Bahamian Corals in Hot Water: Underwater Heat Wave Caused Coral Bleaching at BREEF Coral Reef Sculpture Garden

White patches of bleached coral visible on BREEF’s world-renowned Ocean Atlas sculpture 

Record-breaking temperatures this summer have impacted many ecosystems across the globe. In The Bahamas increased ocean temperatures have caused a crisis for coral reefs because corals are very vulnerable to warming water. This marine heatwave is likely to have serious repercussions for The Bahamas as a low-lying archipelago dependent on the coral reefs for numerous ecosystem services. Coral reefs are home to numerous species of marine plants and animals, they play an important role sustaining fisheries and tourism, and coral reefs provide the first line of defence breaking wave energy from storms and hurricanes. 

Divers, tour operators, and fishers throughout the Bahamian archipelago have observed large areas of white corals, noticing that the usual vibrant yellow, green and orange hues of healthy coral reefs have been replaced by bright white bleached coral. Scientists have been documenting the progression of coral bleaching around The Bahamas and around the world. 

Ocean Atlas, the world’s largest underwater sculpture and now an iconic underwater feature visited by Bahamians and visitors from around the world every year, is also feeling the impacts of the elevated water temperatures and consequent stress to corals. BREEF created the Coral Reef Sculpture Garden in the waters off Western New Providence in 2014 as a beacon of hope for the ocean –  to draw attention to the threats faced by Bahamian coral reefs, and to inspire action for coral reef conservation. Since installing Ocean Atlas and the other sculptures, they have become encrusted in live corals and are now habitat for a great diversity of species of marine life. The sculpture garden is also BREEF’s underwater classroom and it is a well-loved site where thousands of Bahamian children have had a chance to learn about marine conservation, and oftentimes take part in their first ever snorkeling experience.

 Bleached staghorn coral at BREEF Underwater Sculpture Garden in July 2023

“It’s shocking to see the severe coral bleaching taking place on reefs around the Bahamian archipelago. Many people have a personal connection to Ocean Atlas. Seeing this dramatic bleaching occurring at such an iconic site resonates with people, and will hopefully inspire much-needed action.” stated BREEF Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues. These algae, known as zooxanthellae, provide corals with up to 90% of their nutrition through photosynthesis, and they are also responsible for giving the corals their colour. When coral is stressed by elevated water temperature, the algae is expelled from the coral tissue, leaving the coral colourless and starving. If the stress and subsequent bleaching persist for too long, the coral will die. If the stress is removed, for example by water temperatures dropping, there is a chance for it to regain its zooxanthellae and its colour, and recover.

There has already been evidence of some coral mortality at the BREEF Coral Reef Sculpture Garden, including some of the corals that BREEF is growing in the coral nursery and some of the corals that have been outplanted to adjacent reefs. Some of the corals have bleached and died. Others, particularly those where the coral fragments were sourced from shallower sites, are still healthy. 

Coral reefs, which consist of even more biodiversity than tropical rainforests, are incredibly important ecosystems. However, they have been facing numerous threats such as pollution, invasive species, coastal development, and overfishing and climate change that is causing coral bleaching. The Bahamas is home to 35% of all coral reefs in the wider Caribbean region. Despite covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs support over 25% of all marine life. They provide valuable benefits like contributing to the development of medicines, offering protection from storms, and generating income through tourism and fisheries.

“Global climate action is absolutely essential to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere and warming the world.  Although The Bahamas produces only a small amount of the greenhouse gases that are changing the climate, we are feeling a disproportionate amount the negative impacts of climate change- from climate-fueled hurricanes to catastrophic bleaching of our reefs.” stated BREEF Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert. “The Bahamas has an opportunity to take a lead in the shift away from fossil fuels, and encourage other countries to do the same.”

A spiny lobster/crawfish on top of bleached coral. Coral reefs sustain commercially important fisheries and bleaching coral threatens entire ecosystems and valuable species. 

     Coral propagation unit at BREEF Sculpture Garden May 2023 (L) and July 2023 (R)

Fish swim around coral bleached from heat stress in August 2023

Stressed coral can develop bright neon colouring in response to extreme heat.

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Students Explore Androsian Mangroves & Coral Reefs at BREEF Kamalame Cay Summer Camp

BREEF held a successful 2023 Sea Camp in Andros. Twenty-two students aged 8-14 years from North Andros participated in the annual Kamalame Cay Sea Camp  where they engaged in an immersive outdoor learning experience. 

Sea campers pose for a group shot at Pigeon Cay

Sea Camp is an empowering, educational event in which students embrace the natural environment while having fun. The outdoor classroom is used as a teaching tool, helping students to understand the value of protecting and caring for the ocean. 

Students head off in boat excursion at BREEF Kamalame Cay Sea Camp

Attendees had a chance to understand the critical roles that mangroves and coral reefs play in the Bahamian environment- especially for fisheries, tourism and shoreline protection. Enlightening presentations aboutlocal sea creatures were followed by snorkels and boat expeditions where students were able to identify the marine areas and organisms they learned about during presentations. They also learned about threats facing our marine environment including warming waters that especially affect our fragile Bahamian coral reefs. 

A key component of Sea Camp is teaching children practical water skills that inspire them to be environmental stewards.  BREEF and Kamalame staff along with volunteers showed students how to maneuver in the outdoor environment as they snorkeled through mangroves and around corals while learning about the value of the underwater world around them. 

Camper Dwayne Munnings age 10, shared his thoughts about the hands-on educational excursions students participated in.

“I had a lot of fun learning about the mangroves and fish; and I found lots of interesting things in the ocean,” he said. 

Camper, Dwayne Munnings finds a sand dollar in waters near Staniard Rock

Another camper, Stevenique Johnson, age 10, said that she enjoyed snorkeling with others and learning about new types of fish she had never seen before.

“When we went into the mangroves I didn’t know there were so many fish that live there, I found a lot of interesting things that my teacher told me all about,” she said. 

Camper Stevenique Johnson finds a shell during mangrove snorkel 

Leading camp activities, BREEF Outreach Assistant, Heather Brockbank said her goal was to ensure that students get the opportunity to interact with our marine environment.

“We really like to engage kids from other islands, we want them to snorkel and see what’s under the water and feel comfortable while they are doing it.”

Brockbank continued, “If young people are exposed to the environment they will care more about it and spread the word, not only to their parents but to the community, and use that opportunity to make a difference for the future.” 


BREEF Outreach Assistant Heather Brockbank teaches campers how to put on snorkeling gear

BREEF Executive Director, Casuarina McKinney-Lambert noted “95% of the territory of The Bahamas is underwater. There is such a tremendous opportunity to use the underwater world as a living classroom and expose children to career opportunities connected with the ocean.” 

BREEF extends their gratitude to Kamalame Cay who hosted camp, and to all of the BREEF volunteers who assisted during the duration of the camp.

To learn more about how you can get involved in BREEF’s marine education programmes,

please visit

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Bahamian film wins Atlanta Children’s Film Festival Award for short-film on danger of oil exploration and climate change

The passionate voices of Bahamian youth were documented in a short-film written by Eleutheran Deep Creek Middle School students, Taryn McKinney-Lambert and Keion Sands and produced by the well acclaimed filmmaker Kareem Mortimer.

Tayrn (L) and Keion (R) bring in a boat to shore

The two students wrote and narrated the short film, “My Island, My Future” that illustrates how The Bahamas depends on its oceans for survival. The film won first place in the Best Youth Short Documentary category. 

The story surrounds a call to action made by ten-year-old Taryn in a letter to then Prime Minister, Hubert Minnis asking him to hold off on any future oil drilling in the country. 

“I saw that we were starting to do oil drilling in The Bahamas and that is not a good idea. If a spill were to happen, which it will, that would just destroy everything” she said.

Keion Sands, age twelve spoke about the delicate marine eco-systems which would be directly impacted if an oil drilling accident occurs. 

“We need to protect mangroves and coral reefs because they protect us from the waves,” he explained. 

Tayrn (L) Finley (center) and Keion (R) walk through Eleuthera mangroves

In the film, aerial shots of the island of Eleuthera, showcasing its lush greenery and coastal areas play over the voices of the two young environmental advocates. Shots of the narrators and other children interacting with the marine environment were also featured. 

Producer Kareem Mortimer says after the students approached him, he jumped at the opportunity to assist them with the passion project. 

“I am happy to support the next generation of filmmakers and storytellers, and people with something to say in the best way I can. 

“All the credit is deserving to young filmmakers that wanted to tell their story.” Mortimer continued, 

“It’s great that they are able to be recognized at a film festival where people may have never been to The Bahamas before.” 

Sailing vessels in waters near Eleuthera

The film was endorsed by Our Islands, Our Future, a coalition of local and international organizations that was established to support Bahamians who are passionate about protecting their heritage and their livelihoods from oil drilling, and who are calling for a permanent ban on oil drilling in The Bahamas. 

The film can be viewed here: My Island My Future

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Tribute to Mallory the Mermaid

Our dearest Mallory Raphael was an ocean lover who exercised a strong passion for sustainability and was eager to share knowledge about the sea she loved. Although she was always an avid swimmer as a child, it was not until a trip to Hawaii as an adult that she fell in love with diving and the coral reefs. 

She brought a brilliant and inspiring energy to every project she embarked on, most notably BREEF’s Bahamas Environmental Scholars (BESS) programme and the BREEF Sir Nicholas Nuttall Coral Reef Sculpture Garden at Clifton Heritage Park.

Mallory was initially hired to assist in building the Sculpture Garden, which is the largest underwater sculpture garden in the world. However, once the project was completed she was immediately hired as the Research and Environmental Education Officer. 

During her time coordinating the BESS programme, she mentored hundreds of students in marine science and sustainability, many of whom are now practicing environmentalists and marine scientists in the field today.

She made it her mission to educate the youth through hands-on demonstrations that helped them to understand and appreciate the Bahamian waters and everything in it. What she found most rewarding was first-time snorkelers experiencing the ocean firsthand. She was quick to provide encouragement and also useful facts about the fish and invertebrates under the sea. 

Mermaid Mallory’s selfless dedication to her coral “babies” enabled her to cultivate a flourishing coral garden with hundreds of new outplants, creating the framework and foundation for ongoing sustainable initiatives.

BREEF Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert shared: “ Mermaid Mallory shared her love of the ocean with everyone she met. She was a true ocean advocate.”

Her BREEF family will miss her greatly. 

We invite you to share your memories of Mallory in the comments.

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PADI Women’s Day highlight: Shannen Miller: Diving for Knowledge

Twenty-seven-year-old Bahamian Entrepreneur, Shannen Miller owns her own dive tour company Shannen’s Scuba Safari. In a country where marine and conservation education is limited, she says that expanding Dive Education is essential. 

“Once people start to enjoy interactions with the ocean and marine life they better understand that there is a need to protect and preserve it.”

As a child Shannen was always passionate about marine life and she wanted to be close to the animals she loved so she became a professional dive instructor.

She commends organizations like the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) for teaching people about the thriving Bahamian marine life and beauty of the ocean.

“This is our resource, this is our home, so education pushes the issue of you being more interested or at least more knowledgeable about what’s going on at your home.”

Shannen expressed loving the career she chose, but at times life’s waters got rough. One day she reached her breaking point and was ready to quit, but she reflected on encouragement from PADI.

“I remembered this quote from the last PADI Womn’s Dive Day where they said, “it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can never, not start diving”.” she said.

The young Bahamian entrepreneur decided to take a break for a few months after reassessing her goals. When she returned to the water for a coral restoration dive, she felt rejuvenated and more passionate than ever.

Shannen is now focused on expanding her business and is completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Science. Working in a field dominated by men, she gives this advice to girls who are deciding on the career path,

“The field is for everybody, not just men. You can do it just like them.” 

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PADI Women’s Day highlight: Dominique Bowleg, A Budding Environmental Advocate

Graduating from high school in 2020, Dominique Bowleg said that all of her college application plans came to a screeching halt. Fast forward to today the 19-year-old former BREEF BESS Scholar is now completing her junior year in college abroad. 

This young Bahamian said that after applying for, and being accepted into the BREEF BESS Scholar Program, she regained the momentum she needed to get back on track. 

“The opportunity at BREEF really helped to steer my motivation again and help me to realize why I entered this field,” she said. 

Dominique is studying Marine Biology at Spring Hill College. As she narrows down on exactly what she plans to specialize in, she is taking more classes on the genetic synthesization of coral reefs. 

“That’s one of my passions, so one field I’m looking at is synthetically genetically modifying coral DNA.”

“I know some people say it sounds tough but I find it really interesting and if that works it’s going to be a huge game changer in helping to keep these things long-lasting in their environment. So that’s what I’m focused on at the moment.” she said.

“When I was younger I watched this show called Dolphin Tale and I told my mother that I wanted to do that.” She continued, “When I grew up I realized that a lot of females were not in this field so that’s one more thing that drove me to come more toward this profession.” 

At the end of the day Dominique says she understands that she may face obstacles as a woman working in STEM. However she is not dismayed in the slightest and encourages everyone to be a part of the solution for a more sustainable future. 

The college student explained how she gained a strong love for the ocean and marine life, and what motivates her to work in this field.

“We all need to promote and conserve our environment and once we take gender away from that we can come together and do a better job at protecting the natural resources that we have.”

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PADI Women’s highlight: Aniska Bonaby, A Diver in Uniform

Leading Woman Marine in the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, Aniska Bonaby explained that she was always interested in scuba diving but never had the opportunity to do so until she joined the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

The maritime field is male dominated and in the RBDF women are also in the minority. However Aniska says that despite the stigmas associated with her strength and abilities, she has pushed herself, while upholding the military-grade standards of the force.

“A lot of people look at females as, they probably can’t do what it is that males can do, but some of the males during my training, they were actually a bit intimidated by me because I could do what they could do.”

Aniska continued, “I kept up and I did better than some of them, not all of them but I was just concerned about being respected in the field and in my career.”

The 36-year-old marine says that she is proud to be an example for other women as a diver and influences them to be more supportive of women who dare to go beyond conformity.

“I’ve had a lot of females come to me, asking me about diving and I try to encourage them as much as possible.”

“I love being underwater. It kinda brings me to a place of tranquility because it’s one of the things that I love that we get to see.” she said.

One of her most notable experiences as a diving marine was a BREEF workshop training she attended. She explains that awareness in the work BREEF does is essential because many locals may see the ocean but never have the opportunity to interact with it.

“I’ve grown up on an island, I’ve grown up in Nassau, I work around water but I never got to really appreciate it until I did the course at BREEF. We did fish ID, learned about the environment, went into the water, went into the mangroves and we got to see it all.”

She continued, “I was a little more educated about the environment and also the dangers especially as it relates to the coral reef and how important coral reefs are.” 

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BREEF BESS Scholars 2023-2024

After a rigorous application process the newly selected Bahamas Environmental Steward Scholars (BESS) are selected and ready for hands-on research and in-person learning through the Bahamas Environmental Stewards Scholars (BESS) programme. Applicants from around The Bahamas competed for coveted seats in this gap year programme offered in partnership BREEF and The Island School.

The two scholars for the 2023-2024 BESS Programme are Maya Lindeman from Windsor School and Christopher Clarke from Loganville High School in Georgia.  Fully funded by The Island School, each scholar will participate in a life-changing experiential Semester on the Island School’s Eleuthera campus and a four-month paid internship with us. While interning with us the scholars will participate in work experience with organizations including Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation,  IDEA Relief and Blue Lagoon. 

Recognizing the growing need to problem solve in a rapidly changing world, BREEF and The Island School mentor these independent students through solutions-based learning and scientific research internships. Upon completion of the programme, each scholar will be well equipped to lead The Bahamas into a more sustainable future.

Christopher Clarke is a student at Loganville high school in Georgia with a strong passion for the environment.

The environment is a captivating and intricate system that never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the environment is its interconnectivity – everything within it is intertwined in some way. For example, plants and animals depend on each other for survival, and any modifications to a single component of the environment can trigger a chain reaction that echoes throughout the entire ecosystem.”- Christopher clarke


Maya Lindeman is a student at Windsor School, an active member and president of her school’s Eco Club and is an avid volunteer in her community.

“I have always harbored a deep passion and appreciation for the natural environment and the bountiful beauty it graces us with. Currently, we are facing a potential environmental collapse, therefore I have made it a priority and a personal goal to help people alter their perspective on the protection of our natural habitats. It is so often that we take nature’s plentiful resources for granted, hence I think that it is vital to have conversations around our impact on the Earth and bring awareness towards the impending climate crisis, an issue many are not aware of. Right now, I am able to look out of my window and see my beautiful Bahama land. I love these islands, and I want future generations to be able to look out of their windows 50 years from today and enjoy the same pristine waters and lush greenery that we enjoy now. I want to be a voice of change in this space.” – Maya Lindeman

Since 2008, 61 young Bahamians have benefitted from this exceptional educational experience, with most scholars going on to pursue related tertiary studies or being currently employed in the environmental field.

Special thanks to The Island School for providing the BESS scholarships and the additional partners, donors and sponsors whose support makes these unique opportunities possible.

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National Ocean Protection Week Proclamation

Photo 1: BREEF Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert (R), and Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director, Rashema Ingraham (L), Receive Government Proclamation.

Prime Minister Hon. Philip Davis has declared June 8 – June 14, 2023 National Ocean Protection Week in recognition of World Oceans Day and in celebration of The Bahamas 50th anniversary. 

In the Proclamation Prime Minister Davis highlighted The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), Waterkeepers Bahamas, Waterkeepers Alliance and partners who are working to protect our oceans.

The proclamation specifically mentioned BREEF’s work empowering Bahamians as environmental stewards, advocating for strong environmental policies and restoring coral reefs. 

This year BREEF is celebrating its 30th anniversary of marine conservation in The Bahamas.

Our ocean provides us everyday with countless resources and we have a responsibility to protect it. 

At BREEF, we believe that an educated public will take action to protect the ocean upon which we all depend, and we encourage everyone to be a part of the solution for a better planet.

Find the Proclamation HERE!

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World Oceans Day Snorkel & Beach Cleanup

Students immerse themselves in underwater environment at BREEF’s World Oceans Month and National Ocean Protection Week Snorkel and Beach Cleanup 

Nassau, Bahamas – The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) kicked off its events for World Oceans Month 2023 with a beach cleanup and snorkel on Saunders Beach in Western New Providence. 

Photo 1: Students (L-R) Kaia Lotimore, Trinity Hanna and Tracy Laguerre snorkel with BREEF volunteer Emma Betts

World Oceans Day is June 8th and this year’s theme is Planet Ocean: “Tides are Changing” which highlights the urgency to conserve our natural marine resources for future generations. 

Photo 2: Sybil Strachan Primary student Kaia Lotimore snorkels at Saunders Beach

“The experience has been really good. I was a bit nervous at first, but when I got in I had so much fun in the water.” said Trinity Hanna from Sandilands Primary School.

Sixth-grader, Kaia Lotimore, a Sybil Strachan Primary School student, said that she had been snorkelling with BREEF before and that she loves coming out to these events to learn more about the ocean. 

“The snorkel was just amazing because when we went out there, we saw all kinds of fish inside the rocks and I kept wanting to get inside the rocks, just so I could touch one so it was really fun” she explained.
Prime Minister Hon. Philip Davis has declared June 8 – June 14, 2023 National Ocean Protection Week in recognition of World Oceans Day and in celebration of The Bahamas 50th anniversary. 

In the Proclamation Prime Minister Davis highlighted The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), Waterkeepers Bahamas, Waterkeepers Alliance and partners who are working to protect our oceans.

The proclamation specifically mentioned BREEF’s work empowering Bahamians as environmental stewards, advocating for strong environmental policies and restoring coral reefs. 

Photo 3: BREEF Outreach Assistant Heather Brockbank (L) gives snorkel safety briefing.

University of The Bahamas Eco-Club students formed a beach cleanup team at the World Oceans Month event, collecting data on the types of trash accumulated and the number of items found in each category. 

Youth Climate Ambassador, former BREEF BESS Scholar, and UB Eco-Club member, Ashawnte Russell participated and spoke about the importance of community members safeguarding the ocean.

“We are more connected to the ocean than we sometimes realize. To continue to have such amazing waters, we must take responsibility for them and act as stewards with the willingness and tenacity to express and respect them.” she said. 

Photo 4: Youth Climate Ambassador Ashawnte Russell (L) and UB Environmental Club members (R), collect data from beach cleanup.

Rotaract Club of Nassau Sunset members, Keisha Missik and Charis Swann assisted with student registration. Swann said that supporting sustainable community initiatives that will help others is a part of the organization’s mission. 

“We live here on this beautiful island surrounded by the ocean and water so it’s very important that we conserve it and take care of it.” Swann explained.

Photo 5: Rotaract Club of Nassau Sunset volunteers (L-R) Keisha Missik and Charis Swann sign in kids at registration table

BREEF Executive Director, Casuarina McKinney-Lambert says that World Oceans Month and National Ocean Protection Week was the perfect opportunity to welcome newcomers to the snorkeling experience, teaching them more about marine conservation. 

“This month is absolutely essential. Our country is 95% underwater so while we talk about the islands of The Bahamas, really, we are the Ocean of The Bahamas with a few islands popping up.” 

She continued, “We are not just a small island state but a large ocean state, and along with this comes a huge responsibility for protecting the ocean – for the well-being of current and future Bahamians but also for the world.” 

Photo 6: BREEF team members pose with UB Eco-Club, Rotaract and other community volunteers.

As BREEF celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2023 the organisation continues to support and encourage individuals in the community to be active in protecting the ocean that sustains our way of life.

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