By: Leah Wessler
Lake Gotomeer sparkled in the distance as students and staff set up camp. Despite a lively wrestling match with the wind, during which it tested every attempt at wrangling the tent, the CIEE team began the weekend with few mishaps. We were lucky enough to be spending the night at Echo Conservation Center and would be assisting in the planting of over a thousand trees the next morning. During the premises tour, we met the resident Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots and witnessed the benefits of the center’s native tree planting and forest protection efforts. One of Echo’s central goals is to return the island forests to their natural state and thus reinforce the dwindling habitat of endangered Bonairean parrots.
After the tour, students and staff fired up the BBQ and feasted on ribs, chicken legs, and a variety of delicious side dishes. Once sufficiently stuffed, the students took to the forest with UV lights in search of fluorescent scorpions, and staff members (unsuccessfully) attempted to spook them among the dark trees as a post-Halloween prank. Once all the coal-baked banana boats and cinnamon apples were consumed, the campers settled themselves in the tent and various hammocks to sleep. All members survived the early morning rain that fell both outside and inside of the tent.
Early the next morning, the planting party commenced near BOPEC. Echo volunteers had already dug holes for every tree in an area fenced off from hungry goats and donkeys. While fighting off swarms of limbi-limbis, we tucked 1,026 native juvenile trees into their new homes. All planters celebrated the successful morning by inhaling pastechis and watermelon slices. It may be a handful of years before the trees grow strong enough to house and feed parrots, but once the plants mature, the rehabilitated swathe of forest will be transformed into a biodiverse oasis for the birds.