Save The Bays, Waterkeepers: 7 Years of Urging, Calling Attention to Reality of Climate Change, Now Time to Act

By: znsbahamas
Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham shares climate change data with Grand Bahama educators as the NGO joins forces with Save The Bays to urge principals and teachers to include climate change and mitigation in their curriculum in the wake of Hurricane Dorian and the reality of global warming and rising seas.

Leaders of two of the nation’s strongest voices in the cry for attention to climate change are urging top educators to impress upon students that the time to act is now. Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville and Waterkeepers Executive Director Rashema Ingraham have been meeting with principals and other educators throughout Grand Bahama for more than 2 weeks, imploring them to sensitize students to the reality of climate change. They have equipped them with scientific data about rising seas, warmer temperatures and stronger storms – and they have armed them with practical mitigation tools from the value of planting trees to preserving sand dunes.

“After living through and experiencing firsthand the effects of Hurricane Dorian, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers committed to working together and with other NGOs to sound the message to rebuild the coastal buffer zones that will act as natural defenses for our islands,” said Ms. Ingraham. In addition to talking with principals, teachers and administrators, Ingraham and Darville have led groups on-field assessments, allowing them to see the changes along Grand Bahama’s coast.

“When Save The Bays talked about climate change in 2013 as one of the main priorities of the then new organization, it often fell on deaf ears,” Mr. Darville said. “Climate change seemed like a far-off thing, something we could worry about later if it didn’t fix itself.” Two years later, in 2015, when he returned to The Bahamas after training with former US Vice President Al Gore who first sounded the warning in his now famous documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Mr. Darville still found it hard to convince Bahamians that the changing global climate was not an overblown scare tactic.

“I would tell people that the rising seas may one day make us boat people living on the sea not next to it and therefore we must learn to build boats, and they would pay little attention, thinking it was the rambling of an old man given to exaggeration,” said Mr. Darville, who holds certification in climate change reality leadership. “Now when I talk about building boats, people get it. Our islands that we inhabit today were not here in ancient history. What we call The Bahamas was undersea and with rising sea levels and effects like stronger storms and higher tides, it is not inconceivable that we may be underwater again.”

The change in attention, say Darville and Ingraham, was a storm named Dorian that hovered over Grand Bahama for days in early September. Dorian broke every record, packing howling winds and rising waters that forced people out of their homes, flooded hundreds of buildings and knocked out infrastructure, including the Grand Bahama International Airport that resembled a lake with floating debris. “We want to plant trees, but we also want to plant ideas,” say the leaders of both Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save The Bays. “The principals and educators we have been meeting with have been very receptive. We are ecnouraged that they are listening and saying, ‘What can we do?’ and we are able to say ‘Work with any environmental group, it does not have to be us. Every tree you plant, every coral reef you save, every step you to help mitigate against the threat of climate change can make a difference.’”

The original link to the story can be accessed here.

Plastic Pollution is a Global Problem for Waterways

A new Waterkeeper Alliance project will unite plastic pollution measurement, categorization, and localized prevention strategies at an unprecedented global scale

By Pete Nichols, Waterkeeper Alliance organizing director, and April Seymore, Port Phillip EcoCentre executive officer. 

While valuable in a minority of uses, plastic over its lifespan from production to degrading can be water-greedy, contaminant-carrying, wildlife-entangling, and emissions-generating. Despite evidence of such nasty impacts, plastics lobbies target doubling production, behind greenwash advocacy for recycling, community cleanups or waste to energy.  A new initiative set forth by Waterkeeper Alliance hopes to characterize the breadth of this issue and provide solutions for communities across the globe to address plastic pollution.

Particles shed by plastic products show up in pollution surveys from the Himalayan glaciers to the Mariana Trench and your family dinner, and the health implications of our plasticized planet are proven deadly for hundreds of freshwater and marine organisms. Experts now know enough to justify radical, rapid transformation of the story of humans and plastics.

Australia’s Port Phillip Baykeeper analysing local trawl samples. The Baykeeper has used the data to secure legal definition of plastics as a water pollutant.
Australia’s Port Phillip Baykeeper analyzing local trawl samples. The Baykeeper has used the data to secure the legal definition of plastics as a water pollutant.

Over 120 countries have already implemented some degree of levies, bans, education or producer accountability schemes (if you make it, you take it back) to better protect wildlife, waterways, and human well-being from particular types of unnecessary and problematic plastics.

A well-designed plastics reduction initiative stands to simultaneously solve economic, ecological, human health, water quality, and methane emissions problems. However, with rationale mostly unquantified and mixed messages flying from industry, politicians, social media and scientists, whether the world’s current interventions are the most effective or impactful for each local watershed can be tough to ascertain. Meanwhile, the plastics lobby is ramping up production.

To gauge greenwash versus legitimate improvements, Waterkeeper groups need data. In all water quality testing, common standards enable trustworthy data. Good data helps design action that best fits the biggest need — whether infrastructure, legislation, education or new product designs — and tests the true benefit of proposed solutions.

Last year, Waterkeeper Alliance received a grant from the National Geographic Society to help fund a partnership with seven Waterkeepers from five continents, as well as world-leading researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (‘CSIRO’). Our collaborations will categorize and trace the movement of plastic pollution, and produce quality toolkits for Waterkeeper groups worldwide to design effective, data-based pollution prevention plans that work despite our diverse geographic, socioeconomic, and political contexts.

Rashema Ingraham (Waterkeepers Bahamas and Bimini Coastal Waterkeeper), Margarita Diaz (Tijuana Waterkeeper) and April Seymore (Port Phillip Baykeeper) were supported with a grant from the National Geographic Society to participate in Kenya’s field intensive ‘train-the-trainer’ style, in advance of studies in Mexico and the Bahamas over 2020.

Our first fieldwork was completed in November over thirteen days in east Africa. The Kenya Lake Victoria Waterkeeper team operates in Kisumu, in community offices adjacent to a fishing village and the verdant, hippo-filled papyrus wetlands edging the world’s largest tropical lake. Despite living on an African Great Lake, locals must use clean drinking water bought in bottles, at a cost greater than fuel.

In this region, Waterkeeper Leo Akwany and team activate communities in caring for the rivers, wetlands, and lake. Over the past decade, the Kenya Lake Victoria Waterkeeper team noticed the increase of plastics amassing along roadsides, on rubbish fires, and in fishing waters, given no realistic collection system to contain what is sold to the community as ‘disposable’. With a global lack of data quantifying plastic pollution in freshwater bodies, inland sites, and African nations, this location provided a landmark opportunity.

To survey 120 land, riverine, and on-water sites across a 100km radius required careful coordination and a platoon of tireless community volunteers and experts.

32 participants completed a four-day training intensive led by CSIRO’s trained Kenyan scientists, before nine full days of data collection across field sites that were randomly stratified to represent a cross-section of land characteristics and population demographics. Manta trawls of the lake surface were conducted and analyzed by volunteers, with support from Kenyan Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

“African Waterkeepers need to use community power to bring one-use plastic to extinction.”

“We got to see breathtaking places, beautiful nature in the middle of nowhere, that only a computer in Australia could randomly select,” said volunteer Jasper Paulsen. “We realized that no matter where you are, you don’t have to look far and you will find debris (especially plastics), that made its way even to the remotest areas and won’t disappear any time soon.”

Surveyors Michael Richard _ and Harriet
“I will never EVER forget the close friends I made travelling in our van to all the sample sites.” – Volunteer

Plastic pollution impacts are exacerbated in countries with waste management that is informal, inconsistent or insufficient for population size and waste streams.

“We have previously only dealt with plastics in terms of cleanups and recycling, but not rigorous data collection for advocacy toward attitudinal changes, responsive policy, and legislation,” said Waterkeeper Leo Akwany. “Data will strengthen action against water pollution and the plastic menace around Lake Victoria.”

Accessing sites provided challenges, beauty, navigational adventures and many chats with locals.

“Mitigation strategies without solid data are the same as working partially blind,” says Kenyan researcher Dr. Kate Agneta. “We want to embrace what’s working locally and drop policies that are time-consuming with no impact on pollution.”

Data collected in Kenya is currently being analyzed by Dr. Denise Hardesty’s team at the CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere lab in Australia. Analysis considers both natural and human geographic factors in the accumulation and movement of plastic pollution from land to waterways.

“Citizen science is critical for my community,” Leo said. ”It places them at the centre of data collection on multiple aspects about Lake Victoria, to inform action and advocacy.

“African Waterkeepers need to use community power to bring one-use plastic to extinction.”

For busy Waterkeepers, strong datasets will ensure our vital resources of time, people power, and political will are aimed for the best impact. Our waterways have no time to waste.

Waterkeeper Training Director Katherine Luscher (left) with Kenyan research trainer Angela Nimu (second from left) and local volunteers.

Feature image: Kenya Lake Victoria Waterkeeper conducting the first microplastics trawl sampling in Lake Victoria, Kenya. Recently, researchers discovered microplastics in 20 percent of the lake’s tilapia and Nile perch.

The original link to the story can be accessed here.

Rashema’s World | Rashema Ingraham, Bimini Coastal Waterkeeper

By: Guest Contributor

Rashema Ingraham has always known one thing: that there is nothing more important to her than protecting and preserving her island world.

Rashema Ingraham
“It was almost as though the universe was saying to me, ‘Now is the time.’”
By Lauren Evans.
Photos by ©Peyton Fulford, courtesy of Culture Trip.

It’s high noon on Grand Bahama, and the sun is glinting off the pale turquoise waters of Bahama Beach. This — the near-cloudless sky, the gentle breeze rustling the palms — is precisely what tourists had in mind when they booked their flights here from Canada, the Northeastern United States and other frigid places, hoping to escape the harsh March weather.

But the 13 Bahamian teenagers in Rashema Ingraham’s charge are not here to lounge in beach chairs, and they pay no mind to the pale sunbathers sipping margaritas nearby. For them, the crystalline water isn’t an exotic escape, but a vibrant, teeming ecosystem whose organisms they will spend the next several hours identifying — and, Rashema hopes, eventually grow up to save.

Out in the water, luminous multicolored fish dip in and out of reef balls strung along the coastline like a necklace. The kids, as they snorkel, nudge each other, point and grab pencils tied with string to halved PVC pipes they wear on their arms like medieval wrist guards, diligently jotting down each new discovery. To a novice like me, the fish populating the reef are simply beautiful and splendidly various: some striped, some wide and flat, some with funny-looking mouths. But the students see more than I do. They know these fish. They recognize them from the pages of a glossy book they browsed through on the bus ride from the local YMCA, from previous trips; from studying they’ve done for months as “Waterkeepers Bahamas Cadets.” Over the course of the afternoon, it wasn’t necessarily the stingray that glided by close enough to touch, or even the sea turtle, with its wise face and waving flippers, that thrilled the kids the most. When I asked one student to tell me his favorite of the fish he had identified that day, he replied: “A snapper.”

This ability to get teenagers excited about fish — on a Saturday, no less — comes naturally to Rashema. After all, long before she became the Bimini Coastal Waterkeeper and the executive director of Waterkeepers Bahamas, she was just such a kid, with a deep love for the natural world.

Rashema’s grandfather was a fisherman on Bimini, the westernmost of the roughly 700 islands that make up the Bahamas. Growing up, she and her two sisters spent a lot of time at his house, which was just 70 feet from the ocean and 200 feet from the bay. No matter where you looked, there was water. “There was no way for me to escape that,” she says, laughing.

She was seven years old the first time she accompanied her grandfather to fish in his handmade boat, which is when she became aware of the vast underwater world right outside his home. They were close enough to shore that he was able to maneuver the boat through the water using only a pole, prodding the bottom that lay just 10 feet below the surface. As he dropped his line and sinker into the seagrasses for catch, she gazed down into the limpid waters, where she saw schools of fish, a lemon shark, and a nurse shark gliding near the boat.

The more time Rashema spent examining the living things around her, the more enamored of them she became — and the more aware of their fragility. Throughout her childhood, she spent many Saturday mornings lingering in her backyard on Grand Bahama, observing everything from fallen trees to crawling lizards. Even then, she says, “I could see that weather really determined whether or not organisms would move about.”

Her fascination with the natural world endures, and her concern for it has grown. Through her work with the cadets, and the even younger “Youth Ambassadors,” Rashema hopes to educate the next generation about the environmental challenges the Bahamas faces.

“If they wanted to work with us on a better way of sending that message out, then fine. But that wasn’t their purpose. It was, ‘We need you to be quiet.’”

Despite its image as a postcard-ready tourist destination, the Bahamas is confronting a number of threats to its ecosystem. Overfishing is endangering the conch populations on which many Bahamians’ diets and livelihoods depend. Reckless development is destroying the groves of sprawling coastal mangrove forests that provide habitats for multiple species of fish, stabilize the coastline, and act as natural filters for pollutants that would otherwise run out to sea. Hurricanes are becoming more severe and more frequent, and sea-level rise is imminent. (As the waters invade the land, Rashema is working with the group SwimTayka to teach basic swimming skills to young Bahamians who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn.)

Although Bahamian government officials frequently state that the environment is a priority, the country’s ineffectual patchwork of laws says otherwise. For instance, while the country has enacted legislation to protect sharks, it has no such protections for the mangroves that serve as a habitat for their young. Every election season, politicians print up glossy pamphlets trumpeting their sustainable-development goals. But the goals, Rashema says, are too modest for the scope of the challenge.

The main problem, as in many places, is that effectively addressing the looming environmental catastrophe facing the Bahamas would mean acknowledging the extent of the problem in the first place – and the government has not, so far, done so.

“The focus has always been on tourism dollars,” Rashema says — even if attracting those dollars means hiding the truth about what’s happening.

One of the jobs Rashema has taken on is revealing that truth to the public. In addition to her work with the youth programs, she has helped implement a water-monitoring program, which focuses on collecting water samples, testing them, and posting the findings publicly, allowing beachgoers to know whether or not the water is safe for swimming. This service has not always been well received by the government. Shortly after a local newspaper published an article about the Waterkeeper’s efforts, Rashema got a call from the prime minister’s office, urgently insisting that officials there meet with her to discuss the testing — specifically, why she was doing it. Rashema and her colleagues explained at the meeting that they were offering a public service, and assured the officials they were using the standards of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which were also being used by their own government. They offered to let government representatives accompany their next water-testing outing (which they did, once).

“If they wanted to work with us on a better way of sending that message out, then fine,” Rashema says. But that wasn’t their purpose. “It was, ‘We need you to be quiet.’”

She pauses. “And I am not going to be quiet.”

Rashema didn’t always want a career fighting for the Bahamas’ waters. She initially thought she would become a meteorologist. Then she decided to earn a bachelor’s degree in tourism management from the College (now University) of the Bahamas in Nassau, where many of her courses focused on the environment and geography. After graduating in 2008, she went to work as a secretary and paralegal at the law firm Callenders & Co., but her interest in her natural surroundings never waned. In her spare time, she launched a nonprofit company that provided roadside garbage bins.

In 2013 the law firm took on a client that would change Rashema’s life: a nonprofit called “Save the Bays,” which hired Callenders to help challenge damaging practices around Clifton Bay in Nassau – specifically, oil-spills by a government-run power company, which was dredging and building docks without permits. These, as well as other environmentally destructive activities, were enabled by lax — or nonexistent — laws.

“It was almost as though the universe was saying to me, ‘Now is the time,’” Rashema recalls.

Water samples from Taino Beach on Grand Bahama, taken to determine bacterial counts.

An education director for Save the Bays asked her to join them as a volunteer, helping create programs that would extend the group’s reach to schools and the public. She did that for three years. In 2014 the chairman of Save the Bays, Joseph Darville, a well-known environmental and human rights advocate in the Bahamas, decided to join Waterkeeper Alliance, convinced that being part of the world’s leading water-advocacy organization would help his group amplify its message.

Rashema became a full-time staff member at Save the Bays in 2016, and took it upon herself to learn everything she could about Waterkeeper Alliance and its mission. In 2017 she was named both Bimini Coastal Waterkeeper and executive director of Waterkeepers Bahamas. In those positions she has worked tirelessly to educate the people of the Bahamas on why fighting to preserve the island-nation’s pristine waters is so important.

While the two jobs are obviously related, they’re also distinct: As the head of Waterkeepers Bahamas, her job is to represent all the islands’ Waterkeepers, including Grand Bahama Waterkeeper, led by Joseph Darville, and Clifton Western Bays Waterkeeper, led by Frederick Smith.

Darville recalls that he “was designated unofficially as the president for Waterkeepers Bahamas.” But he is 77 years old now and wanted to find someone with a passion like his for environmental causes but with even more energy. “Rashema is fulfilling that wish to the nth degree,” he says.

Rashema is considering the possibility of becoming a lawyer — at 36, she has plenty of time. But for now, she still sees it as her mission to educate the youth of the Bahamas about the realities of what is happening to their home, and the uncertain future that lies ahead if action isn’t taken.

“Rashema’s grandfather was a fisherman on Bimini. Growing up, she and her two sisters spent a lot of time at his house, which was just 70 feet from the ocean and 200 feet from the bay. ‘No matter where you looked, there was water. There was no way for me to escape that’”

“A lot of young people aren’t talking about climate-change issues,” she observes. “They’re not talking about how much more powerful and destructive hurricanes have become over the last 10 years, or paying attention to the fact that hurricanes are happening outside of the hurricane season now” — even though storms have wiped out neighborhoods on Grand Bahama and on the southern islands.

Rashema is determined to educate the next generation of Bahamians to be leaders in the fight against the existential threat of climate change.

But Rashema is working to change this. And based on her students’ enthusiasm in the water, it seems to be having an impact. Cheri Wood, a volunteer instructor who works with the Waterkeepers’ youth programs, says that Rashema’s passion, paired with her incredible appetite for learning, is what makes her such a great leader.

“Rashema is dedicated,” she says, “not just to the environment, but to educating the next generation to care about the environment and to take care of it.”

Rashema’s hope is that at least some of the cadets will go on to careers as policymakers, civil engineers, coastal engineers, developers “who are creating greener spaces and appreciating the ecosystems around them.” In the Bahamas particularly, she wants young people to have stronger voices when it comes to demanding more stringent environmental regulations. After all, they’re the ones whose futures hang in the balance.

By now, the sun is beginning to sink below the horizon, the water beneath it bursting with light. As Rashema and the Waterkeepers Bahamas Cadets ride home, the sea dips in and out of view, although it’s never out of sight for more than a few moments. In the island world that is the Bahamas, water is omnipresent, and for that reason, says Rashema Ingraham, “We are constantly reminded of why we need to be fighting.”

Along with a team of Waterkeepers, Rashema provided critical support to those affected by Hurricane Dorian, delivering food, water, and supplies to residents so that they could begin healing from the trauma and start the process of rebuilding. Photo by Waterkeepers Bahamas.

Lauren Evans is a freelance writer who covers the environment, gender, and the developing world. You can follow her on Twitter @laurenfaceevans.

Editor’s Note: This profile of Rashema Ingraham, Bimini Coastal Waterkeeper and Executive Director of Waterkeepers Bahamas, was written before Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas on September 1, 2019, as a category 5 hurricane, leaving devastation in its wake. A nearly 20-foot storm-surge inundated many of the islands’ drinking water sources with saltwater. And Dorian’s sustained 185 mph winds ripped open the covers of several large oil-storage tanks on East Grand Bahama, contaminating significant coastal habitat, as well as freshwater sources for local residents. In the aftermath, the lack of water for drinking, bathing and cooking added to the stress on those already displaced. Rashema’s own home was destroyed; nevertheless, she quickly went to work leading response efforts.


The original link to the story can be accessed here.