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Reef Jam Raises 10K Towards Preserving Coral Reefs

On most Sunday afternoons, Rainbow Beach north of Frederiksted on the west end of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, is jammed with people attracted by white sands and calm waters, volleyball and live music at Rhythms, an adjacent restaurant. On May 24 this year, a small entrance fee was added, along with attractions for all ages, as Reef Jam 2009 raised US $10,000, to fund a mini-grant program for marine-related education and conservation projects.

A grassroots group from St. Croix’s various environmentally oriented groups, the organizers of Reef Jam put a beach party together with a fundraising effort while educating beach goers and entertaining music lovers.

An underwater photography contest started the day even before the local food vendors began cooking. A raffle offered chances to win US$400-$600 packages of donated dinners, SCUBA dives, Jet Ski rentals, tours, hand-blown art glass, cruising guides and Cruzan rum.

The St. Croix East End Marine Park sponsored an activities tent with educational games and a kids’ snorkel clinic to educate and entertain. New child-size snorkel gear was loaned to children interested in learning how to see what’s underwater just off the beach.

The Virgin Islands Network of Environmental Educators (VINE) and the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) continued the educational theme, offering printed information on reef conservation from several governmental and conservation groups. Safe snorkeling clinics and a “Leave Paradise in its Place” campaign are part of their reach-out to preserve coral reefs. Visitors were reminded that U.S. Customs agents at the airport are authorized to confiscate and return to the beach coral and shells found in luggage leaving the island.

Michelle Pugh, owner of Dive Experience and a member of the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame, gave a mooring-rope demonstration, and DPNR (Department of Planning and Natural Resources) Fish & Wildlife officials displayed a tiny lionfish in a jar to aid fishermen and divers in identifying and eradicating this predatory reef-destroyer.

On Rhythms’ open air stage, University of the Virgin Islands student MCs Trevor Nelson and Tahyna Jules introduced guest speakers Senators Nellie O’Reilly and Terrence Positive Nelson, and the musical artists, who appeared for free or at a discount: Siete Son, Kurt Schindler and the Reggae Bubblers. Jamming with Siete Son was sailor Stan Joines, who teaches band at Central High School and makes a point of inviting some his students to crew on his Alberg 35, Windflower.

Heading the grassroots organizers were long time boaters Kurt and Janelle Schindler, founders. According to Karlyn Langjahr (DPNR St. Croix East End Marine Park), Reef Jam was started in 2007 when the Schindlers contacted their friend Claudia Lombard for ideas on holding a benefit performance for St. Croix reefs.

Lombard linked the Schindlers to three women from VINE: Emily Tyner (UVI-Marine Advisory Service), Melanie Feltmate (St. George Botanical Gardens) and Langjahr. At the time, VINE was gearing up for International Year of the Reef 2008, and met with the Schindlers and other interested individuals. The effort became Reef Jam 2008. Initial investment was non-existent, but local businesses and community groups donated funds and volunteer time to the event, which raised US $7,000. The proceeds funded snorkel clinics for reef safety, and public service radio announcements to inform the public about fishing seasons, reef protection and the snorkel clinics.

This year, Langjahr was pleased to report a turnout of about 1,000 people and more than 60 volunteers. Funds generated at Reef Jam 2009 were made available on a competitive basis through a mini-grant program whereby St. Croix community groups, school or student organizations, civic groups, government or non-government agencies/organizations, and individuals were invited and encouraged to apply for small (US $500-$2,500) grants to fund marine-related education and conservation projects. Reef Jam uses the Virgin Islands Resource Conservation and Development Council as their fiduciary.

The importance of coral reefs extends beyond the interests of boaters, divers and snorkel enthusiasts. Healthy coral reefs enable healthy fisheries; they protect the beaches that draw tourists and mitigate windstorm damage to the coastline – all of which have a tremendous financial impact on the Caribbean and its people. Human impact is destroying this valuable asset, and education is the first step in reversing that trend, according to VINE.

After the first year’s success and feedback from the crowd, the organizers decided to make Reef Jam an annual event and now they plan to establish its non-profit (501-c-3) tax status. In September, they proudly announced that Reef Jam was selected as the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management’s “Organization of the Year” for 2009. Check with www.reefjam.com for updates, and get your snorkel gear ready for Reef Jam 2010.

Ellen Sanpere has lived aboard Cayenne III, a refurbished Idylle 15.5, since 1998. She and her husband Tony started from Annapolis and have cruised from Maine to Venezuela. St. Croix is their home port.

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