In the US Virgin Islands, the Sea Grant Marine Outreach Program is busily preparing for the 2011 St. Thomas Reef Fest, scheduled for early November, come rain or shine.
As you probably guessed, Reef Fest is a festival to celebrate the reef. More than that, it is about empowering the local community to protect coral reefs. It is a day dedicated to learning about the bond between humans and the reef, and about what each person can do to cultivate that relationship in a positive way. As a progressive strategy for bridging Caribbean culture with environmental education, Reef Fest invites citizens to enjoy the recreational value of reefs and learn how activities on land can affect the health of the marine environment and, in turn, the economy, culture, and heritage. By providing experiential outdoor (both land and sea) learning opportunities for entire families, Reef Fest is an inspiring way to garner appreciation and catalyze positive conservation practice at the grass roots level.
The fun lasts all day with educational and family-oriented activities!
- Participants demonstrate what they know about reefs via the Reef Rap contest (cash prize!)
- Show off your sculpturing skills and sand knowledge with the Sand Sculpture competition
- Learn how to snorkel appropriately around coral
- Borrow kayaks, paddles, snorkels, and other water activity gear to learn about reefs
- Take a reef or coastal tour guided by local naturalists
- Listen to environmental historians
- Engage in family-friendly educational games (Human Ocean Bingo or Marine Jeopardy)
- Visit booths decked out with take-home information about the unique island environment
- Delicious local food and beverage paired with the rhythms of local musicians performing on stage makes Reef Fest an event not to be missed!!
The first Reef Fest kicked off in 2009 at the locally coveted Smith Bay Park of St. Thomas as a launch pad for the NOAA–sponsored “The Reef is Closer Than You Think” social marketing campaign still underway throughout the USVI. Through multi-media messaging and by enlisting community support, this campaign raised broad sector awareness for the value of coral reefs.
Youth and children learning and singing about the importance of reefs in Reef Fest 2009 (Photos: C. Settar, H. Hitt and L. Noori).
Since 2009, residents of the sister island, St. John, adopted the event as part of their own Earth Week celebrations. Located at the National Park Service’s Hawksnest Beach, St. Johnians initiated Reef Fest in April 2010 with a repeat commemoration this past April. Similarly, on the island of St. Croix, Crucians jammed out at their fourth annual Reef Jam on May 29, 2011 (http://reefjam.com/).
Reef Fest 2011 is coordinated by UVI Sea Grant and members of the Virgin Islands Network of Environmental Educators (VINE), which is a group of environmental volunteers and professionals (http://www.usvircd.org/VINE/ ) that work to increase environmental stewardship within the USVI Territory. Because the event is about community empowerment, Reef Fest coordinators spend many pre-event hours engaging the community to support the cause in various ways. Many generous people, businesses, agencies, and groups come forward with supplies, food, equipment, funds, talent, education, and almost anything that can be useful in preparing for the festival. In the spirit of the reef, islanders come together for a good cause and have a lot of fun together while learning how each person can make a difference in the future of coral reefs.
Please stay tuned for more details regarding the much-anticipated return of Reef Fest to St. Thomas and for a report on the “The Reef Is Closer than You Think Community Campaign”. For more information, contact Christine Settar at firstname.lastname@example.org or (340) 693-1392 and befriend the UVI Center for Marine and Environmental Studies on Facebook for updates!
Check out this short clip of the recent St. John Reef Fest!
Written by: Christine Settar, Marine Stewardship Coordinator, Sea Grant Marine Outreach Program, University of the Virgin Islands
Edited by: J. Seda – UPR Sea Grant
The Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS), a part of the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant Program, is located within the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES) at the University of the Virgin Islands. VIMAS was established on the St. Thomas campus of UVI in 1984 and on St. Croix in 1990.