In a time when conservation and environment programmes are becoming increasingly hot topics, a group of Year 6 students at Cayman Prep are highlighting the importance of conserving local species and reducing the size of Mount Trashmore.
Students from 6C built a compost heap at the school on Smith Road last Friday, while the pupils from 6H planted 10 lime trees on the school grounds to provide shelter and food for the rare Grand Cayman Swallowtail Butterfly, which, as its name implies, is found only on Grand Cayman.
The two school projects, along with another that promotes car pooling, will be entered into the Disney Planet Challenge – a competition open to schools in the United States, Cayman and Hong Kong.
The students, ages 10 and 11, explained to the Weekender what the projects were all about.
Kali MacLean of 6C said her class chose to create a compost heap in a bid to encourage people to use natural fertiliser and to highlight the environmental issues involved in using artificial fertiliser.
Classmate Fiona Cockhill described how the one-cubic-metre composting container made of wood and chicken wire would be filled with natural material collected at the school.
The project will be entered in the Disney Planet Challenge on 11 February, and between now and then, teams of six will spearhead the project, explained Eddie Weber.
“We wanted to do it because of the effects that artificial fertilisers have on the environment, like nutrification and blue baby [syndrome] and things like that,” said James Priaulx.
Nutrification is when there is an increase of nutrients introduced into a body of water leading to the rapid growth of algae. Blue baby syndrome is a childhood health problem sometimes caused by too many nitrates in drinking water, often found in rural agricultural areas.
What is kept out of a compost heap is as important as what is put into it, said Gwen Stabler. “You can put biodegradable things in there, but not dairy products or meat. You shouldn’t put meat in because it’ll attract rats,” she said.
Eddie explained that only raw product should be added to a compost heap.
A unique entry
The class will be sending a unique entry to Disney for the competition. Instead of just sending a report on their work, they’re creating a portfolio that they will place in a mini compost bin. “We’ll put the portfolio and all the sheets in the bin,” said Beth Johnson.
The team also chose to create a compost heap because they wanted to do something that would withstand the test of time, and they hope that long after they have left the school, the pupils of Cayman Prep will continue to use it and spread the message that every piece of material that goes in the compost heap is one fewer piece that goes into the landfill.
To educate the other school children how to use the compost heap, the 6C students were preparing a special presentation for assembly, and they are putting together lists of what can and cannot be put on the eight collection bins around the school. Food from the school’s kitchen will be added to the compost pile, such a banana peels, apple cores and skins, tea bags, egg shells and coffee beans.
Once the composting heap begins to mature, the students plan to sell the contents as natural fertiliser. A survey carried out by three students – Beth, Eddie and Laura Hew – shows that few people in Cayman use natural fertiliser, but that there was an interest in finding out more and purchasing the natural fertiliser if it is available.
To raise money for the entire project, Class 6C joined forces with 6H to do a books and bake sale, which raised $1,043. The money was spent on materials for the compost heap and the lime trees.
While the students were helping carpenters Gary Gordon and Kenton Byfield build the compost heap, at the back of the school the 20 pupils from 6H, with their teacher Andy Jones, were working up a sweat planting 10 lime trees on the school grounds.
Student Elizabeth Wolf explained: “We are planting lime trees to help save the Swallowtail Butterfly.” Classmate Lauren Scott said the only place in the world that species of butterfly can be found is on Grand Cayman.
The yellow and black butterflies are also the biggest found on the island, said Sammie Rowland.
The school bought 10 lime tree saplings to plant, and even before they were planted, the students found signs that a butterfly had already made one of the trees its home. “We found some eggs already on one lime tree,” said Sarah Needham.
“We’re planting most around the back and a couple around the front of the school,” said Jack Lewis.
Anna Fowler explained that the trees would begin bearing fruit in about a year and a half.
Butterflies and caterpillars
However, it is the leaves of the trees that the butterflies and the caterpillars from which they spring are interested as it is a prime food source for them, said Mr. Jones, so the butterflies and caterpillars can start taking advantage of the trees long before limes start appearing.
The students had also briefly considered building an artificial reef, said Matthew Barnett, but they opted for the lime trees because the butterflies were unique to Grand Cayman.
To find out more about the butterflies, the students visited the home of Ann Stafford, an expert on the butterflies found in the Cayman Islands, said Paris Broad.
The class’ project does not end with the planting of the trees at the school. Students brought in limes and lime seeds and then distributed them among their fellow students who were asked to plant the seeds in their gardens and yards, so there might be many more lime trees popping up around the neighbourhood.
Class 6H is also creating a map of where lime trees are on the island to see if there are large gaps between the trees, as the butterflies can only fly for a third of a mile.