Save The Bays Donates to 6 Schools for Environmental Programs

Hundreds of students in the northern Bahamas will find environmental programs in their schools next year, thanks to a generous donation from Save The Bays.Recipient schools, all in Grand Bahama, were surprised when they were selected without knowing they would be competing for the first of its kind donation.

“We wanted to reward each of the schools whose students were interested enough in the environment to enroll and participate in the Youth Environmental Ambassadors program,” said Joe Darville, Chairman of Save The Bays, the fast-growing local environmental movement launched in 2013 that has more than 20,000 Facebook fans today.

“Those students did extremely well in the most recent session which was the most challenging of all the series we have done. Not only did these young Bahamians give up every other Saturday for four months, they had to conduct research, sometimes tedious, reporting details that were forwarded to international authorities for inclusion in broader studies. The 24 students were so diligent. Even if they were sorting and separating types of plastic in beach trash, they understood that what they were doing was helping to paint a broader picture in order to understand sources, develop campaigns to end the litter and find ways to solve the problem that produced the litter and plastic in the first place.”

Two weeks ago, the 24 graduates were pinned during a lively ceremony that included drumming, part of the program designed to teach teamwork and build self-confidence.

School principals had been invited to attend the pinning ceremony.

“When we began to call them up to tell them they were receiving funds for their school’s environmental programs, their eyes popped, they grinned, no one had any idea,” said Darville, a retired educator who never stops teaching, but these days spends most of his time speaking about the fragile and oft-threatened Bahamian environment.

Some of the recipient schools have basic environmental programs, others will be able to introduce gardening, growing vegetables and herbs at the school grounds, or add to their anti-litter campaigns with additional trash receptacles and liners.

Recipient schools include Sister Mary Patricia Russell Junior High School, Eight Mile Rock High School, Sunland Baptist Academy, Bishop Michael Eldon School, Jack Hayward Junior High School and Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Academy.

Save The Bays will offer the YEA program again during the school year and in the summer will host week-long Eco-Explorer summer camps for students ages 12-16 in July and for ages 7-11 in August. With only 15 slots available for each week’s camp, space is expected to fill quickly.

Waterkeepers Bahamas Dives into Summer Supporting Swim Programs

Two swim programs in Grand Bahama got a welcome boost this week with donations from Waterkeepers Bahamas, the local licensee of the world’s largest and fastest-growing non-profit solely focused on clean water.“We were pleased to show our support for the Freeport Aquatics Club, which has been such a powerful force in teaching discipline and sportsmanship while turning in highly competitive performances, and to the YMCA Swim for Ocean Survival (SOS) program that has done a remarkable job teaching school children basic in the water survival skills,” said Rashema Ingraham, Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director.

Marine environmental monitoring organization Waterkeepers Bahamas lends support to Grand Bahama YMCA Swim for Ocean Survival (SOS) program. Pictured l-r, Grand Bahama Coastal Waterkeeper and Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville, YMCA Programs Director Shakeitha Henfield and Bahamas Waterkeepers Executive Director Rashema Ingraham.

Both programs, she said, help prepare people to enjoy the waters safely.

“When Bahamians start swimming in open waters at a young age, they develop confidence but just as importantly, they develop an appreciation for the beauty of the underwater world and all the marine life that they would never see up close and personal otherwise,” said Ingraham.

Joe Darville, Save The Bays Chairman and Grand Bahama Coastal Waterkeeper agreed.

“Being in the water with fish, conch, crawfish, with sponges and corals and grasses, gives all of us a deeper respect for and a better understanding of the need to preserve marine life,” said Darville. “That commitment to preserve complements the goals of Waterkeepers Alliance to make as much of the world’s water as possible fishable, swimmable and drinkable.”

According to YMCA Director Karon Pinder-Johnson, more than 10,000 people in Grand Bahama – nearly one-fourth of the island’s population – have participated in the SOS learn to swim program in the eight years of its existence and this year she is hoping that more teachers will participate. The program is free of charge and open to students of all schools in Grand Bahama.

Diving into action — Waterkeepers Bahamas supports Freeport Aquatics Club (FAC) as part of its mission to bring awareness of the need to preserve a fragile marine environment. Pictured l-r, Grand Bahama Coastal Waterkeeper and Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville, FAC Head Coach Albert ‘Bert’ Bell, Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham and FAC super star and assistant coach Ashton Knowles.

“This is a perfect example of a community pulling together, one non-profit helping another to achieve a common goal – appreciating the beauty of our waters and making it safe for more people to enjoy them,” said Ingraham.

Founded in 1999 by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance patrols rivers, bays, lakes and oceans on six continents. Kennedy was in The Bahamas in 2013 to help launch the Conchservation initiative and present The Bahamas with its first Waterkeeper license. Since then, the country has gained two more and volunteers monitor the waters and file reports in three areas of the northern Bahamas.

Save The Bays Pins 24 Bahamian Youth Environmental Ambassadors

Zhyir Miranda, 12, knew even as a youngster that littering was wrong. But it wasn’t until she signed up for Youth Environmental Ambassadors and saw the damage it could do to marine life that she fully understood littering wasn’t just ugly – it was dangerous.“Littering does not just look bad, littering can kill the turtles in the sea. It can kill the animals that live in the mangroves and depend on mangroves for their survival especially when they are young,” said the 12-year-old who rattled off characteristics of red, black and white mangroves as if she were reciting words of a favourite rap tune.

On Saturday, Zhyir was pinned for her passion, rewarded for her enthusiasm.

The Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Academy seventh grader became one of 24 young Bahamians certified as Youth Environmental Ambassadors (YEA), a program sponsored and operated by the environmental advocacy organization Save The Bays.

For the past four months, junior high students like Zhyir spent every second Saturday trekking through bush, cleaning beaches, learning about wetlands, studying the impact of plastic on oxygen supply of salt or fresh water marine life. All activities, both in the classroom at the YMCA in Freeport and in the field, were geared toward making participants future leaders in environmental stewardship.

“This was the fourth year Save the Bays has offered Youth Environmental Ambassadors to youth in Grand Bahama,” said Rashema Ingraham who oversees the popular program that normally draws twice as many applicants as there is space to accommodate. More than 200 have graduated. The last 4-month session, Ingraham said, differed from former versions of the program.

“In the past, we spent a lot of time visiting sites, learning about how industrial waste is managed, for instance, or power generated or what it takes to produce solar energy. But this time we focused on research which we shared with organisations abroad. The work that participants did was very important. They gathered data about shoreline erosion, indigeneous vegetation and wetlands. Some of the work involved fine detail. There were sections of beach, for instance, that when we did a beach clean-up, we separated the trash and garbage to identify how much plastic or glass or metal or other debris we found. The most discouraging part was that the majority of the debris we collected had not floated ashore from passing ships. Based on bottles and labels of products, most of the litter we found was the result of local activity reflecting environmental neglect and disrespect.”

Littering still hurts Zhyir, but now she is more likely to speak up when she sees someone toss something from a car window, even if the offender is much older or bigger.

“It is bad for the ocean and it kills things in the sea. It kills turtles. When I joined Save The Bays (YEA), I learned a lot more about our environment and I learned that there are 80 species of mangroves. I learned so much and now I want to stand up for the environment. Did you know that viviparis, they’re like plants that give birth to live plants, grow up in salt water and breathe oxygen from above the water? I found that cool.”

Finishing in the top three of the class, Zhyir said the course that included leadership and teamwork played out through team drumming exercises, helped reaffirm her passion to care for pets as a veterinarian.

As graduates received their pins and began their roles as youth ambassadors, the schools they came from were also rewarded. Save The Bays provided financial support for all six schools whose students participated in the YEA program including Sister Mary Patricia Russell Junior High School, Eight Mile Rock High School, Sunland Baptist Academy, Bishop Michael Eldon School, Jack Hayward Junior High School and Mary Star of the Sea.

The YEA program is part of Save The Bays education mandate. The organization has also led the demand for a strong Freedom of Information Act, transparency in government, an end to unregulated development and more. Its strong legal arm has experienced courtroom victories leading to greater sensitivity to environmental impact. More than 20,000 have liked STB Facebook page and its petition to the Prime Minister of The Bahamas calling for a comprehensive environmental protection act among other changes has nearly 7,000 signatures.