United by birds – Ometepe school children get painting for World Environment Day

To celebrate World Environment Day on 5th June this year, school children on Ometepe Island (Nicaragua) joined forces with their families and teachers to create murals depicting the habitat of Maderas Volcano and the migratory birds that visit every year.

Ometepe is situated in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America. The waters of Lake Nicaragua, also referred to as Cocibolca, cover an impressive 8,264 km2 (only slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca that straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia in South America).

Formed by two volcanoes joined together by a narrow strip of land, Ometepe Island itself spans just 276 km2, and at its narrowest point is a mere 5 km wide.

Ometepe Island. Credit: Nicky Jenner/FFI.

The beautiful Ometepe Island. Credit: Nicky Jenner/FFI.

Despite this, Ometepe is home to approximately 40,000 people and has an incredible diversity of species. The island also houses a sample of almost every habitat type found in Nicaragua, from dry forest and transitional forest to wetlands and cloud forest – an incredible feat for such a small area of land.

Celebrating biodiversity

In recognition of the island’s biodiversity (and particularly the birds that stop off there), five schools from communities surrounding Maderas Volcano took part in a mural competition to help raise childrens’ appreciation of their natural environment.

Part of the Unidos por las Aves (‘United by Birds’) programme, run jointly by FFI and The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre, the competition was carried out in two phases: on 1st June, Nicaragua’s Day of the Child, all 18 participating classes were visited by the three judges (representatives from local organisations involved in the conservation and development of Ometepe). The top five murals – one from each school – were then selected to compete in the competition final, which took place on 5th June to coincide with World Environment Day.

Before judging began, all of the participants joined a mini-parade through the village of El Madroñal. Adorned in homemade fancy-dress outfits representing the birds of Ometepe, the troupe wound their way back to the judging venue, where the five shortlisted murals were waiting.

Parade outfits. Credit: Alexandra Zamora/FFI.

The children show off their fabulous costumes in a parade through the village. Credit: Alexandra Zamora/FFI.

The enthusiasm, energy and understanding that the children demonstrated for their biodiversity is testament to the work that Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and local partner Fundación Entre Volcanes, have been involved in since 2005, which played an instrumental part in the designation of the whole island as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2010.

“Resounding success.”

Raising awareness and understanding of the importance of the environment (both locally and globally) is a vital element of any successful conservation programme, and is at the core of FFI’s continuing work on Ometepe.

At an international level, school children in Canada have been getting involved in a cultural exchange to learn more about the biodiversity on this little island. Despite the distance between them, these communities share a common interest because many of North America’s migratory birds overwinter on Ometepe.

These birds create a tangible link between Canada and Nicaragua, and help children to understand the importance of habitats not only on their doorstep, but also in far-flung countries that otherwise might not hold any significance for them.

Around 80 community members (including the children) took part in the day, which included a range of fun activities such as traditional dances, parades, piñatas and prize-giving for the winners.

The winning mural. Credit: Alexandra Zamora/FFI.

The winning mural. Credit: Alexandra Zamora/FFI.

“Through this fun and simple competition, we have been able to help foster a great deal of enthusiasm for the island’s biodiversity, as part of ongoing local education about the importance of Ometepe for migratory birds and other species – a resounding success!” said Salvadora Morales, Ometepe Project Coordinator at Fauna & Flora International.