A St. Maarten coral reef.
PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten Nature Foundation and IHE Delft Institute for Water Education launched a competition for secondary school students this week that seeks to help protect the island’s coral reefs. The competition is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.
“The project aims to create a sense of ownership … by generating awareness amongst students, the local government, donor organisations, businesses and the people of St. Maarten about the loss of corals and its potential consequences for the island’s economy,” said St. Maarten Nature Foundation in a press release on Monday.
The competition will challenge students to “propose a project that will positively contribute to the protection of St. Maarten’s precious marine environment, and primarily its coral reefs,” according to the press release.
“The coral reefs of St. Maarten are deteriorating quickly and are extremely threatened due to diseases, pollution, large amounts of wastewater discharge into the ocean, [damage from – Ed.] Hurricane Irma, overfishing and rising ocean temperatures.
“It is time to be seriously concerned about the health of the corals of St. Maarten, as coral reefs are of great importance to our tourist industry, the health of our fish stocks, clarity of our waters, biodiversity and protection from storms.
“It is time to act now in order to save our coral reefs for the future,” said St. Maarten Nature Foundation Manager Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
To participate in the competition, students are asked to form groups with a maximum of four students and come up with a proposal to save St. Maarten’s coral reefs.
According to the foundation, students may choose to work with other students from any school. However, all participating students must be between 12 and 19 years old, and each student is allowed to participate in only one proposal.
Proposal presentations shall have “no boundaries when it comes to creativity on presenting and saving coral reefs,” said the foundation. Additionally, the foundation should be able to execute the programme with a budget of US $4,000.
According to the foundation, a $4,000 grant will be donated to the Nature Foundation to implement the proposal of the winning student team. The winning students can also potentially assist in executing the project, said the foundation.
“It is not only about developing ideas and raising awareness. We want to see impact and, therefore, a grant of $4,000 will be donated to the St. Maarten Nature Foundation to implement the winning project together with the winning student team,” said IHE Delft Institute for Water Education aquatic and marine ecologist Erik de Ruijter van Steveninck.
Student groups must register for the competition before Friday, March 27, by sending an e-mail to
“In May an award day will be organised, whereby student groups can present their proposals in a creative way during a science fair. A total fund of $1,500 will be available for the three best student teams, whereby the winning team can win $800. In addition, businesses will be asked to include prize donations for the best proposals,” said Meijer zu Schlochtern.
The competition team comprising a Nature Foundation staff member, a marine ecologist and a specialist from IHE Delft Institute for Water Education will be visiting secondary schools on March 9 and 10 to present the competition to students. The presentation will also be focused on learning about coral reefs and their threats, importance and preservation.
Schools with students ages 12-19 years are asked to submit a request for the competition team to make a presentation. Schools can do this by sending an e-mail to
“The economy of St. Maarten mainly depends on marine-based activities, generating approximately $58 million annually through coral reef-associated tourism and fisheries. The number of tourists has been increasing tremendously and is expected to continue [this trend] in the future.
“However, the development of local tourism, on top of global impacts on coral reefs, puts enormous pressure on vulnerable ecosystem functions, (for example, wave protection) and services, (for example, coralline beaches, fisheries and activities, like snorkelling, boating and diving) provided by corals.
“Without adequate environmental planning and management, St. Maarten’s valuable marine resources run the risk of serious degradation. This might, in turn, make the island less attractive for tourists and will thus negatively impact the island’s vulnerable economy,” concluded the Nature Foundation.