A coral conservation revolution that is shaping the future of the Bahamas

The month of July marked the 40th year of independence for the Bahamas and although I am too young to be one of those Bahamians who remember that 10th day of July in 1973, I was honored to be recognized as one of 40 outstanding Bahamians whom will make a difference for the Bahamas within the next 40 years. Some might describe my passion for the ocean and the Bahamas as being contagious but simply put I love the ocean and I love what I do which makes it really easy for me to share my enthusiasm with others.  I think that is what makes the EDGE fellowship so fantastic as it has provided a vehicle for me to combine my love for diving, the ocean and conservation and share that with youth throughout the Bahamas. One of the objectives of my EDGE project Empowering Youth Through Coral Conservation has been to train youth to become members of a Coral Conservation Team (CCT) that will work along side me in the filed as we study Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), analyze our findings in the lab and share the importance of pillar coral and coral reefs within local communities.  On paper the project sounds fairly simple find youth, teach them to dive, study coral…. the reality is not as simple, but rather a story of logistical trials, character development and many laughs…laughter, because crying is simply not an option.  As I am still conducting an in-depth literature review on pillar coral and methods on studying rare coral species I jumped into training the coral conservation team. One of the first things that I have realized is that the quality of my data is paramount and what I am really doing is training youth that in two to three years will have the capacity to monitor reefs but for now our efforts or focused on coral id, mastering buoyancy while diving and learning the basics about the marine environment.

Working with youth on each island presents its various challenges, In Nassau where I live there are 18 youth currently enrolled in the project where an hours bus ride and trek through a dirt trail with everyone pitching in to transport the dive gear is just the beginning of our day.  Our home base is a little thatch gazebo on a sandy beach that provides access to deep water from shore.  Unfortunately the reef that we frequent for our training is not the healthiest and is covered with macro algae, however during a training dive last week we spotted a dead colony of pillar coral with only one living column about the size of my thumb. Even though its small I now know there is pillar coral in the waters around Nassau.

Working in Cat Island has been far more exciting as far as pillar coral sightings are concerned. The Cat Island CCT has conducted training dives where there have been beautiful colonies of pillar coral and the first person to site it usually ends up banging on the back of their tank to get everyone’s attention and behind everyone’s masks are wide eyes and big smiles. It is always exciting to hear the joy in a CCT member who has no more than 10 dives under their belt describe an encounter with a pillar coral colony during a dive that I wasn’t present on.  It is during these conversations that I realize that my passion for the ocean and pillar coral is being transferred and that in time these Coral Conservation Teams will be powerful forces of conservation within local communities.


Working with the CCT is just the beginning of my EDGE conservation project and it is exciting to be a role model for so many youth and introduce to the world of conservation as I am developing an early career conservation biologist.

 

Nikita Shiel-Rolle

 

 

 

 

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