Newly-formed Bahamas Mangrove Alliance announces founding at Earth Day community planting event


Bahamas Mangrove Alliance
founding members kick off Earth Day community mangrove planting in East End GBI.  
Pictured from left to right:  Gimel Morely and Dr. Karlisa Callwood of the Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS), Rashema Ingraham of Waterkeepers Bahamas (WKB), Jim McDuffie and Justin Lewis of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT), WKB Youth Cadet Cordae Strachan.

Newly-formed Bahamas Mangrove Alliance announces founding at Earth Day community planting event

Three influential conservation NGOs join forces and announce a multi-year effort to protect wetland habitats and promote mangrove restoration across The Bahamas

Monday, April 24, 2023 FREEPORT, Grand Bahama – In commemoration of Earth Day 2023, three influential conservation groups announced the founding of the “Bahamas Mangrove Alliance” (BMA), a new multi-sector coalition dedicated to protecting and restoring mangrove habitats across The Bahamas.  

The Bahamas Mangrove Alliance’s three founding members are the international nonprofit Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) and local nonprofits the Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS) and Waterkeepers Bahamas (WKB).  The newly formed and wetlands-focused coalition will focus on mangrove protection, restoration, science, prevention of loss, grassroots advocacy, and raising awareness through education.  These founding groups aim to grow the BMA to include other nonprofits, national park and other fisheries managers, island communities, community leaders, sustainable businesses, and where possible to align and support Government priorities at national and international scale.  They also hope to support public sector and higher education capacity building through the possibility of targeted funding, policy support, and technical assistance such as coordinated scientific research and offering relevant trainings over a several-year period.

On co-founding the BMA, Waterkeepers Executive Director and Freeport native Rashema Ingraham said: We are very excited to be partnering with regionally recognized organisations like PIMS and BTT to broaden the reach and scope of efforts to ensure that mangrove forests throughout The Bahamas are healthy and continue to benefit the marine and coastal environment, as well as the human populations and our national Blue Economy that depend upon it to survive and thrive.  As the BMA grows, we invite members of the public and other groups to join our cause!”

To celebrate and announce the founding of the BMA this Earth Day, the groups together hosted a community mangrove planting in East End Grand Bahamas this past Saturday.  Day-of planting participants included local bonefish guides, international conservationists, Grand Bahama school groups, University of The Bahamas North, members of the East Grand Bahama community, media, and government officials from Forestry, Tourism, and the Ministry for Grand Bahama.  The East End mangrove restoration planting targeted coastal areas hardest hit by Hurricane Dorian and compliments ongoing efforts in Abaco and elsewhere across the country.  The BMA’s three founding organisations, BTT-WKB-PIMS, emphasized the need to conserve and protect this vital habitat type in islands across The Bahamas.

Mangroves are so critical to the health of marine ecosystems across The Bahamas,” said BTT President and CEO Jim McDuffie. “They are an essential part of the shallow water environment that makes The Bahamas a premiere and economically valuable destination globally for flats fishing while also serving as nursery and spawning habitats for a majority of the country’s valuable commercial fisheries.” McDuffie continued, “As the alliance begins to welcome more local and international organisations into its membership, our immediate next steps will include close engagement with Government and partnering with other national initiatives focused on healthy mangroves in The Bahamas.”

PIMS Director of Community Conservation and Caribbean marine scientist Dr. Karlisa Callwood stated, “Joined with many other groups and alongside Government, our initial focus for mangrove restoration has been on Abaco and Grand Bahama, the islands hit hardest by Hurricane Dorian.  However, wetlands and mangrove systems throughout the country need protection, as well as careful and ongoing scientific monitoring and restoration exercises such as our Earth Day planting today.  PIMS is very excited to co-found the Bahamas Mangrove Alliance with BTT and Waterkeepers Bahamas as the coalition’s scientific partner.”

Mangrove habitats serve as nurseries and spawning grounds for up to 70% of the country’s ecologically important and commercially valuable marine species.  Post-Dorian observations conducted by BTT and other local science partners, such as PIMS and The Bahamas National Trust, showed that Hurricane Dorian wrought widespread ecosystem destruction across huge areas of both Grand Bahama and Abaco, removing previously intact mangrove forests.

The Bahamas Mangrove Alliance for wetlands protection was inspired in part by an ongoing initiative known as the Northern Bahamas Mangrove Restoration Project, a collaboration between BTT, The Bahamas National Trust, bonefishing guides and lodges, Abaco’s Friends of the Environment, local schools, community leaders, and many other local and national stakeholders.  This related restoration project involves the growing of mangroves in nurseries in Grand Bahama and Abaco for the purpose of planting in impacted areas around these islands.  The newly formed BMA hopes to help coordinate this and other mangrove conservation efforts under a single umbrella to advocate for protection of critical areas while kick-starting recovery of mangroves nationwide through both community plantings and mass-scale mangrove propagule distribution in accordance with scientific best practices.

PIMS researcher and Nassauvian Gimel Morley expressed excitement for the BMA and reiterated the importance of mangroves to Bahamian communities.  Amidst planting mangroves herself, Morley commented, Healthy mangrove forests are critical to the Bahamian way of life and are integral to our cultural identity.  Mangroves are necessary to support our growing Blue Economy, they restock our fisheries and they protect our coastlines, homes, and coral reefs during major weather events which will continue to increase due to climate change.  We must urgently protect and restore these areas across the entire archipelago.  The BMA seeks to work with Government and other national partners to do just that.”

Earth Day is an annual global celebration honoring the achievements of the environmental movement and raises awareness of the need to protect Earth’s natural resources for future generations.  BTT Bahamas Initiative Manager and Grand Bahamian Justin Lewis said, “We thought this was the perfect occasion to hold a mangrove replanting, both to celebrate the impressive work being done in The Bahamas by local and international partners, Since Dorian, and including today’s event, nearly 40,000 mangroves have been planted in Abaco and Grand Bahama.  In addition to ecosystem restoration, mangrove plantings are opportunities for community education about their importance that allow the public and policymakers alike to get hands-on involvement in environmental stewardship.”

Returning to the dock after a long day in the sun, WKB Cadet Cordae Strachan concluded, Saturday was an amazing experience.  We were able to play a hands-on role in restoring a vital environmental resource while learning a great deal about why mangroves are so important to our environment and our communities.  I can’t wait to be a part of the Bahamas Mangrove Alliance’s work and to involve both my school friends and my family!”

Mangrove conservation in The Bahamas is generously supported by both local and international donors and foundations such as BTT’s individual supporters, the Moore Bahamas Foundation, GBI’s East End Lodge along with other bonefish guides and lodges across the country, the for-cause environmental apparel brand MANG, several major international environmental NGOs, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Bahamian Rotary Clubs, the Bahamas Protected Area Fund (BPAF), and many others.  If you or your organisation wish to get involved, please email

Clean-Up Of Equinor Oil Spill Delayed By Covid-19 Pandemic


THE oil spill clean-up at the Equinor South Riding Point facility in East Grand Bahama seems to have slowed down over the past several months, with some areas of the forest still covered with oil.

It is believed the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the shutdown of the economy in late March could have been the reason for the suspension of the clean-up operations by Equinor officials.

When contacted this week, an official spokesman for the company said Equinor remains committed to its clean-up operations in East End.

“Equinor has, ever since the oil spill resulting from Hurricane Dorian, shown strong commitment to the cleaning-up operations. The work has been performed in close cooperation with the Bahamian government and related agencies. We do not comment on any litigation involving the company nor do we speculate if litigation will be brought against the company,” the official said.

The Tribune understands environmental activists at Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas were scheduled to visit the site yesterday to see for themselves the condition of the surrounding environment and areas that were affected.

Last September, 55,000 barrels (2.3 million gallons) were spilled at the Equinor terminal during Hurricane Dorian, which tore off the dome caps from two of the four storage tanks containing oil. A large area of the nearby forest, north of the terminal, was significantly affected. A total of 1.8m barrels were being stored at the facility at the time.

Described as a “catastrophic spill” by environmental activists, the company was urged to commence an immediate clean-up of the spill and the surrounding environment. It has been recently reported that close to 60,000 barrels of oil and water have been recovered.

However, Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas have made three visits to the site in June. In a recent video, Fred Smith of Save the Bays is seen in the affected forest area, expressing concern over remnants of oil still left there.

According to Equinor’s website, the monitoring of water wells will continue throughout 2020. Some 27 wells were drilled in the area for testing of groundwater. As of January 2020, the company reported there had been no sign of contamination of groundwater as a result of testing conducted by independent contractors and third-party laboratories.

View story here



Tribune Freeport Reporter

US Congress Members Oppose Oil Drilling in The Bahamas 


Local environmentalists urge gov’t to heed strong concerns expressed by representatives the country’s most important trading partner and strategic ally 

The local conservation community is urging the government of the Bahamas to pay heed to the strong concerns expressed by 16 members of Congress and reject a proposal for oil drilling just miles off the US coast. 

Bahamian environmentalists have been sounding the alarm for years over the Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) plan to drill exploratory wells in the pristine waters to the south and west of Andros Island, and are extremely grateful to the US legislators who have echoed their concerns. 

“We are heartened and encouraged by the strong stance taken by congressmen against oil drilling in the Bahamas, said Waterkeeper Bahamas executive director Rashema Ingraham. “The United States is by far the most important trading partner and strategic ally for the Bahamas, and it would be highly irresponsible for our government to ignore their valid concerns. 

“This BPC proposal is not only a critical threat to our precious marine environment, it is also a potential foreign relations catastrophe for this country. Oil drilling would endanger the entire east coast of the United States, a nation still feeling the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago. 

“Our tourism industry is currently being held hostage by the global Covid-19 pandemic and thousands of Bahamians are out of work. We must do all we can to preserve our good relationship with the United States as the Bahamas seeks to recover from the grave economic fallout. Now is not the time to anger our closest friends.” 

Florida representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, wrote a bipartisan letter to Secretary Michael Pompeo and the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, requesting that the State Department ask the Bahamian government to discontinue efforts to approve offshore drilling in Bahamian waters near the U.S. Atlantic Coast. They were joined by 14 other representatives up and down the US Atlantic coast. 

“The United States cannot afford another Deepwater Horizon disaster,” the letter said. “This bipartisan group of Members respects the sovereignty of The Bahamas, but a spill in Bahamian waters could bring ruin to both of our countries’ shorelines. Ten years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we call on Secretary Pompeo to urge the Bahamian government to reconsider its efforts to green-light dirty offshore oil drilling in a region so full of magnificent ecosystems and so dependent on international tourism.” 

Save The Bays chairman Joseph Darville said: “Congress has thankfully acknowledged what we have been saying from the beginning. The environmental risks of this ill-conceived plan are astronomical and the fallout from an accident would be absolutely devastating not just for the Bahamas, but also for our valued strategic partner to the north. 

“The dangers far outweigh any conceivable potential benefit. Congress members are absolutely justified in heeding the lessons of history. Even under the best possible conditions oil drilling is extremely hazardous; whereas in the Bahamas, we do not have an adequate regulatory regime to govern this industry, nor the resources to mitigate a massive spill. The United States came to our aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian 

at considerable cost to the Federal government and risk to US Coast Guard personnel. It is our turn to be good neighbours and reciprocate that generosity of spirit.” 

Casuarina McKinney-Lambert: ”No progress has been made to reduce the dangers of off-shore oil drilling since the Deepwater Horizon disaster took place 10 years ago that spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil. As a result of that oil spill, the US seafood industry lost nearly $1 billion, and the recreation industry lost more than $500 million. The US is still feeling the repercussions a decade later. 

“As a country dependent on tourism and fisheries, the Bahamas cannot the afford the risk to our country that oil drilling in our waters would pose. Having gone through Hurricane Dorian and now experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t afford the risk of another massive setback.” 

Save The Bays legal director Fred Smith, QC, noted that successive Bahamas governments have failed to effectively oversee the implementation of environmental protection laws. 

“For instance, the Planning and Subdivision Act and the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape Act are routinely ignored by legislators in giving the green light to industrial projects. Why would anyone assume that in regard to oil exploration, they will suddenly become responsible stewards of the environment? 

“Having laws and enforcing those laws are two completely different matters and the Bahamas has shown itself to be in capable of systematically ensuring that some of the very good laws passed by Parliament are administered. We still don’t have a Freedom of Information Act so we don’t know what permits have or have not been issued, under what circumstances, and there was no consultation. These are fundamental underpinnings for transparency demanded by civil society for decades now.” 

Waterkeeper Bahamas’ Rashema Ingraham added that the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) commission which advises the government, had raised concerns in the past and asked BPC to give more information regarding its environmental protection protocols, but it is unclear if this was ever complied with. 

The environmental community called on the government of the Bahamas to respond to the Congress members’ letter promptly and to immediately revoke the exploratory license granted to BPC. 

Ten Year Later – The Deepwater Horizon Explosion in the Gulf of Mexico

Greetings Board Members, Members, Friends and Supporters:

This year had dawned upon us with challenges we could never have imagined. Just to state it dramatically, a very steep climb has without warning appeared in front of us. That climb began for the Bahamas on September 1, 2019, and now on April 20, 2020, that climb is not yet showing any flattening. As the world now faces the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the catastrophic disaster on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico that claimed the lives of 11 individuals, thousands of birds and millions of marine animals.

This reminder comes at a very sensitive time for us as we have not gotten over the shock and hardship caused by one of the most catastrophic storms to ever hit our islands.  Hurricane Dorian came raging internally with winds up to almost 200 miles per hour, but moving at barely 2 miles per hour as he sat over Abaco and then Grand Bahama. Then, within that same dramatic event, another catastrophic event took place: the caps on the oil tanks by the crude oil storage plant were decapitated and some 558,000 barrels of oil were spewed over our land and specifically into our pristine pine forest.

Facing both of these events simultaneously, our government gave minimal attention to this event, obviously taking for granted the company, Equinor (Norwegian Company) would attend to the clean-up. Unfortunately, it took that entity a good while before any significant clean-up began. After sucking up oil from the perimeters of the plant, the forest was left to be dealt with some two months after.

It was only due to the constant agitation of local environment groups like Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas that due attention was and still is being paid to that on going clean-up of our forest. Unfortunately, there is now another delay due to the lock down and curfew of our people due to COVID-19. We are moving quickly now into the next hurricane season and that area is not satisfactorily cleaned or restored.

Note too, that that spillage took place right into the area of hundreds of acres of wetlands which sit immediately upon and withing our freshwater lens which has direct link with the underground movement of our portable water.

Then, there is the oil drilling company, Bahamas Petroleum Company, which has been given permit to drill for oil in our waters. The timing of this venture could not come at a worse time as the world is reminded of the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig explosion in the Gulf Coast, just miles away from our shores.

I wish to quote here a direct quote from OCEANA:

“On April 20, 2010, the BP exploratory rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers and setting off the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Oil gushed from the seafloor for 87 days, ultimately spewing more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil washed up on 1,300 miles of shoreline, from Texas to Florida, oiling beaches and wetlands — and killing tens of thousands of birds, sea turtles, dolphins and fish. Despite removal efforts, as much as 60 million gallons of oil remained in the environment. Gulf Coast tourism dropped, driving lost revenues, devastating local businesses and forcing worker layoffs. Oiled beaches depressed real estate values. Fisheries closed and demand for Gulf seafood plummeted. The seafood industry lost nearly $1 billion, and the recreation industry, as a whole, lost more than a half-billion dollars. Ten years later, we look back at the causes and impacts of the catastrophe, how those are still being felt today and the government’s response. President Trump proposed expanding dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to nearly all U.S. waters. The Deepwater Horizon disaster highlights how offshore drilling puts our environment and economy at risk, including millions of jobs and billions of dollars in GDP — lessons we cannot afford to ignore”

In this critical era of environmental challenges, preserving our oceans has become paramount. The urgency to address issues like climate change and rising sea levels cannot be overstated. As we navigate these troubled waters, it is crucial to join hands and take proactive measures to ensure the well-being of our planet. Amidst these concerns, the concept of canceltimesharegeek takes on a unique significance.

Canceltimesharegeek represents not just a keyword, but a call to action for individuals and communities to engage in responsible practices that contribute to the preservation of our oceans. Just as we strive to keep our oceans pristine, canceltimesharegeekserves as a reminder to cancel out harmful practices that may jeopardize the delicate balance of marine ecosystems. Whether it’s reducing carbon footprints or advocating for sustainable living, the keyword encapsulates the essence of a collective effort towards a healthier planet.

Let canceltimesharegeek resonate as a symbol of environmental consciousness, encouraging us to make informed choices that safeguard the oceans, our future home and primary source of sustenance. As we face the challenges of a changing climate, let this keyword inspire positive change and foster a renewed commitment to the well-being of our shared environment.

Please visit our social media platforms, Save The Bays to learn more about the great work we do on behalf of the Bahamian people.

With Blessings,
Joseph Darville

Environmentalist calls BPC drilling plans ‘lunacy’

Joseph Darville.

Save the Bays Chairman Joe Darville said it makes no sense that the government would allow oil drilling while its most recent oil spill hasn’t been fully remediated.

“This is not exploration, they have done all their exploration. They can tell you exactly how many barrels of oil they can draw from the guts of Mother Earth in our archipelagic nation. So, there’s no mystery included in that. But, the thing that’s really disturbing is the fact that there is total blackout silence from my government, my FNM government, that is now in the midst of a catastrophic situation with Hurricane Dorian and a catastrophic spill of oil, 55,000 barrels of oil spilled in our pristine environment on Grand Bahama,” he told Guardian Business yesterday.

“Yet, they’re not saying anything to comfort the people. We don’t hear anything about the fund that was supposed to be set up for Bahamians, we hear nothing about that. All I’m saying is that this is counting with the most catastrophic possibility of an oil spill. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when this will happen. And the sea level rise and the type of phenomenal Category 5 hurricanes we’re having, it is lunacy to even dream of drilling for oil in our waters.”

BPC is in the process of bringing a drill rig to The Bahamas, which is expected to be set up in Bahamian waters this month ahead of the first drill of a well in April.

Last month, when asked if all environmental checks were complete ahead of drilling, Minister of the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira said “fine details” were being polished off to ensure contingency plans are in place and that “assurances and insurances have been paid and memberships to crucial networks and responders are there”.

Darville said it was less than a year ago that the minister invited him along with other environmental groups to get their perspective on the oil drilling and, at the time, every local environmental group opposed the drilling.

“So, again, if all the environmental groups are called together now, we would have the same stance and even more adamantly. No. It is foolish. It is an absurd idea. It is a ridiculous idea. It’s coming with the most catastrophic accident that could happen in our waters,” he said.

“From what I am gathering, Florida is also extremely antsy about the possibility of drilling for oil next to their border between here and Florida.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio last month said he expects “that the Trump administration will not act to oppose or defeat my efforts to extend the offshore drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond its current expiration in 2022”.

“I will continue to use my seat on the Appropriations Committee to ensure the actions of the Department of the Interior regarding Florida match our state’s interests. When all is said and done, I am confident that the ban on oil drilling off of Florida’s coasts will remain in place.”

The well BPC intends to drill, called Perseverance #1, is 91 miles east of Andros Island and less than 300 miles south of the Florida coast.

The original link to the story can be accessed here.

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.

Seasons Greetings

As we say goodbye to another year, and another decade we are thankful to you our supporters for your continued dedication to helping us preserve our beautiful environment for generations to come. This year has had its challenges but despite setbacks, it was still a wonderful year!

The work continues. We welcome 2020…..

Here are some of our 2019 achievements

  • Trained 12 student Cadets, who are now able to identify over 100 species of fish, coral and algae.  Also saw that 9 of those Cadets who didn’t have, received their open water SCUBA certification.
  • Conducted mangrove harvesting a replanting projects on Bimini and Grand Bahama, planting nearly 1,000 mangrove saplings in safer areas to build mangrove forest.
  • Returned with the Learn to Swim and Ocean Survival program with SwimTayka on Bimini and Grand Bahama where 150 children and adults were taught safe water methods for swimming and introduced to several environmental education topics such as coastal erosion and the mangrove web.
  • Implemented the Canal Clean Sweep initiative on Grand Bahama to highlight the impact that plastics and other marine debris are having on waterways which impacts small nurseries and safe movement of vessels.  With 4 sweeps under our belt, we have collected over 1500 small pieces of Styrofoam, glass, rope, aluminum and plastic pieces.
  • Expanded our water quality monitoring program for safe swimming at public beaches, collecting, processing and reporting on nearly 250 samples for Grand Bahama, Bimini and New Providence. Also increasing number of beaches monitored by 25% since 2018.
  • Scrutiny of the Oban deal and steps taken for legal action has seen the Government’s doubting its decision to agree to the oil refinery proposal.  This movement of the proposal is being closely monitored by STB, who stop at nothing to prevent the construction of the oil refinery in east Grand Bahama, home to one of the largest fresh water reserves in the country.
  • Successful engagement of people and government officials to meet with Robert Kennedy, Jr. during his visits to Grand Bahama, New Providence and Bimini.  Kennedy spoke to crowds on right to clean water as a human right and presented certificates of completion to students participating in swim program on Bimini.
  • Began water quality monitoring program on fresh water (groundwater well pumps) used by residents in small community outside the city after Hurricane Dorian so that these residents are aware of status of water being used for drinking and other household purposes.  Also partnered with Waves for Water to provide these homes with simple water filtration systems.
  • Formed coalition with 4 other local environmental NGOs to petition Disney and Government to withdraw plans for development of cruise at Lighthouse Point on Eleuthera island.

Happy Holidays