Nature Foundation and IHE Delft Institute for Water Education Launch Student Competition to Protect St Maarten’s Coral Reefs, Funded by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

This week a competition for secondary school students in order to protect the coral reefs in St Maarten has been launched by the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. The project aims to create a sense of ownership by the island population by generating awareness amongst students, the local government, donor organizations, businesses and the people of St. Maarten about the loss of corals and its potential consequences for the island’s economy. This will be achieved by organizing a competition in which local students are challenged to propose a project that will positively contribute to the protection of St Maarten’s precious marine environment and primarily their coral reefs.

“The coral reefs on Sint Maarten are deteriorating quickly and are extremely threatened due to diseases, pollution, large amounts of wastewater discharge into the ocean, Hurricane Irma, overfishing and rising ocean temperatures. It is time to be serious concerned about the health of corals on 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 the protection from storms. It is time to act now in order to save our coral reefs for the future” urged Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern Manager of the Nature Foundation St. Maarten.

The Coral Competition Team, consisting of a Nature Foundation staff member, a Marine ecologist and a specialist from the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, will be visiting secondary schools on the 9th and 10th of March 2020 in order to present the Coral Competition to the students of St. Maarten. Besides, these presentations are also focused on learning about coral reefs, their importance, their numerous threats and how students can help to ensure coral reefs for the future. “Secondary schools and schools with students within the ages from 12 until 19 years old, are urged to request a presentation appointment from the team by sending an email to, in order to provide opportunities for their students to participate in the competition and learn about coral reefs” stated the Nature Foundation St. Maarten.

A grant of $4000 will be donated to the Nature Foundation St. Maarten in order to implement a project from the proposal of the winning student team, whereby the winning students can potentially assist in executing the project. “It is not only about developing ideas and raising awareness. We want to see impact and therefore a grant of $4000 will be donated to the Nature Foundation St. Maarten to implement the winning project together with the winning student team” commented Erik de Ruijter van Steveninck, Aquatic and Marine Ecologist at the Water Science and Engineering Department at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education.

To participate in the Coral Competition, students are asked to form groups of maximum 4 students and come up with a Proposal to Save St. Maarten Coral Reefs. Students may choose to work with students from any school, however all participating students should be between 12 until 19 years old and each student is only allowed to participate in one proposal. Their proposal presentations shall have no boundaries when it comes to creativity on presenting and saving coral reefs. In addition, the proposal should be executable by the Nature Foundation with about USD $4000. Student groups can register for the project before Friday the 27th of March 2020 by sending an email to with their proposal name, their names and their contact details. “In May an award day will be organized whereby student groups can present their proposal in a creative way during a science fair. A total fund of $1500 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 to save St. Maarten’s coral reefs” explained Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

The economy of St. Maarten mainly depends on marine based activities, generating approximately USD 58 million annually, through coral reef associated tourism and fisheries. The number of tourists has been increasing tremendously and is expected to continue so in the future. However, development of local tourism, on top of global impacts on coral reefs, puts enormous pressure on the vulnerable ecosystem functions (e.g. wave protection) and services (e.g. coralline beaches, fisheries and activities like snorkeling, 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 thus will negatively impact the island’s vulnerable economy.