Cat Island Conservation CEO Nikita Shiel-Rolle (second right) prepares Oceans Guardians for an afternoon of safe ocean fun on Cat Island in this undated photo.
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) convened its second Youth Environmental Leadership Summit virtually on March 30 and 31, 2021 under the theme “Carbon, Corals and Conservation”.
During the two-day summit, over 80 students and educators from Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Cat Island, Exuma, New Providence, Bermuda and the US Virgin Islands examined the impact of human-induced carbon emissions on coral reef ecosystems. These young people shared their stories of how they are protecting the coral reefs that protect us, and they inspired each other to take action.
BREEF Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, in her opening remarks, said: “All actions begin with small actions and there are many things that everyone can do to address climate change in The Bahamas — at home, at school, in your communities or with your local organizations.
“This complements the Bahamas government’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the goal to Protect Life Above and Below Water, and a commitment to Climate Action.”
During her keynote address, Cat Island Conservation Institute CEO Eagleray Empress, aka Nikita Shiel-Rolle, inspired participants.
“We will do whatever it takes to create thriving ocean nations, where we have the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy all that our beautiful countries have to offer,” she said. “We are the innovators and dreamers capable of creating the climate solutions that will combat the fierce and real threat of climate change.”
Other presenters included Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) alumna Georgia Birkwieser, Bishop Michael Eldon School Eco-Schools students Heather Brockbank and Nevaeh Russell, Cat Island Conservation Institute intern Camesha Wilburgh, Ministry of Works Assistant Environmental Specialist Alexio Brown, world-renowned underwater photographer Shane Gross and Lucaya International School Eco-Schools students Isabella Gouthro, Jeanine Tinajero and Loisa Wiegand.
Brown, a former BESS Scholar (2007-2008), said: “The coastline is one of our greatest natural treasures from God. To ensure it continues to provide its many benefits for centuries to come, we must ensure that the future generation has the knowledge, skills and appreciation to advocate for the sustainable use of our coastlines.”
According to Brockbank: “As environmental beings, it is our duty to speak for those who do not have a voice for themselves in the environment in order to encourage a positive change in the world we wish to live in.”
When asked why she thought it was important to participate in the summit, Bermuda’s Greenrock Youth Council member Salayah Stange said: “Our surrounding reefs play such a key role in coastal protection, employment [and] upholding biodiversity, and as the future leaders of our nations, we young people need to be discussing and learning about what is happening to our coral reefs to ensure their importance is not forgotten.”
BREEF YRE Coordinator Allison Ballester-Longley, commenting on the success of the summit, stated: “I was truly impressed by all of the students who participated during the Youth Summit. In particular, their conversations about how their schools and communities are taking action to combat climate change and plastic pollution were truly inspiring.”
BREEF’s Young Environmental Leaders Summit was made possible by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) and the Rolex Perpetual Planet Initiative, and BREEF’s youth coral action is supported by a grant from the Vibrant Oceans Initiative.
For more information about BREEF’s Young Reporters for the Environment and Eco-Schools Bahamas Programmes, please visit www.breef.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (242) 327-9000.