On September 27, 2015, Hurricane Joaquin rose up out of the Atlantic Ocean without warning, decimating the southern and central Bahamas as it rapidly intensified from a strong tropical storm to a powerful Category 4 hurricane in a mere 39 hours. One of the most devastating storms to hit the country in more than two centuries, flooding from storm surge and torrential rainfall left hundreds of Bahamians trapped without shelter, power or food. Swimming to safety was their only option.
Now, just four weeks into the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season and with four named storms already on the books, meteorologists are predicting an even more active storm season
than last year. In fact, this season could be the most active hurricane season since 2012 and with 80 percent of the land mass in The Bahamas at or slightly above sea level, odds are extremely high that more Bahamians will be forced to swim for survival should catastrophe strike. In light of this eventuality, Waterkeepers Bahamas recently made a $1,500 donation to YMCA Grand Bahama for the third year in a row to augment the organisation’s Swim for Ocean Survival (SOS) program. The donation comes on the heels of a renovation of the YMCA in May in which Save The Bays volunteers spent more than 400 hours giving the recreational facility a complete facelift.
Save The Bays (www.savethebays.bs), a Waterkeepers Alliance Bahamas member with more than 20,000 Facebook followers, is a fast-growing non-profit group comprised of Bahamian and international members focused on the protection of the Bahamian environment through proactive policy change, education, legal action and advocacy, making a partnership with Swim for Ocean Survival a natural fit for its mission.
“Waterkeepers Bahamas understands perfectly the absolute necessity that all Bahamian children are afforded the opportunity to learn to swim,” said Waterkeepers Bahamas President and Save the Bays Chairman Joseph Darville. “This opportunity is even more critical as we prepare our nation for the dramatic impacts on this archipelago from rapid climate change and sea level rise.”
Established in 2008 by former Bahamas Swim Federation instructor and renowned swim coach Ivaniuska Dereke, the SOS program was designed to teach as many children as possible how to swim in the shortest amount of time and at minimal cost. SOS training is broken down into three tiers: how to be comfortable in the water; the basics of swimming and survival if a child falls into a pool; and, lastly, how to return to a safe point in the ocean or pool.
According to Grand Bahama YMCA Executive Director Karon Johnson, more than 13,000 pre-school and primary school students have benefited from the course since its inception nearly eight years ago. This year’s donation from Waterkeepers Bahamas will be used to employ and train an additional swim instructor, allowing the YMCA to offer even more children the opportunity to learn to swim and, ultimately, survive if and when catastrophe strikes.
For long-time environmental activist and educator Darville, however, the benefits of the program are two-fold: safeguarding the country’s youngest citizens against disaster and carving a path toward environmental awareness and stewardship.
“Waterkeepers Bahamas continues to advocate that our present and future generations be assured the gift of being able to dive and swim in our crystal clear waters,” Darville said. “Thus they will be passionate and motivated to preserve and protect our God-given natural resources, and become the leaders for an environmentally sound nation.”
“Each person, whether child or adult, has a connection to the water,” added Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham. “So, if they are able to have more good moments in the water, and not be fearful of it, their appreciation for it will promote their willingness to keep it clean.”
Waterkeepers Bahamas works to promote the availability of clean water on three waterbodies in Bimini, Grand Bahama and Clifton & Western Bays on New Providence so that these waterbodies are swimmable, fishable and drinkable for future generations. The organization is a proud member of the Waterkeepers Alliance, the world’s fastest growing environmental movement that has united more than 290 Waterkeepers members and affiliates around the world, all working together to focus citizen action on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. If you are aware of pollution, unregulated development or other illegal activities taking place in the area please contact Rashema Ingraham via phone 242-602-7531 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.