VIERS eco-campers examine sea life collected for study, below, and attend outdoor classes, above.
Lameshur Bay — With St. John Festival wrapped up and school another month away, students are descending to Lameshur Bay for the annual Eco-camps at V.I. Environmental Resource Station.
Owned by University of the Virgin Islands and managed by Clean Islands International, VIERS welcomes students each summer who come out to remote Lameshur Bay on the island’s south shore for three-day, two-night Eco-camps, where they learn about everything from mangroves to shore birds.
“In the Eco-camps this year, we’re focusing on birds and it’s been a real hit,” said VIERS Administrator Randy Brown. “The kids are learning the difference between a bird and a bat and listening to different bird calls. They’re really been having fun with it.”
The eco-campers, from across St. Thomas and St. John, also spend time on shoreline walks where they search for and identify marine creatures like sea cucumbers and pencil urchins.
A recent morning found campers walking along the water’s edge at Great Lameshur Bay, heads bent down as they overturned rocks to reveal a trove of sea life.
Students took their findings to VIERS Manager Tony Blackwell, who helped them identify their find and deposit it in a bucket of sea water to show their fellow campers.
VIERS Eco-campers also had the chance to hear from Arkansas State University Ph.D. candidate Rachel Welicky who has been studying grunt at the Lameshur Bay wet lab.
Researchers do the best they can to return all of the fish they study back to their natural environment, Welicky told campers.
“After we’re through we do our best to return them to the same place we got them,” said Welicky. “We have to do research responsibly. We can use them, but we have to put them back and we have to put them back healthy and happy.”
Other Eco-camp activities include a mangrove talk with VIERS volunteer Lavonne Christiansen, swimming and telling stories around a camp fire.
“My favorite part is hanging with my friends,” said 10-year-old Kalan Paris.
“My favorite thing is going to the beach,” said Quinn Farrell, 11. “I like the camp fire too.”
Twelve-year-old Alyssa Paris liked getting her feet wet at camp.
“My favorite part of camp is getting to find the creatures,” she said.
VIERS has been welcoming campers since 1998, when the first eight students came out to Lameshur for a two-night adventure.
“Our first camp in 1998 we had eight kids and this summer we’re close to 200,” said Brown.
VIERS Eco-camps are sponsored by Friends of V.I. National Park, which is dedicated to fostering the next generation of the territory’s environmental stewards.
“We want to provide environmental education and programs to children,” said Friends of VINP Program Manager Karen Jarvis. “Our children are the future environmental stewards of our home. This is a great way for local children to get a fun summer camp experience and, more importantly, to get them out into the island.”
“This gives them a chance to explore that is in their backyard,” said Jarvis. “This is one of those flagship programs that get our kids into the park and use the park as a classroom.”
In addition to the four Eco-camps, Friends of VINP will also sponsor two Science Camps for older students this summer as well. A total of 163 students will take part in those programs, all for free, thanks to Friends’ supporters, explained the group’s development director Karen Vahling.
Donors include Innovative, Vento Trust, FirstBank, Rotary Club, Disney, R&I Patton, International Capital and Management Co., Paul M. Angel Family Foundation, VI-EPSCoR, and more, according to Vahling.
For more information about VIERS, check out www.islands.org.