HEART Trust Environmental Studies Field Trip

22 09 2011

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to work at the HEART Trust campus in Falmouth, Trelawny. HEART Trust is Jamaica’s national vocational training institution and has campuses all over the country. Falmouth HEART offers training in plumbing, electrical, construction (carpentry and masonry), food & beverage management, and business administration.

In addition to their core classes, students are required to take an Environmental Studies course. It is part of my job to teach the all the Environmental Studies classes.

Last month, I took my class of 12 Food and Beverage students to the Falmouth fishing village. We walked from the school to the village, which is about a half mile away. We arived just in time to see the boats coming in and the fishermen unloading their fish. The fishermen landed their catch of parrot fish, lion fish and doctor fish, just to name a few.

Many of the fishermen have been doing this type of work for over 30 years and told us that they the catch has dwindled over time. Most of the fish are gone from the reef close to the shore due to pollution, over-fishing, and poor fishing practices. Now most of the boats are too small to go far enough off shore to catch bigger fish.

The food and bevrage trainees were shown how to clean and scale the fish, and how to cook them over an open fire. We were told about the many ways the fishermen catch their fish, such as traps, nets, spearing and hand lines. The students convinced the fishermen to cook and share some of the day’s catch over the fire that’s usually kept blazing on beach. When the students had their fill of fresh fish, we said our goodbyes, thanked the fisherman and went next door to a water front restaurant which shares the fishing beach with the fishermen.

There we met the owner, who had the chef and bartender talk to the Food and Beverage students about their work. We lucked out because in addition to the regular bartender, there was a mixologist who teaches at Miami International University who was in Falmouth on vacation. The students were fascinated by her explanations about how to mix and serve drinks.

I asked the students to write a report on the trip and the next week they turned in their essays. Needless to say everyone’s favorite part of the trip was eating the fresh fish cooked on the beach at the fishing village!

Ken Caldell, Group 81
Falmouth, Trelawny


International Migratory Bird Day Celebration in Robins Bay, St. Mary–Bob L and Adrienne W-L.

9 11 2010

Adrienne and I are Group 80 Green Initiative volunteers working in rural Robins Bay, St. Mary Parish, Jamaica. We like to think we’re outgoing, fun-loving, anything-goes sorts of people, but the reality is that we’re not big on parties, avoid events that require costumes, and generally act our (advancing) ages. Thus it was more than a little out of character to find us walking down our village road dressed as two oversized migratory birds.

But if there’s one element at the core of the Peace Corps experience, it’s that volunteers are routinely called upon to move beyond their comfort zones. So when Adrienne suggested we put on a program at the local schools about International Migratory Bird Day, and that we do it in costume, I knew it was hopeless to resist.

Started in 1993 by the Smithsonian, International Migratory Bird Day is an event designed to bring attention to the plight of migratory birds in the New World. For years the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds has promoted IMBD throughout the Caribbean. This year SCSCB produced a 48 page coloring book depicting many species of migrants that summer in North America and migrate through, or stay the winter, in Caribbean countries.

Using the coloring books supplied by SCSCB as the centerpiece, we created a program for the Robins Bay Primary School. First though, we made a stop at the Basic School, where the pre-schoolers enjoyed flapping their wings and the principal appreciated receiving a copy of the coloring book.

At the Primary School we spoke to the 80 students about the birds represented by our costumes (American Redstart and Belted Kingfisher, if it’s not obvious!) and the concept of migration. Of course a big part of the message is about conservation (don’t throw stones at birds, keep the environment clean and healthy, etc.). We then distributed the coloring books (VERY popular!) and students had a chance to do artwork while we led small groups outdoors to play the Migration Headache game.

The point of the Migration Headache game is to illustrate the impact of habitat loss. With equal numbers of plastic bottles placed at each end of the play area, we explained to the students that they were migratory birds—ducks, in this case—and they must migrate from their Canadian ponds and lakes, each represented by a bottle, to their winter homes on the ponds, lakes, and mangrove swamps of Jamaica. And, of course, flap their wings as they migrate!

After a round or two, it’s explained that two Canadian lakes have been drained by farmers and one was filled so that a housing development could be built. With 3 bottles removed from the “ Canadian” end of the field, the students must migrate north and try to find a lake. Of course, 3 “ ducks,” now homeless, will be left out and must leave the game. A few more rounds are played, with habitat destruction and rehabilitation occurring at both ends.

How well the children grasped the principles of habitat loss is difficult to fathom, as the plastic bottles are irresistible objects, quite useful for whacking the heads and shoulders of other players. But we hope that at least some of the students “ got it.”

Teachers and students appeared to have a good time, and we had almost as much fun as the kids, but perhaps not quite so much as the community members who watched a giant American Redstart and Belted Kingfisher walk down the road.

Bob Lockett
Adrienne Wolf-Lockett

Peace Corps Jamaica 2009-2011

Going Batty in Portland –Angie H.

28 10 2010

As a Peace Corps Environment volunteer in forestry there were many things that Ithought I might do in my two years in Jamaica, bat surveys were not on the list. I have never been a fan of bats; they have a terrible reputation of biting, sucking blood and living in dirty caves. When I heard of the opportunity to participate in bat surveys withNEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) I thought it would be a good way to meet more Jamaican professionals and see some more of Portland.

Before my first survey, I had a few conversations with friends back home who warned me of biting, and how most bats carry rabies, and how I should wear rubber bootsbecause there might be so much guano in the caves that you will get swallowed. I hadnever considered any of these things and was having second thoughts, but I had alreadysigned up, so I was going to go at least once.

I got picked up in Buff Bay by the crew from Kingston and we were off to find the first cave. It happened that it was right on the side of the road (no hiking this time). I was prepared for anything- pants, long sleeves, bandana on my head, hiking boots. They were in jeans and tee shirts and flip flops (they did change into tennis shoes). This cavewas small and right on the main road, everyone stopped to see what we were doing,connecting PVC pipes and draping tarps and cloth to make a “bat trap”.

The process of these surveys are to catch the bats and determine species, weight, sex, are they lactating or pregnant, wing span and anything else unusual. As we were setting upI asked “do you get bit a lot?”, Monique answered “Oh yeah when I first started I got bit A LOT” (oh comforting), and then she said “I hope those big ones aren’t in there that biteeverything they see with those big teeth”. I was starting to get second thoughts about this whole bat survey idea.

We then waited… and waited for the sun to go down.

The first bat came, then the second. We rushed across the street to get started. Monique caught one and had it halfway inside a cloth sack and walked at me with the bats littlehead poking out, all teeth! Ahhhh, I turned away, she laughed and said “you’re supposeto be learning”. I was lucky enough to not have to be on the catching crew. I wasordered to go up with the boss lady Andrea and assist in the measurements. My job wasto weigh them. I tied them on this string as they were handed to me in the sacks. Theyall wanted out, their creepy little hands poking out of the bags with their little fingernails.It was really creepy at first, but I got use to it. The bats came in waves, but there werehundreds of bats. At times we had to stop and cut some of the fishing line on the harp(the bat trap) because they were getting tangled.

That first night was terrifying, but I went again and helped with a few more bat surveys.It was a great experience, one of the best I have had here. Working with NEPA wasfantastic and I had the opportunity to overcome a fear that I didn’t even fully understandI had. This just proves that if you allow yourself to get outside of your comfort zone that you can learn a lot and have a great time doing it. That is what Peace Corps is all about.

Moving Large Objects–Raz B.

12 10 2010

A couple months or so ago, my closest neighbors up the valley (a delightful couple named Jesse and Josh) had their close of service and returned stateside.

They gave me dibs on their papasan chair and I would have been a fool to not pounce on the opportunity to own such a comfortable piece of furniture.

There was one problem though: how to move a papasan chair from their house to mine? You see, as the john-crow flies, our houses are perhaps two miles apart. The trail is very steep singletrack at the beginning and end, but the bulk of the journey is a pleasant amble on (deeply pocked) doubletrack road. It is maybe an hour walk without a papasan chair strapped to your back. My thinking on this matter slowly became more and more clear.

Taxis do not run between our communities. I could have taken two taxis home, but this would have been expensive, would not have saved any time, and would be vastly less hilarious than simply walking with the chair strapped to my back.

Fortunately i have here in my possession a frame backpack, lots of line, zip ties, and Irish straps. I am also a sailor and if there is one thing that sailors are good at (besides lying, drinking, and swearing) it is coming up with ridiculous hacks that involve tying knots and lashing things together. I was in luck!

The day was sunny and I felt invincible. The time had come to make history, and I was the one to make it.

First I wrapped up the cushion and shoved it in the bag.
cushion wrapped up

Then I attached the base of the papasan chair, and then the bowl on top of the base.
assembling everything

Everything secure, it was time for this kludgy solution to see the light of day.
out the door

I was extremely pleased with myself.
it is a nice look

And thusly I proceeded home.
homeward bound

On the way I had to cross a very narrow pedestrian suspension bridge and this proved a bit of a challenge. I also met a farmer who found my situation so hilariously delightful that he gave me a pineapple. Farther down the road I found a man who was willing to rent me his donkey for the remainder of the journey, but I was perfectly happy with everything on my back. Farther still I met some youth and we took cover from a rainstorm and talked about music. Finally I arrived at my site and my community had a great laugh at my return. Not only did humping the chair two miles between towns save me time and money, but it turned into a moment of cultural integration too! What a splendid day! I even had a comfortable place to sit at the end of my endeavor.

Playgrounds from Recycled Tires- Andrea H.

22 09 2010

I am certain everyone has seen the “tyre tunnel” somewhere in Jamaica jutting out of the ground of a basic school, but has anyone made one? First it is important to note the type of tire. Car tires are smaller and require a lot less digging, truck tires however are bigger, have steel inside that may jut out, but are a little more fun. During our time in the Longville Park Housing Scheme near Freetown, Clarendon; Adam Needleman and I have created two tunnels. One was a 4 truck tire tunnel for the beginning of a community playground, and the other was a 6 car tire tunnel at a basic school. The only tools necessary are a pick-ax and a shovel (a good scooping rock can substitute for the shovel). Our first truck tire tunnel took a lot of work, primarily because we had to pull the water-filled monsters from out of macka and then push them about a quarter mile uphill. Although, once at the designated location, we alternated using the pick-ax and digging until all of the tires were in the ground. At this point we then filled the tires with the rocks we dug up and the rest of the way with dirt. They were quite a hit with the kids, and have stayed in the ground well. Not only have these tires served as a kids tunnel, but they also provide seating for the teens to chat with one another or on the phone.
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Lionfish – The Growing Menace in Jamaican Reefs : Forest R.

4 06 2010

Lionfish have arrived in ever-increasing numbers around the island of Jamaica.  Most marine scientists believe that lionfish entered Caribbean waters after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when at least six lionfish “escaped” from an aquarium into the open sea.  The red lionfish, (Pterois volitans), migrated southward throughout the Caribbean Sea.  By 2006, the reefs around Jamaica became a safe harbour for this very invasive species of fish.  Now, in 2010, almost every reef in Jamaica has uncounted numbers of lionfish flourishing at the expense of smaller marine fish, shrimp, crabs and other crustaceans.  Studies have shown that one lionfish can consume 20 to 30 smaller reef fish in less than an hour.  All the lionfish has to do is wave its mesmerizing, feather-like fins, and smaller reef fish are lured to the lionfish’s waiting mouth.

Unless some measures are taken now, Jamaica’s reefs and living treasures of the sea will be forever changed.  Jamaican reefs are already in a very fragile and vulnerable condition, given problems of coastal pollution, over-fishing and shore-line development.  The lionfish could add a death blow to many of the Jamaican and other Caribbean reef fish unless actions are taken NOW to impede or reduce their numbers. While there are no easy solutions or quick fixes to this growing lionfish menace, there are some actions being taken to awaken public interest regarding the exponential growth of lionfish populations in Jamaican reefs. 

On April 30, 2010, the White River Fisherman’s Coop held its annual fish fry, and this year served fried and steamed lionfish to community members, Group 81 U.S. Peace Corps trainees, and other guests.  Earlier that morning, Group 81 environmental Peace Corps trainees heard a presentation by Mel Tennant on turtle monitoring.  Dr. Dayne Buddo from the Centre for Marine Sciences, University of West Indies, also provided remarks on invasive marine species and the related release of foreign vessels’ ballast water in Jamaican ports.  The Jamaican Marine Symposium held at Couples Sans Souci concluded with a demonstration by Nakle Hado on the safe handling and cleaning of captured lionfish. 

Each of the U.S. Peace Corps trainees present was given the opportunity to carefully cut off a lionfish’s poisonous spines with scissors and then scale and clean the fish. The key to cleaning lionfish is to carefully remove all their poisonous dorsal and anal spines, and then safely dispose of the poisonous spines.  It is important to remember that lionfish can inflict a very painful “sting” with each of these poisonous spines.  If injected with lionfish venom, immediately apply hot water to the affected area and seek medical attention. 

Another effort to raise public awareness of the lionfish explosion in Jamaican reefs was held in Negril, Jamaica from May 20-22, 2010.  Teams of local Jamaican fishermen competed to see how many lion fish they could catch during the three day competition.  Negril resorts, hotels and private organizations provided awards for the fishermen who caught the most lionfish.  By Saturday evening when the awards were presented, 1,446 lionfish of varying sizes had been caught by all the fishermen.  Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries was introduced at the awards ceremony by Dr. Charles Eyles, Chairman of the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust.  In his introduction, Dr. Eyles noted that: “…lionfish numbers have grown exponentially in Jamaican reefs.  After eighteen months to two years, one lionfish can spawn up to 30,000 eggs at least twice a year, and with few predators, lionfish survival rates are very high.” (Photo below) Dr. Tufton inspects a lionfish while Brian Zane, Manager of the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust looks on.)

Then, Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries spoke to assembled fishermen, hotel guests and concerned Jamaicans.  He noted the growing menace of lionfish in Jamaican reefs, the need to curb or control their numbers, and the reality that lionfish are safe and tasty to eat once their poisonous spines have been removed.  Dr. Tufton even suggested that more medical research might be conducted on the lionfish, (and other members of the Scorpionfish family, Scorpaenidae), in hopes that lionfish venom might be used to treat certain cancers and other serious medical conditions.  Certainly, related research with marine cone snail venom has shown great promise in the treatment of certain cancers and neurological disorders.

 So, the next time you have the opportunity, attend one of the Jamaican lionfish hunts, tentatively scheduled in Montego Bay and other reef locales.  Plan to see hundreds of lionfish caught during each such culling effort. The lionfish will range in size from a few inches (juveniles) to those as large as 15 inches.   Record-size lionfish can be up to 18 inches long and weigh up to 2.6 pounds.  While such culling events will undoubtedly focus attention on the growing lionfish menace, there seem to be few measures and mechanisms currently in place to effectively control or contain the explosion of lionfish throughout the Caribbean.  The few known natural predators in Jamaican reefs, such as Nassau groupers (Epinephelus striatus Bloch, 1792), are too few in number to stem the lionfish invasion.  Attempts to net lionfish can be very difficult, too, since red lionfish often descend to depths of 260 feet or hide under reef shelves.

You can help.  As a plea to all marine biologists and other scientists, fishermen and other concerned Jamaicans, submit your ideas on effective ways to curb or control the explosion of lionfish in Jamaican and other Caribbean waters.  We promise to post some of your best ideas on our website: www. mbmp.org.

Tub of Trouble – Lionfish caught off Negril, Jamaica.

Literacy in Every Breath- Barbara A.

3 05 2010

My involvement in literacy was generated after spending a year in Jamaica assigned to assist the Ministry of Health with Water, Health and Sanitation issues. Surveys verbally prioritized water then sanitation then health education. Every where I went, learning was last on the list of priorities.

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