On a recent Saturday, off a stretch of beach with sand so fine and waters so sparkling it could be the iconic Instagram image, dozens of young Bahamians were hard at work.
Members of the Youth Environment Ambassadors (YEA), a program funded and operated by Save The Bays, were learning that sometimes what man takes away, humankind can make good again – they were witnessing that even with fragile coral reefs, there can be new life.
The YEA’s were learning about and observing the Reef Ball initiative at Paradise Cove Beach Resort, Grand Bahama. Reef balls, made of a highly porous concrete and silica, are the most effective design module for artificial reefs and provide a safe, eco-friendly home for sustainable marine life. Hundreds of thousands of reef balls, each capable of producing up to 500 pounds of biomass a year, are deployed in 70 countries, not only attracting marine life they were designed for, but the adoption programs funding the regrowth of endangered corals.
Barry Smith, who spearheads the Grand Bahama reef ball project, told the youth environment ambassadors that thanks to funding through the adopt-a-reef initiative, the local program has entered its second phase, rescuing and, where practical or feasible, replanting endangered reefs.
“This is all about coral rescue and replanting and requires harvesting imperiled coral that would be at risk of death within the next 12 months and planting them in a cement plug and transplanting the coral on the reef balls so that they can grow and flourish,” he said.
YEA Coordinator Rashema Ingraham said seeing something that faced destruction but could be saved and regenerated inspired hope on many levels.
“Over the past three years, the YEA program has exposed young Bahamians to the good, the bad and the ugly of the environment,” Ingraham said. “But of all the projects we have seen, studied or helped, the reef ball program is likely the most exciting because it demonstrates that even as we watch our own reefs get swallowed up by dredging that should never be allowed, or by careless anchoring by boaters or as reefs die off from natural causes, there is hope. We humans have a role to play in creating artificial reefs and funding removal of endangered reefs and replanting. It’s long, it’s tedious but it works and that is what is critical. Learning that you really can create a living artificial reef that attracts hundreds of marine animals and where they can thrive has to be the very top of the top of the good.”
The YEA program is so popular that the demand to participate far outweighs the number of spots available. Classes are held every other Saturday for four months with academics followed by field studies and hands-on experiences.
“Since its inception, the YEA program has opened the eyes of more than 200 young Bahamians. They have trekked through wetlands, studied industrial waste management, learned about renewable energy and spent hours exploring underwater life,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville. “These young men and women have the awesome task of becoming the future stewards of our environment and this program has sensitized them to how delicate the balance is and what it will take to ensure the beauty and majesty of this country is preserved for future generations.”
Founded in 2013, Save The Bays has emerged as a leading voice in the protection of the environment and human rights through education, advocacy and legal action. The civil society organization has more than
20,000 Facebook friends and has amassed nearly 7,000 signatures on a complex petition calling for, among other items, comprehensive environmental protection legislation and an end to unregulated development. Its pressure for freedom of information contributed to the recent debate and passage of the Freedom of Information Act 2016 in the House of Assembly. The bill still faces debate in the Senate whose members are reportedly studying several amendments recommended by 21 civil society groups.