With three full-time staff and ten volunteers, Waterkeepers Bahamas are a small but mighty group of dedicated people protecting the waters of The Bahamas. Waterkeepers Bahamas joined Swim Guide in early 2017, and brought a whole new country with them. They actively monitor water quality and share test results for 18 locations across three islands- Bimini, Grand Bahamas, and the western shores of New Providence. This work is particularly vital as The Bahamas face a number of environmental challenges, such as wastewater and industrial development. Moreover, Waterkeepers Bahamas are the only group conducting recreational water quality monitoring in The Bahamas- no other organization or governmental body is doing the work they do.
In addition to water monitoring, Rashema Ingraham, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Bahamas, and her team work on a wide range of issues with the goal to “preserve and protect the Bahamian environment through proactive policy change, education, legal action and advocacy.”
Growing up in the Bahamas, is there a specific beach or waterbody you are particularly connected to?
I have great childhood memories of exploration and excitement at each one of the beaches that we monitor on Bimini. My maternal grandfather lived in Bimini and spent a lot of time during his senior years out on the water. I was able to spend some of my summer days with him on the water as well. On his dinghy (that he built himself) we went out to catch fish and conch, and while out I would look down at Bimini’s crystal-clear waters and see lemon sharks, stingrays and schools of fish. Radio Beach, one of the popular tourist spots and a beach we monitor is where I had my first snorkeling experience, the most breathtaking experience ever!
2017 was a big year for Waterkeepers Bahamas. What were some of your biggest accomplishments?
First, the launch of Swim Guide was huge for us as we are now able to connect our water monitoring to an international site with like minded environmental advocates who strongly believe that the public should be aware of the water quality conditions around them. The Bahamas is also an appealing destination for recreational tourists and second home / winter residents, who all come to enjoy our turquoise waters at some point during their trip. Swim Guide gives us a sense of accreditation and endorsement.
Second, we hosted our first ever Splash Mania Kayak Race that provides the opportunity for beginners, enthusiasts and competitive racers alike to socialize, learn about the sport, race together and at the same time take in the environment with an appreciation for what it offers. There were over 100 participants, with 20 races that left all participants feeling like winners.
Lastly, the creation of the Volunteer Training Program for water monitoring. This is exactly the direction that Waterkeepers Bahamas intends on going. Giving volunteers the opportunity to participate in a citizen science-based initiative encourages them and their families to be a part of the solution and messaging rather that to ignore the issue of pollution and other environmental concerns. Families, civic organizations, and school students have all found the process to be enlightening and beneficial.
What a year! It sounds like everything you are doing is really about empowering and connecting people with water. Why is the work you are doing so vital for Bahamians?
Bahamians depend directly or indirectly from the water – either the fisherman who sells the fish to residents or restaurants who prepare meals for families or tourists; or the tour guide who tells patrons stories of earlier settlers during their kayaks tours through the mangroves which allows them to have a stable income to pay mortgages or school fees. Most of the things each one of us do on a daily basis is centred around the water. So advocating for, educating on the importance and providing avenues to create awareness campaigns for clean water and healthy environments is extremely important to the quality of life for Bahamians.
I know that you have been advocating against a lot of development and ongoing environmental issues in The Bahamas. What are some of the greatest challenges facing your organization?
One is the lack of environmental laws that support our efforts. Several governments have entertained the ideas of passing laws to protect the environment but have failed to enact a principal law that governs the usage and protection of natural resources, which will in turn allow for policies and regulations to be drafted to ensure the enforcement of the law. To date, the governments have not passed an Environmental Protection Act.
Another is captivating the public and keeping them engaged with the work, since many have not taken the time to identify their personal connection to the water or the environment. They take for granted that the environment needs us to do our part in protecting and sustaining it.
Earlier you mentioned that the launch of Swim Guide was one of your greatest accomplishments of 2017. How does Swim Guide help empower the work you do?
We brag about Swim Guide all the time! Whenever we talk about our work, being able to pull out our devices and show, by gradually zooming in, that those numbers in the circle represents a beach on one of our islands in The Bahamas. Telling persons that we are a part of an eco-conscious movement that provides water results for locations all over the world – over 7,000 – so in essence we are a part of a strong fraternity where the message is the same, and it centres around the health of humans and the promotion of clean water.
Any goals for the upcoming year?
Yes! Expanding the beaches monitored – on the islands we monitor and on 1-2 new islands! Also Increasing our volunteer database and creating a strong community science-based program.
You can stay up-to-date on everything Rashema and her team are doing on social media:
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