Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham spends hours at beaches in The Bahamas every week, but she isn’t splashing in the water, combing for shells or searching for treasure.
Ingraham is part of a team that tests water at 16 public beaches in The Bahamas on a regular basis. The monitoring is a partnership between Waterkeepers Bahamas and an international organization called Swim Guide that maintains an up-to-date beach and water condition report on 7,000 beaches around the world. Reports are available at SwimGuide.org.
With the agreement between Swim Guide and Waterkeepers Bahamas inked in August, the monitoring duties have been so time-consuming that Ingraham has had to ask for volunteers. This week, they began their training.
“Getting volunteers to hang out at the beach filling vials with water samples is not the most difficult task,” laughed Ingraham. “So while it sounds glamorous, once you start the work you appreciate how serious it is and how valuable a service you are performing.”
Ingraham, Grand Bahama Waterkeeper Joe Darville and Clifton Bay Southwest Bays Waterkeeper Fred Smith lead the local Swim Guide partnership. Testing is very time-sensitive. Collected samples are run through specialized equipment within an eight hours window of retrieval and uploaded on the SwimGuide website within 28 hours for public access. For an
accurate comparison, every sample is collected at the same GPS coordinates as the previous one at every beach.
“Timing and scheduling can be challenging,” said Ingraham. “If one of us is in Nassau and we need to get back to the testing equipment in the office in Grand Bahama, we have to time our collections and our flights to the minute.”
The good news is that the beaches in The Bahamas that have been tested have never been found to pose health threats to swimmers that many others around the world do, leading to beach closed signs.
“We have found traces of feces, usually after a storm or after a holiday when beaches are very crowded,” said Ingraham. “But most of our waters enjoy the excellent tidal flow and the tides and currents keep the waters surprisingly free of perils. We cannot say the same for beaches and mangroves which are not respected. We are a country that continues to litter and we should be ashamed of ourselves. That’s why it is so important to get the message across to boys and girls when they are young.”
Among the beaches monitored in New Providence are Jaws Beach, Montagu, Adelaide Beach, South Ocean and Coral Harbour.