SEA and Botanical Gardens Team Up for EcoFair

Members of the St. Croix Children’s Museum board give Origami instructions.

The St. Croix Environmental Association partnered with the St. George Village Botanical Gardens Wednesday for the twenty-sixth annual Earth Day EcoFair, which drew elementary school students from across the island for a full day of environmental fun and education.

EcoFair’s aim is to engage young minds in activities that will help them better understand and appreciate their surroundings, wildlife and environmental science.

Students were in attendance from the public, private and parochial schools, with third and fourth graders in the morning and fifth and sixth graders in the afternoon sessions.

The St. Croix Children’s Museum Board of Directors gave instruction at both sessions in Origami, the Japanese art of folding. Juanita Gardine sixth graders made small boxes with lids. Students Jaidahlee Trinidad, Breana Belle, and Antoine Caesar said they had plans for their boxes, to fill them with something for their mothers. Their teacher Antonia Bailey had plans, as well.

When students return to the classroom, Bailey will have them write essays or poems to describe what they learned in the origami activity, she said.

“Students in attendance will ‘teach’ new vocabulary words and concepts to those students who were unable to attend the EcoFair,” Bailey said.

Fifth graders from Ricardo Richards School enjoy storytelling.

SEA Chairman of the Board of Directors Maranda Wood read “The Great Kapok Tree” to Ricardo Richards fifth graders during the fair’s storytelling activity. The importance of trees was discussed in the book, as well as the invasion of the Red Tail Boa on St. Croix and other Caribbean islands.

Students learned about the differences and similarities between snakes and other living creatures, and which creatures are invasive or native to the environment. Wood used new and familiar words to describe how snakes blend into their environment and how we, as humans can be termed an invasive species when we eat a delicacy.

“You asked really good questions,” Wood said.  “I really enjoyed learning with you today,” she added as the students were dismissed.

Gyasi Clarke, a St. Croix singer, songwriter and musician, entertained students and presenters with his talent throughout the day. Clarke has gained recognition on YouTube and other music listening sites.

Clarke’s popular video “Caribbean Strong” is dedicated to the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands, who survived the Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. His lyrics were a positive affirmation for the youngsters to hear.

Along the outside wall of the gift shop, SEA set up a long table with “Moringa Tree” signs overhead. The table was filled with moringa pods and seeds, a large box of soil and lots of egg cartons.

A moringa tree planting activity.

SEA Outreach Manager Romina Ramos asked Juanita Gardine’s sixth graders, “Do you know anything about the moringa tree?  Have you ever eaten moringa leaves?”

These and other questions pulled the students closer. They said they had never seen a moringa tree.

Ramos led the discussion about tree planting assisted by volunteers Dhakiya Hopkins and Tiana Hewitt – both University of the Virgin Islands freshman nursing students.

According to Ramos, moringa is called the miracle tree and is known to have more nutrients, minerals and vitamins than any fruit or vegetable in the world. These were encouraging facts to prepare the students for Ramos’ invitation to taste the seeds. Ramos told them the initial taste would be bitter but a small drink of water would sweeten the aftertaste.

Students who tasted the seeds had mixed reactions, and they talked among themselves about the taste. Seeds were also given to the students for planting. They eagerly filled cartons with soil, planted the seeds, and listened intently to directions on how to care for their future moringa trees. The students will report back to Ramos with an account of their trees’ progress.

Michael Funk, the education and outreach director for the Caribbean Oceanographic Restoration and Education Foundation, said he kept students from the St. Croix Montessori School captive as he talked about lionfish flourishing in the coastal waters of the Caribbean and other locations in the U.S.

A lionfish

The lionfish moved around slowly in the water-filled tank on a table allowing the students an “up close and personal” view.  It was easy to see its coloring and its stripes. Funk explained that the lionfish is an invasive species with the potential to harm reef ecosystems.

The students said they had never seen a lionfish before and they had many questions about the harm they can do to other fish. Funk gave them information about the lionfish population and how it continues to grow and increase its range. It sounded a little scary to some students to know that an adult lionfish can grow to 18 inches.

The students learned that although a sting from a lionfish is not deadly, it can cause pain and swelling and possible infection. On the other hand, Funk said, “It is mighty good eating.”

Funk eats lionfish regularly. He said the flesh is firm, white and flaky and he cooks it in a variety of ways – all of them delicious. Students debated who would or would not eat a lionfish meal, and most decided they would not try it.

Funk showed the students pictures of earrings made from lionfish spine. They appeared more impressed by the jewelry potentials than the culinary qualities.

Alfredo Andrews, Church of God Holiness Academy, Claude O. Markoe, Eulalie Rivera, Juanita Gardine, Lew Muckle, Pearl B. Larsen, Ricardo Richards, and St. Croix Montessori were the schools in attendance at EcoFair. The number of students registered for the 2019 Earth Day EcoFair totaled 616.

GPK – a family foundation sponsored the event. Crucian Environmental Services and the V.I. Waste Management Authority were in-kind sponsors.