Young Marine Explorers Study Impact of Hurricane Matthew on The Bahamas

Young Marine Explorers students conducting coastal assessments along the rocky shores. (Photo: YME)


NEW PROVIDENCE, The Bahamas, Wednesday December 28, 2016
– Young Marine Explorers (YME), a Bahamian marine conservation organization based in New Providence, is working with Coastal Ecology Lab at the University of Miami to document the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on coastal and marine resources.

The Waitt Foundation, an international organization with a mission to protect and restore ocean health, is funding the six-month project in New Providence. It sets the foundation for future studies in Exuma, Grand Bahama, and North Andros. The passing of Hurricane Matthew had unprecedented impacts on the people and communities of those four islands.

YME teams will look at the loss of natural capital – fish populations, spiny lobster, and mangroves that protect the coasts –from hurricane waves and winds to determine what the potential long-term changes might be to mangroves, beaches and coral reefs.

“This hurricane has changed everything,” said YME founder and CEO Nikita Shiel-Rolle. “We will be talking about the before and after of this storm for decades to come. This storm will change not only how we live on the island, but will increase our need to understand what changes have occurred just off our shores.”

She said the project would be “the first study of its kind in The Bahamas to actively engage high school students in applied conservation science that will document the natural resource cost of a major storm event”.

“Bahamians are naturally resilient to hurricanes and tropical storms, but after Hurricane Matthew, many people are only just now beginning to see the enormous scale of the growing costs of recovery. The indirect costs of hurricanes emerge slowly after the storm. These costs include lost wages, long-term health impacts as well as loss of natural resources. We can easily see the trees and vegetation stripped away on land, but it is much harder to know what the immediate and long-term impacts will be on ocean resources and what this will mean for our economy and wellbeing.”

YME members conducting impact damage assessments in Southern New Providence. (Photo: YME)

Hurricanes and tropical storms are strengthened by unusually warm ocean waters. With sea level rise and global warming trends, The Bahamas may be facing an increasingly large number of severe storm events in the future, the YME said, and young people who have the opportunity to learn about hurricane impacts on their shorelines now will be able to incorporate this information in the future for their personal safety and protection.

The YME Hurricane Matthew initiative will have four components. First, YME will work with students to document hurricane impacts in their neighbourhoods, and encourage students to share their hurricane experiences across islands. Secondly, students will work with mentors to carry out coastal assessments in key locations around the country to document coastal erosion, loss of vegetation, flooding and destruction of homes and buildings. Thirdly, students will learn about water quality and land-based sources of pollution to coastal water; and fourthly, students will learn about mapping hurricane impacts along the coast and in the water.

YME members entering data at the Conservation Centre. (Photo: YME)

YME has been offering marine conservation programmes for the past 10 years but has redesigned this year’s curriculum to enable students to work alongside conservation biologist Nikita Shiel-Rolle and coastal ecology Professor Kathleen Sullivan-Sealey.

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