I logged on to Facebook today to share my reflections on developing YME  but before I was able to write my  post I saw this article "Should I stay or should I go?"  That question is a reality for so many. 

What I wanted to share on Facebook was that as I looked around my office (which is really my living room/dinning room) I saw 5 staff members working hard. YME is far away from having "made it" and considering ourselves a financially viable and sustainable organisation. We are working on it but the struggle is still real. The realities of doing business in The Bahamas can be suffocating, but for me to sit in my "office" and look at my staff of 5 I had to smile because this is a sign of progress.

It may be greener on the other side, and hey, maybe the grass is also longer and sweeter. Maybe life would be better if I left the Bahamas. But perhaps life is only better because when you move from your home and take up residency somewhere else initially the problems of that community are not your problems. Should there be problems in that community your detachment may make it easier to find your own bubble and live in it, in a way creating a level of blissful ignorance.  

The authors question "Should I stay or should I go?" is a real question but it is not my question. My question is often why? Why have I chosen to stay when arguable the prospects of a more prosperous life lie only a plane ride away. 

The question "Should I stay or should i go?" will be asked  more frequently by even more Bahamians. They will see the country  spiralling  into an inferno of disaster and ask themselves if they really want to go down with the ship. Many will go and even more will never even attempt to come back and have the opportunity to ask the question - Should I stay or should I go?

I can honestly say It worries me when I hear people say "the worst decision that I ever made was to move back home." They are often older than I am and arguably more experienced with life in The Bahamas. Perhaps they have experienced the monster that looms in the shadows around the bend. 

It is possible that I am that naive child that believes that by tying a cape around my neck I now have the powers to fly. When I jump off the roof with my pink cape flapping in the wind and I fall to the ground and break my arm my first thought isn't that I am incapable of flight, but rather crap, now I have to wait 6 weeks before I can figure out what went wrong...... Maybe i need to try the purple cape. 

What I do know is that I have embarked on a journey to do my part to shape the future of The Bahamas. No, YME will not solve all the problems of The Bahamas but I am crazy enough to think it will help.

This week I have had YME alumni  coming out of the wood works. They want to get back involved. They are sharing their stories about the non-profit organisations they are starting, or describing their plans to launch an  eco tour company. Hearing those stories gives the little girl with the broken arm the confidence that flight is possible.

I think that what the author of  "Should I go or should I stay?"  has in common with me is that we both have the privilege and the luxury to make that choice. The reality is for most Bahamians The Bahamas is the only reality. 

The Bahamas that I know today is depressing. The reality is that it is not going to get better unless we make it better. There is no easy fix it button. Maybe the process requires one brilliant mind after the other being burnt out. Doing what they can and then calling it a day and setting sail for greener pastures. 

I don't think that developing a progressive Bahamas is insurmountable, I think it's a dream that most of us share and that is at least half the battle. What we need to figure out is how. Imagine being The Wright Brothers, Robert Watson Watt or Thomas Edison, they created the unimaginable. 

Part of my "adjusting to life back home processes" was to acknowledge the state of the country for what it was, identifying my coping mechanisms, and then work towards playing my part to try and make it better. I believe that we need our brightest minds to be part of building a progressive country. I think finding a solution to The Bahamas as we know it might just take that much longer if we have 1/2 of the minds to work with.  

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is how many times are we willing to jump off the roof? Maybe if enough of us got together and decided to tie capes around our necks and try to fly, after a few of us have recieved broken bones, we might realise that we can't go on like this. Perhaps someone might come up with the idea that if we jumped off the roof and landed on a trampoline it might get us that much closer to flying.
 
 
I remember the childhood story of the three little pigs.  There was the naive pig who built his house out of straw and when the Big Bad Wolf came he huffed and puffed and blew down the house and gobbled up the pig…. Poor pig.  But that wasn’t enough for our friend the wolf so he went to the second pigs house, this pig was a cheap pig, and he built his house out of sticks. You guessed it, Mr. Wolf ate him as well. Feeling on top of the world Mr. Wolf went to the third house, that of Ms. Pig. Ms. Pig had put great thought into the construction of her house and built it out of bricks. So when the wolf failed to blow the house down he thought he could outsmart her and climb through the chimney. But to his dismay Mr. Wolf landed in her boiling pot and was later served as her diner….. What a smart pig!

We have pigs in The Bahamas, the most famous are the pigs that live at Big Majors in the Exuma Cays.  It baffles me that these pigs have become an attraction that we celebrate and are featured in advertisements that promote The Bahamas. (To be honest, I often wonder about the potential environmental impact of those pigs. Studies show that pigs on islands threaten the native, near extinct or endemic (meaning only found in The Bahamas) plants, seabirds, lizards or snakes that cohabit the island.)) HOWEVER, today I am going to focus on the three little pigs.

I will agree it is rather picturesque and a bit bizarre to see pigs in our crystal clear waters.  But I can’t help but think, as we develop our great country, are we following along the path of the naive pig, or the cheap pig.  Are our current actions because we are naive and don’t know any better? As a result, will the Big Bad Wolf eat us?  Or is it that we are just cheap and don’t want to make the long term investments required to build a solid foundation that will protect us from the huffs and the puffs?  

Ms. Pig was a super smart swine. Not only did she ensure that her house was built on a solid foundation out of material that would withstand the greatest huffs and puffs, but she also had a back up plan.  As I sit at my desk and I think about The Bahamas I don’t think we are in a position to withstand the huffs and the puffs.

It is important to give credit where credit is due and managing The Bahamas is a task. The Government of The Bahamas is responsible for managing 30 inhabited islands spread across a 1,200-kilometer archipelago. Our geography makes it challenging.  If you want to go to some of the southern islands there are only two flights a week! Logistically, managing The Bahamas is expensive and complex.

Because of this we need a plan, a wolf proof plan. I think it is important to acknowledge the realities that exist in The Bahamas.  We can’t side step the truth and be afraid of our dirty laundry. What we have to do is acknowledge that as a country we have serious challenges and we need to start doing our laundry.  

We need to plan for a Bahamas that has a population of greater than half a million people. We need to be able to make tuff but proactive decisions. We need to strategically think about how sea level rise will impact us. Exploring the economics of natural disasters is a must. What we really need to do is to stop filling in wetlands, but I will leave that dialogue for another day. The reality is that we need to think about how we manage our waste and our natural resources. Those famous pigs wouldn’t be so famous if they were in dark murky water. It’s our crystal clear waters that give them their fame. 

When the graduation rate in the public school systems has been roughly 50% for the past 15 years we have a problem.  Reflecting on the words of the Minister of Education when he stated that "as a country we have failed to implement meaningful reforms to improve decades of dismal [education] performance that now threaten…a ‘social disaster,’”  it makes me question what do we do to circumvent this disaster.  What are the abled bodied Bahamian Citizen going to do?

Seven years ago I started Young Marine Explorers (YME), a non-profit organization that has a mission to educate and inspire youth to become the leaders needed to address the social, economic and environmental challenges of The Bahamas.  I have a long term goal that by 2025 at least 10%, approximately 4,000 Bahamian public secondary school students will be enrolled in YME. 

YME inspires academic excellence and fosters behavioural change that will translate into sustainable lifestyle choices. YME takes a non-traditionally Bahamian approach to education through student centered learning with activities, games, drama, art, and field exploration, all focused on the Bahamian environment. The YME three-year curriculum has been designed to correspond with learning objectives from the Ministry of Education. It is anticipated that successful YME graduates will demonstrate:
  • Improved performance on the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education exams, 
  • Improved understanding of Bahamian laws and regulations, 
  • Appreciation of the value of volunteerism, 
  • Improved problem solving skills, 
  • Improved professional skills for the workforce, and 
  • Willingness to become environmentally aware citizens who remain actively involved in citizen science projects designed to monitor, protect and restore Bahamian biodiversity.

Taking advantage of the power of technology, YME graduates who are selected to participate in our two-year internship will be enrolled in a distance learning Associate Degree program at Miami Dade College. What this means is that when YME has programs established throughout the country students in Acklins, Crooked Island, Cat Island and Mayaguana, or any of the 30 islands can get an Associates Degree without having to leave their island.

I don’t think every Bahamian has to go to college, I don’t think that college is for every Bahamian. But I firmly believe that increasing access to post-secondary education is critical for national development. Studies show that quality education have long-term benefits on countries, and can have positive effects on individual earning, capacity and national growth.

Like Ms. Pig I have a plan. I believe that there is a solution to every problem. I may not have the perfect solution, ut if we can develop enough smaller plans that can fit into a National Plan we might be able to build a Bahamas that can withstand the huffs and the puffs


References for this blog can be found in the Manuscript 'Young Marine Explorers: Capacity Building through a
Youth Outreach Program in The Bahamas by Nikita Shiel-Rolle, Suzanne Banas and 
Kathleen Sullivan Sealey  2015


 

 
 
I live in one of the most beautiful countries on earth, a biodiversity hot spot with crystal clear waters and white and pink sandy beaches that can rival any beach on earth.  From the outside looking in The Bahamas could be considered the Garden of Eden, a befitting title given that we are a Christian Nation. There really is no better place on earth.  To borrow from Dante’s Inferno, if you were to explore the depths of The Bahamas, like Dante and Virgil visited the after world, you might think you were entering the seventh pouch of the Eighth circle of hell. 

Imagine you are witnessing swarms of snakes jumping and attacking naked sinners where their souls instantly catch fire and burn up, only to rise from the ashes to return to the pit of serpents…… OKAY, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, what can I say I have a vivid imagination. 

As Bahamians we live in a high-income country, based on our Gross National Income (GNI) per capita we are likened to the United States, Germany and Australia. I am not going to discuss how our GNI is not an adequate representation of wealth distribution in The Bahamas because that is a story for another day.  But if you can humour me for a minute lets pretend that we are like Dante and Virgil and we are within the 8th ring of The Bahamas.  Let’s pretend the sinners have no faces and we are focusing on the “snakes” that plague this country.   As Bahamians we have to move beyond this passive life that we live and kill the “metaphorical snakes.” (Metaphorical because you should never kill real snakes. We have no venomous snakes in The Bahamas and the snakes that we do have help to control the rat population, but I digress).

I am going to take the liberty and assume that you are familiar with the “snakes” that plague the 8th ring of The Bahamas and that we can agree that as a country, we are in a state of crisis, economically, socially and environmentally.  That as a nation there is no room left for vacillation. We need to take a top down bottom up approach.  The government does not have the sole responsibility to solve our problems. Private entities have to work with and support the government because the government cannot build a nation by themselves.  

We as citizens have to invest in our country, and in our future.   What this means is that we have to put youth development at the forefront. The government must put education first. The reality is if we want a better Bahamas we need an educational system that builds better citizens. This is where we struggle as a nation because we don’t know what it truly means to be active citizens. We have not been equipped with the skills to rationally solve our problems or to build a life that doesn’t depend on hand outs. 

The empirical evidence exists, nations that put education first and make education a priority prosper economically and are in a better position to deal with social issuesAs a country in crisis we don’t have time for games. If you want to play the odds there are number houses on almost ever corner of this island, good luck.  


What we need is to implement the universally tried and tested solution of equitable and quality education for all. We cannot continue to teach using the same methods as the years before and be surprised when the results don’t change. We cannot continue to put a Band-Aid on a tumour and wonder why we are not getting any better. 

As a young Bahamian I refuse to let this country spiral into a 9th ring of hell.  In Dante’s inferno the sinners that live in the 9th ring are the most evil sinners, the traitors to Benefactors, like Judas, who betrayed Christ. In my youthful eyes the greatest betrayal to Bahamians and the future of The Bahamas is that if you are in a position to influence the development of this country and you don’t demand for education and youth development to be a priority.   


Building a brighter Bahamas is not the sole responsibility of the Government and as Bahamians we have to work together but I am humbly asking the decision makers in our country that if you are working on new and innovative programs that will change the face of this country then share that information with us and give us hope; present opportunities for able bodied citizens to work with you. But the reality is this country cannot continue with the status quo. Nation building isn’t about creating a personal legacy. How I see it, those of you with real power have two options, the first is to step up and be radical and work with us to change this country for the better, or to humbly step aside.  
 
 

International Marine Conservation Congress Reflection Blog 1

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Competition is found everywhere in science. As students of science we learn first hand about the realities of survival of the fittest, that only the "strong" survive. Crammed into lecture halls, eager to learn, for many of us our first experience in science is with a professor who makes it explicitly clear that their goal in life is to “weed out the week”…. In full survival mode, with our adrenaline pumping, after too many caffeine induced late nights we survive undergrad! The “fit” (or in my humble opinion the crazy) venture on to explore the world of graduate school where phrases like “publish or perish” become a mantra that you repeat to yourself day in and day out. 

Similar to the ecosystems that we study competition is real and alive and in many ways is a driving force behind science and conservation. Funding is limited so you have to be the best, the most innovative, the one that everyone remembers. Don't misunderstand me, I am a product of the system, I am probably one of the most competitive people out there (Don’t believe me? Challenge accepted!). Speaking honestly, I love the pressure and intensity that surrounds competitive environments. With that said, I’m starting to realize that conservation is a much bigger game, it’s a game where I don’t think we truly understand the rules. In this game called conservation the competitive “me” does not win, the “me” cannot win alone.

The conservation challenges facing the world are critical, and need immediate action, but the action required demands a unified approach. Where am I going with all this? As a conservation community we have to do a better job working together.  Experts need to mentor and encourage students entering the field of conservation. I know the experts are busy literally solving the world’s problems, but we can’t underestimate the role that mentorship plays in propelling conservation forward – the world needs more environmental heroes. By protecting the environment, we are ensuring the long term stability of our economy and improving our overall health and wellbeing. These students will some day fill your shoes.

Conservation is about the “we” and this means that at a national level we have to do a better job at collaborating, learning to set aside our independent organizational ego. Conservation is a political game, no one ever tells you this, and it’s one of the harsh realities that slapped me in the face. Money and social capital have a huge influence over conservation action or the lack there of. Accepting the hurdles that surround the conservation world, organizations and governmental agencies need to improve our means of communication and collaboration. I understand that it is easy to write about the need for collaboration but sometimes collaborating can be difficult.

Reflecting on my experience with conservation and collaboration in The Bahamas, it hasn’t been the easiest journey. One of the great gifts of life is imagination, and we have the ability to generate ideas about how we think people feel about us positive or negative. True or false, these imaginary ideas influence us.  For a long time I worked in isolation running YME and not really engaging with other NPO’s or Governmental agencies in The Bahamas.  Maybe I feared they wouldn’t take me seriously, I was young and under qualified they were older with more experience. My insecurities as a young conservation biologist inhibited my desire to collaborate with other organizations. Just as I was limited by my fears to develop relationships with the individuals in the conservation world in The Bahamas, I did not receive an overwhelming outreach of encouragement or extension of mentorship in support of my conservation efforts.  

The take home message is that if we as a conservation community really want to make the change that we talk about, we have to learn how to work together and support each other. Conservation is like an equation where each organization, individual and agency working together plays a role in achieving the end goal.

So, to the PhD’s and MSc’s, Directors and Professors start conservation conversations with the high school and college students, the community leaders or the church pastors.  Whole-heartedly support their conservation energy and passion and provide constructive criticism and encourage further dialog.

To the established organizations and governmental agencies don't underestimate the contribution small start up organizations can play in supporting your long-term conservation goals.

Last but not least, to the individual, the person with passion, wherever you are in your conservation career, strap on your “big girl fins” and dive in. The swim won’t always be easy, but you will make it, and remember, don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

 
 
Indulge me for a minute as I rant and rave and pose a question to my fellow Bahamians and residents of The Bahamas.... Are we destroying paradise?  In the past week I have had two experiences with a tourist that has left me utterly humiliated. As someone who works in environmental education it is easy to just fall on the default  "oh Bahamians aren't educated, they don't know any better" reason for the challenges facing this country. But I refuse to entertain that explanation today because this rant today is not for the Bahamian that doesn't know any better. It's for the well educated and established Bahamian..... (This probably means you the reader who is taking the time to read this post).

The Bahamas is struggling, this is no shock to anyone. Despite the many issues with governance in this country, this conversation is directed towards you the individual. 


The reality is, if you are not doing something to solve the problems in The Bahamas, you are part of the problem..... yes I said it... YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM 


Too many of us have not accepted the responsibility that the future of The Bahamas lies within our actions.  For so many of my peers the solution to the madness that is The Bahamas is to get up and go, find a job outside of The Bahamas and come home for vacations so you don't really have to deal with the realities of The Bahamas (I understand this). For those who stay (either by choice or lack of other options) and establish themselves in The Bahamas, I feel like we find a way to cope, we find our bubble of comfort and acclimatize to "our Bahamas" without really thinking too much about the environmental and socioeconomic ills that plague this country. It's so much easier that way. I get it... when I start to have conversations with people about education or development decisions that have become disastrous it usually ends up with everyone being frustrated beyond words. 
 

I was embarrassed by my country last week and have concluded that we are actively destroying paradise.

I have an intern spending the summer with me, she came to The Bahamas to learn about marine science and to assist Young Marine Explorers. This was fantastic for YME we get extra help, and I am always eager to assist and inspire anyone interested in conservation..... and this friends is how you embarrassed me:

1. The first day my intern arrived I decided we would take the dogs for a walk to Yamacraw Beach - Words cannot describe the filth of that Beach. It is summer, so people tend to spend more time on the beach but that is in no way an excuse to leave you KFC, Wendy's, Carols JR and any other piece of garbage on the beach, whatever you bring to the beach take it home with you. This was my interns first Bahamian Beach experience and I felt like I took her to the dump. - It was horrendous 

So maybe you are thinking I don't leave my garbage at the beach, I am not destroying paradise...I think you are destroying paradise and I encourage you to keep reading

2. Last week I took YME students to Clifton to go snorkeling and conduct a field exercise. We got to Clifton Heritage Park, we had spent our money to get a bus from East street to Clifton, paid our park entrance fee to get to the snorkel site only to find it was covered in oil. There were oil slicks on the water and oil on the beach. This was supposed to be my interns first experience snorkeling..... we couldn't  go snorkeling, everyone would have been covered in oil. 

Sure, perhaps you have no direct influence over the oil spills at Clifton, and you are asking yourself how you could possibly be destroying paradise? 


Collectively we are destroying The Bahamas. 
I have accepted the fact that we cannot wait for the government to create the change needed in this country. It depends on you and me and all of us Bahamians.  There is no doubt that there is a need for reform in almost every aspect of this country from education to energy.  What I ask is for you to acknowledge the fact that you , the well educated, law abiding, non littering citizen are part of the problem. Why are you the problem? Simply because you fail to be part of the solution. Reflect on your life and figure out  what you need to do to make a change. It's going to take small actions by all 300,000 of us to change things in this country. I can't tell you what to do, but you need to do something, we all need to do something otherwise our standard of living, our health and economy is at risk.  

We all need to do more, stop being lazy and complacent, constructively speak up about issues, become a mentor to someone, have a meaningful conversation with the students packing your groceries, maybe that student wants to be a lawyer or a banker, give them a book to read or share an experience with them. Sometimes the smallest interactions can have the biggest impact in a students life. Use reusable grocery bags (IF YOU DON"T USE REUSABLE GROCERY BAGS IT IS BECAUSE YOU ARE LAZY... STOP BEING LAZY). Explain to the student packing your bags why reusable grocery bags are important. Give a student a reusable grocery bag for them to use. Drink out of a reusable water bottle. Carry your lunch to work, or carry a reusable container if you are ordering out..... There are so many things that you can do but at the end of the day we need to start acting like a community.   East St to Lyford Cay, Wolf Road and Old Fort Bay, we all live on this island together and we need to start taking control of our future which means, putting the environment  and education first. 


Poor Education = Poor Work Ethic = Poor Business Output


Destroyed Environment = Less Tourists =  Unemployment = More Crime


Destroyed Environment = Reduced Ecosystem Services (fish, protection from storms, clean water, etc.) = Reduced Quality of Life = Unhappy Bahamians

My rant is over, I just want to see a better Bahamas....apparently "It's better in The Bahamas".... the paradise that we are destroying is better than what exactly?  Right now I am not sure.......  I hope we can all do something to make a change, because it is need. 



 
 
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Manta Ray in The Galapagos!
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Oh Cat Island!
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Sweet Abaco Dolphins!
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Mombasa Kenya!
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My heart lives in the Exuma Cays!
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One more day in the Exumas!
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Santa Cruz, Galapagos!
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After work, we play.. Kenya!
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Penguins and Blue footed Boobies!!!! Isabela, Galapagos!
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Kisite National Park, Kenya :)
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Normans Cay!
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Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
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Chen Pond Restoration Site
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California
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Berry Islands!
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Galapagos!
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Oh Andros!
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Nassau..... Home Sweet Home :D

To some of the happiest moments of my life...The life of a girl with an Ocean Soul... Happy Oceans Day!

 
 
These days when asked where I live, my response is often " well, I pay rent in Nassau, BUT, that doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to find me there."  This is of course no complaint, I love The Bahamas, and it is home, and when I am far away I miss the blue skies and perfect waters. However the minute I arrive home I start daydreaming about another trip to a far away land all in the name of coral. What can i say, I have a passion for exploration and love a good story.

Coral, tiny symbiotic animals that have no idea that I or any humans exist, have transformed my life in a weird, I can't sleep, stressed out of my mind, but madly in love with these creatures kind of way. Coral reefs sustain our economy and our lifestyle in The Bahamas and are often taken for granted and their importance overlooked. It is so important that we as Bahamians start to stand up and protect our culture and heritage and this includes all of our natural resources. The reality is that if we don't ensure that we have a healthy environment, we will loose our economic stability and the quality of life that we are all accustomed to will be lowered. This opens the door for more delinquent and unfavorable behavior in the country. It's a reality that we are faced with and as Bahamians we need to take control of our future and shape the country that we want to live in. 

So Back to coral and traveling 1/2 way around the world ( I am going to try and keep this brief because I should be working on my thesis right now, but writing a blog post was a wonderful opportunity for procrastination!)

Bequia 
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Jessica and I meeting with high school students from Bequia

Young Marine Explorers, has been going through some really exciting transformational changes, most of which is "underwater" housekeeping and structural- transforming from the one woman and many intern show to a sustainable organization that will be able to continue offering the programs throughout the country without me actually facilitating them.  This transition hasn't happened over night but we have a great team and Board of Directors that are guiding the organizations work...... which takes me to the whirlwind trip to Bequia. YME is working with an environmental arts organization based in Barbados to develop an Environmental Leadership Exchange programme with students from Bequia in the Grenadines. On my trip down there I met with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Environment in addition to the principles of the two high schools, key island stakeholders and of course the youth!  It was a great start and I am really excited about this inter island cross caribbean YME exchange!


Cambridge 

I spent a month in England  really all in the name of conservation and coral. I attended the Student Conference on Conservation Science at Cambridge University. It was a fantastic experience with brilliant key note speakers and a forum to discuss conservation with other students. My three take home points from the conference are:
  1. Conservation is not perfect - you can't spend your life in the lab ( or in my case in front of the computer) trying to make it perfect, it won't be. For you to be really working in conservation you have to go out there with what you have and do something. Maybe it will work maybe it won't. But you won't know until you get out there and with the information you gather you have to share it with people. Publish it so others can learn from you, we are all working towards a common goal of conserving our planet -we need to learn from each other.
  2. There is so much to learn from talking with your peers- from presentation skills, to applying for doctoral programs or just about challenges and highlights of conservation projects.
  3. There are amazing and passionate people around the world working to secure our health and well being. Some are  working with rhinos, corals, frogs, people  and so much more.... point being is that there is hope and even as we get bogged down in our personal conservation battles there are many others working with you all around the world.

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Opening of SCCS... this was just the beginning !
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Kenya and Bahamas... Frogs and Corals.... EDGE Fellows reunited in Cambridge :)
London
From Cambridge I spent three weeks at the Zoological Society of London working on my thesis.... ( which i really need to get back to so going to try and wrap this up). Those three weeks were an emotional roller coaster, it was hard, i was challenged in ways my mind had never really comprehend before. But i pushed through. I had amazing support from ZSL staff which helped me look at some of my points in a different light which was really good. To say that I would have come this far in the thesis writing without any freak out moments would be like me saying I have come this far without drinking any coffee.... as if haha. 

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The Irish-English Family
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Oh Cameden Town ..... I spent about 4 hours a day commuting....ode to the Tube adventures
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An unexpected high school reunion! From London Ontario to London England :)
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Here we have the Nikita one of the animals in the zoo, happy at home in the ZSL library
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ZSL Interns with our mentor Raj on a wonderful and much needed day at Kew Gardens
Ireland
I left London and my aunt and uncle who took great care of me and went  to Ireland for a 2 day whirl wind trip. There I connected with my irish side of the family who I hadn't seen in about 15 years. We had a crazy family reunion and then I was off back to Nassau.....



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The Shiel cousins minus a few
Nassau
Back to Nassau really means I landed in Nassau went to Exuma the following day to work as a dive master for the weekend...Then to Miami for two weeks where I was chained to a desk and worked on my thesis.....and I am now back in Nassau and with 14 days to go, My birthday present to me, probably the best birthday present I will ever give myself will be to submit my MSc thesis.... It will be a good.... a FANTASTIC day..... but it will only be fantastic if i don't get back to work!

In the name of caffeine, coral and conservation ......... I go back to work to accomplish goals and set in motion bigger dreams..... to publications and PhD's ..... that is all
 
 
The month of July marked the 40th year of independence for the Bahamas and although I am too young to be one of those Bahamians who remember that 10th day of July in 1973, I was honored to be recognized as one of 40 outstanding Bahamians whom will make a difference for the Bahamas within the next 40 years. Some might describe my passion for the ocean and the Bahamas as being contagious but simply put I love the ocean and I love what I do which makes it really easy for me to share my enthusiasm with others.  I think that is what makes the EDGE fellowship so fantastic as it has provided a vehicle for me to combine my love for diving, the ocean and conservation and share that with youth throughout the Bahamas. One of the objectives of my EDGE project Empowering Youth Through Coral Conservation has been to train youth to become members of a Coral Conservation Team (CCT) that will work along side me in the filed as we study Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), analyze our findings in the lab and share the importance of pillar coral and coral reefs within local communities.  On paper the project sounds fairly simple find youth, teach them to dive, study coral…. the reality is not as simple, but rather a story of logistical trials, character development and many laughs…laughter, because crying is simply not an option.  As I am still conducting an in-depth literature review on pillar coral and methods on studying rare coral species I jumped into training the coral conservation team. One of the first things that I have realized is that the quality of my data is paramount and what I am really doing is training youth that in two to three years will have the capacity to monitor reefs but for now our efforts or focused on coral id, mastering buoyancy while diving and learning the basics about the marine environment.
Working with youth on each island presents its various challenges, In Nassau where I live there are 18 youth currently enrolled in the project where an hours bus ride and trek through a dirt trail with everyone pitching in to transport the dive gear is just the beginning of our day.  Our home base is a little thatch gazebo on a sandy beach that provides access to deep water from shore.  Unfortunately the reef that we frequent for our training is not the healthiest and is covered with macro algae, however during a training dive last week we spotted a dead colony of pillar coral with only one living column about the size of my thumb. Even though its small I now know there is pillar coral in the waters around Nassau.

Working in Cat Island has been far more exciting as far as pillar coral sightings are concerned. The Cat Island CCT has conducted training dives where there have been beautiful colonies of pillar coral and the first person to site it usually ends up banging on the back of their tank to get everyone’s attention and behind everyone’s masks are wide eyes and big smiles. It is always exciting to hear the joy in a CCT member who has no more than 10 dives under their belt describe an encounter with a pillar coral colony during a dive that I wasn’t present on.  It is during these conversations that I realize that my passion for the ocean and pillar coral is being transferred and that in time these Coral Conservation Teams will be powerful forces of conservation within local communities.

Working with the CCT is just the beginning of my EDGE conservation project and it is exciting to be a role model for so many youth and introduce to the world of conservation as I am developing an early career conservation biologist.
 
 
On Friday I had the honor of attending the CEE Global Awards and Women's Summit in recognition of the 40th year anniversary of the Bahamas. During the ceremony I was presented an award for my dedication and hard work in the field of Marine Biology. This was an exciting event and it was an honor to be recognized for the work that I am doing in the Marine Sciences. I sincerely hope to contribute significantly to the field of marine science throughout The Bahamas and around the world and I think this award suggests that I am heading in the right direction, although I won’t get far if I can’t complete my masters so I think this entry will have to be short and I need to finish my assignment on science communication. 

 
 
Last weekend I found myself in Cat island for the second time in one month... not bad if you ask me.  I was asked to talk at the first annual Earth Day celebration hosted in Arthurs Town Cat Island. It was great to be part of the 3 person panel from  Nassau that spoke about various environmental project and initiatives.  I talked about my coral conservation project, which was great the more presentations I can give the more coverage the project gets. It was also fantastic to connect with some of the other stake holders within the community.  It makes me happy about the networks that I am developing throughout The Bahamas especially with the youth.  Even though I am talking about Cat Island I am writing this blog post from lovely Exuma. Cat Island one week lovely Exuma this week I must say two of the best islands in The Bahamas back to back, not bad at all.  As I sit here looking out the window  I contemplate where I am in my journey of  so called life.  I am really excited to be only  one and a half classes away from finishing this second year of my MSc. I say half because I am in the middle of one class now and then once I get the final A ok I begin my thesis year... the last and final year!!!! Oh how I am so excited. Even though I have already started working on it with my EDGE project it will nice to be able to focus on it and not have to worry about classes!!!!! But this mean I have to start thinking about my doctorate and where I will go to school to do that. I want to go somewhere in the UK or EU. I think it would be nice to get my Phd done in 3 years as opposed to 4 to 5 years and also it would be a nice change and give me a chance to try and connect with the Irish side of me. This weekend I’m working with some of my friends from the states and we are going to be diving danger reef, its funny I will never forget the day I went to danger reef and saw the eagle ray ballet.. at least that’s how I remember it with at least 1o rays swimming about 50 feet bellow as I floated on the surface in awe. I know my friends want to see sharks which we will of course see but I wouldn’t mind having some eagle rays in my life tomorrow. Heres to a fun filled weekend with friends and great dives and so thats my cue to get out from in front of my computer and go and enjoy sunny Exuma!