Already into its sixth year, Save The Bays continues to offer its Youth Environmental Ambassadors (YEAs) program on Grand Bahama providing an avenue for junior high school students to identify with ecosystems, understand their importance and also discuss threats to their existence.
Students of the program are selected from applications submitted to Save The Bays from all of the local schools on Grand Bahama. There are eight schools represented in this year’s program.
Well into the program’s experience, the YEAs have had several sessions learning about and exploring the black land coppice, mangroves, coral reefs, caves and blue holes. Some of them, although natives of Grand Bahama have never had the chance before the program to visit Josey’s Cave that has a powerful ancestral story and is surrounded by many of the native trees and plants that are still used for bush medicines to prevent and manage many ailments.
“During each field assessment the YEAs are looking for and identifying a minimum of 12 species of fauna or flora that take shelter or thrive in each of the ecosystems. They then take those assessments with them to look up the scientific names or to learn more about their symbiotic relationship with other organisms in the ecosystem”, says Rashema Ingraham, Programs and Outreach Coordinator for Save The Bays. She says “that helps them to recap the day’s learning and activities while they are away from the sessions.”
At the beginning of the program the YEAs were given a survey to identify their hopeful outcomes at the end of the program and while many of them wanted to work on building their leadership skills, a component of the program, the majority of the YEAs were excited about the opportunity to make a difference in the environment and were eager about the days that allowed them to go on field trips and be outdoors with other like-minded children.
“Seventy-five percent of the YEAs would have had community service experience before participating in the program, but it was interesting to review their results and see that 82 percent of them wanted more opportunities to be vocal in the community either by being on radio or preparing public service announcements to highlight some of the local and reoccurring environmental issues,” says Ingraham.
Jonette Taylor, a student of Alpha Omega Christian School and YEA member said that “it is important for more young people to understand and appreciate the environment because we have so many visitors that come to our island annually because they are attracted to the features of the environment that locals abuse.”
Julez Seymour, a student of Lucaya International School and YEA member says his hopeful outcome from his participation “is to connect what makes the Bahamian ecosystems unique and sought after to the science and monitoring that will preserve these ecosystems in the future, so I appreciate how the lectures and field trips that tie those together.”
“After a few clean-ups, field trips and guest lectures, we are beginning to see the YEAs blossom into confident leaders with knowledge of the environments of which they speak”, says Joseph Darville, Chairman of Save The Bays.
The YEAs will be pinned at the official Pinning Ceremony this coming Saturday, May 18 at 9:30 a.m. at the YMCA Auditorium. The public is invited to attend.
The YEA is one of many initiatives of Save The Bays, an organization that is calling for a strong Freedom of Information Act, a comprehensive environmental protection act, an end to unregulated development and other stewardship measures. An online petition has drawn nearly 7,000 signatures and Save The Bays Facebook page is one of the most popular in the region with nearly 20,000 Friends and Fans.