Marina Fastigi of KIDO Foundation in the Grenadines shares how they were able to transform a small island community that had never had a bird and wildlife conservation culture by engaging its younger citizens in birding activities.
Based in Carriacou in the Grenadine Islands of Grenada, KIDO Foundation, a local NGO, has for years endeavored to establish a formally-recognized Bird Sanctuary in the outstanding mangrove wetland of Petite Carenage, part of High North National Park without much success. So when BirdCaribbean offered a Teacher Training Workshop, Engaging Youth in Science and Conservation, through its BirdSleuth Caribbean program – and supplied top-notch birding equipment and educational material – we took this wonderful opportunity and flew with it!
It all started in November, 2014, when Antonia Peters, our new Project Officer attended the 3-day training workshop in Nassau, Bahamas along with 23 other educators and conservationists from across the region. At the workshop, participants learned how to implement the innovative BirdSleuth curriculum, “Connecting Kids Through Birds” which was adapted for the Caribbean context by BirdsCaribbean from the BirdSleuth International curriculum developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The premise of the program is that birds are engaging and a fun way to get youth interested in nature, science, and inquiry-based learning. We hoped to involve our young people in the natural world and build their science skills, as well as increase their appreciation of nature and commitment to environmental stewardship. The curriculum is supported by a kit of materials for educators that contain resources and materials needed for carrying out the lessons, such as laminated bird silhouettes, identification cards, games, field guides, binoculars and spotting scopes, art and craft supplies, and much more.
After Antonia attended the training workshop in Nassau, we were ready to deliver our own local workshops. Given many local residents’ hectic daily schedules, we sought out a number of potential stakeholders, from the Ministry of Education to small primary schools tucked away behind the mountain range. Our phone bill grew exponentially, however, we received positive commitments from 14 teachers of the Carriacou and Petit Martinique primary schools, the Ministry of Education, 4H Club, and NADMA (National Disaster Management Agency) personnel.
On November 19, 20 & 21, 2015, KIDO Foundation, in collaboration with the Grenada Fund for Conservation (GFC) and Education Conservation Outreach (ECO), held a three-day workshop for a group of Carriacou and Petit Martinique educators, in how to use the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum. Antonia and her team were excited to pass on their knowledge to our interested and lively educators so that they would in turn teach their youths how to study, appreciate and conserve Caribbean birds.
During the workshop, held at our green hilltop KIDO Environmental Learning Center, seven teachers participated in the first two days, and on the third they enjoyed a bird watching field trip to the new Bird Sanctuary, located in the Petit Carenage wetland area (some 100 forested acres, part of High North proposed National Park). They also visited Big Pond, another birding stopover, tucked among tall trees near the hamlet of Dover, close to Petit Carenage. The vice-principal of Dover Primary School also participated in the field trip, emphasizing his experience and passion for nature protection on his beloved island, in particular Petit Carenage Wetland and the adjacent turtle nesting beach and protected coastline.
The participants enjoyed the hands-on learning activities, peppered with sharply humored interventions, both in the classroom and during field trip activities. By the end of the three-day session they also came up with two new projects, formalized in two groups (schools from the south and north of Carriacou), direct off-shoots of the BirdSleuth Caribbean training.
The northern group proposed to create several shelters and waterholes for birds in the Mt. Pleasant, Windward and Dover areas, to help them during the long and often dramatically waterless dry season. Also on the agenda was the prevention of topsoil erosion along the coast by planting red mangroves and large shade trees, as well as launching a clean-up campaign at the community level to remove plastic litter from the mangroves.
The southern group reinforced the idea of a bird haven by suggesting the construction of bird houses around all the schools of Carriacou, as well as planting native flower and fruit trees around school yards to attract more birds. They also proposed conducting an awareness campaign on bird conservation among kids and parents, 4H clubs, and in the wider community. Ms Lynette Kisha Isaac of M.O.E. asked for birdhouses and watering dishes to be placed around their church yard, and with regards to the BirdSleuth workshop commented, “It was very interactive and informative and learning involved many facets: speaking, viewing, doing.”
We strongly believe that such conservation projects would not have been conceived and formulated had the BirdSleuth Training Torkshop not taken place in Nassau. Several teachers reportedly taught the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum and practiced bird conservation with their students utilizing the materials provided despite their busy curriculum. With their students they joined KIDO staff, expertly assisted by two KIDO university volunteers from Chicago, on exciting birding trips along the new Bird Sanctuary trails of Petit Carenage, which had also recently been supported by street signage from the Ministry of Tourism, being an important asset for Carriacou.
All in all, to date, 261 children, 25 teachers and nine community members participated in the BirdSleuth Caribbean program, which was enthusiastically received by children, and word spread that the bird-watching program was so much fun that the youths did not want to leave – even after several hours. The use of binoculars and the Vortex scope really helped awaken their interest in Carriacou’s resident and migratory birds. Vivid close-up observations of our island’s breathtaking birds generated awe and surprise that Carriacou is home to such hidden natural treasures.
When youth are provided the opportunity to quietly observe and learn about birds in their natural habitat, they appreciate their precious role in the web of life. Only by understanding the interdependence of all species, including humans, can children genuinely care for them and help to conserve island biodiversity, engaging their teachers and families in the process. Form 3 student and keen birder Anthony Matheson said about BirdSleuth in Carriacou: “It was an invigorating experience that brought us closer to nature and closer to ourselves.”
KIDO will continue to provide assistance to the trainers and educators in order to continue the BirdSleuth Caribbean program with new students, as well as help teachers and students of Carriacou Primary Schools to build houses and water bowls for resident birds. Bird activity around schools and churches will be monitored, by counting and identifying resident and migratory birds in the mangrove Bird Sanctuary of Petit Carenage and Big Pond, and mangroves will be planted in critical areas in order to protect the bird sanctuary.
We wish to thank BirdsCaribbean, Optics of the Tropics, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) fund of the US Fish & Wildlife Service for the funds, equipment and materials provided to complete this exciting project and create a birding and nature conservation culture in our community. More photos of our BirdSleuth Caribbean program in Carriacou may be viewed at YWF-KIDO Foundation Facebook page.
Marina Fastigi, is the Director of KIDO Foundation, in Carriacou, Grenada.