury resort.

At the VINP table, students enjoyed donning flippers, a nose clip and more as they transformed into sea turtle while learning about the animals from VINP Education Specialist Laurel Brannick.

“We talked all about sea turtles and had kids dress up as sea turtles,” said Brannick. “We told kids to go home and tell their Mommies not to use plastic bags but to use these reusable bags they were given today.”

Botanist Dr. Gary Ray of Virgin Forests Nursery was also on hand showcasing several varieties of native plants. Students were able to get up close with the plants and learn about invasive and native plant species, Ray explained.

Valerie Peters of the Blue Flag USVI Program showed off a long chain of interlocking loops created by the students that morning.

“Each of these loops represents a pledge by a student to do something to help our environment, from planting trees to recycling aluminum cans” said Peters.

The Blue Flag USVI program was recently awarded an Environmental Quality Award from the Environmental Protection Agency, which Peters said reflects the great work of the VINP.

“It’s the Blue Flag beaches, two of which are on St. John — Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay — that earned that award,” said Peters.

Students at Friends of VINP’s Earth Day Fair also learned about the very real threat lionfish pose to local reefs thanks to Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education foundation volunteers.

 The group’s St. John Outreach Director Frank Cummings and lionfish responder John Westguard showed students how easy it is to operate a pole spear, thanks to safety gear and a plastic demonstration. Students also had the chance to view lionfish preserved in glass jars and get an understanding of this problem, that is not going away, explained Cummings.

“These fish are out there and they will destroy our reefs if we do nothing,” said Cummings. “We need more volunteers.”

While sparklers are still encouraged to mark all areas where the spot lionfish, CORE officials are now striving to certify as many people as possible to be able to operate pole spears in VINP water, according to Cummings.

“We’re moving to certifying snorkelers not just divers,” said the CORE St. John Outreach Director. “You have to be proficient in snorkeling and we now offer a snorkel responder course for people to get certified. They are small courses and meet for only about an hour.”

The group is also encouraging people who spot or cull lionfish to get on and mark the location on the GPS map.

“That way we can identify hot spots which will help us to protect our resources,” said Cummings.

The next snorkeler responder class is on Friday, May 2, at Hawksnest Beach at 3 p.m. To register for the class and help the fight against lionfish, email Cummings at

Looking out on the almost empty ball field as most of the students had returned to their classrooms for the day, Friends of VINP Executive Director Joe Kessler deemed the morning a success.

“We achieved what we set out to do which was to get our message out to the kids,” said Kessler. “Fostering the next generation of environmental stewards is a significant objective for Friends of VINP and this is one way in which that is happening. And it was a beautiful morning with great weather.”