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March 2021

How The Tide is helping build a team of Certified Community Marine Scientists in The Bahamas

Cover: Nikita Shiel-Rolle
The Tide

Every month our incredible giving community, The Tide, supports an ocean project that is good for people and for nature. As part of The Tide, you can help tackle the climate crisis, rebuild ocean life, and join some of the world’s most determined changemakers to shape a new future.

Join over 5,600 like-minded global supporters and become a member of The Tide today. Read on to discover this month’s featured project.

In March 2021, The Tide is partnering with the Cat Island Conservation Institute to establish the first community conservation laboratory on Cat Island, The Bahamas.

Cat Island is a resplendent, 150-square mile island located in the central Bahamas, nearly 300 miles from the coast of Florida. Featuring glimmering powder-pink beaches, verdant hills, and The Bahamas’ highest point, known locally as Como Hill, Cat Island is also an idyllic gateway to enchanting turquoise waters that are home to eagle rays, green sea turtles, Caribbean reef sharks, queen conches, and many other marine species.

Many marine species populate the enchanting turquoise waters of the Bahamas archipelago, such as the majestic eagle ray · Photo: Cristina Mittermeier
A cultural item that resonates with Bahamian hearts, the conch is native to the Caribbean islands · Photo: Cristina Mittermeier

While Cat Island sounds like the perfect tropical paradise, not everyone is able to enjoy its many treasures.

Because of the history and legacy of colonialism and racism in the former British colony, many Bahamians have not had the opportunity to experience the ocean in the same way that foreign visitors do.
The Bahamas looks like the perfect tropical paradise, but the history and legacy of colonialism continues to deny many Bahamians the opportunity to form a relationship with the ocean · Photo: Alessandro Sarno

Today, this is starting to change thanks to the work of Bahamian organizations like the Cat Island Conservation Institute.

Establishing the first community conservation laboratory in The Bahamas will allow the Cat Island Conservation Institute to train a group of local community members—who won’t have had the opportunity or the means for a formal scuba diving or marine science education—to become certified PADI scuba divers. Through a new certification offered by the Cat Island Conservation Institute, the Bahamian Science Divers will be trained in Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment protocols, thus enabling them to conduct scientifically sound assessments of coral reef health that can be compared regionally.

The vision held by the Cat Island Conservation Institute is that Certified Community Marine Scientist will become a new trade and career path for Bahamians. Working alongside senior scientists, Community Marine Scientists will protect and restore critical Bahamian ocean ecosystems.

The long-term benefits of this work include increased science literacy within the Cat Island community, improved coral health and marine biodiversity, and a flourishing local community invested in ocean ecosystems and the blue economy.

Here’s a preview of The Tide’s impact in The Bahamas this month:

Why community marine science matters

Currently, Northern Cat Island is one of The Bahamas’ data-deficient regions. Once the Cat Island Conservation Institute’s team of Certified Community Marine Scientists is trained, they will have local capacity to co-design and conduct community-driven monitoring and research projects. Research priorities will be gaining an understanding of live coral coverage on the reefs, identifying if there are any bleaching episodes, and determining whether the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease has spread to the Northern Cat Island reefs.

The Cat Island Conservation Institute works closely with young people on the island, engaging them in community marine science projects · Photo: Nikita Shiel-Rolle
The reach of this program will be felt through the community.

Participants in the Certified Community Marine Scientist course will regularly share their experience with schools and other key community groups such as the church they may attend. Members of the community conservation laboratory will also identify vital research questions to direct the interdisciplinary work carried out by the team, thus clearly articulating and elevating voices and needs on the ground with the power of scientific data.

The Cat Island Conservation Institute was born out of the recognized need to close the gap between science, society, and policy · Photo: Nikita Shiel-Rolle
The institute’s work equips members of the Cat Island community with science skills · Photo: Nikita Shiel-Rolle
The new Certified Community Marine Scientists will have the capacity to be equitable partners in scientific research and discovery, conservation planning and management, and ocean ecosystem protection · Photo: Nikita Shiel-Rolle

The Changemaker

“I think I was born an advocate,” says Nikita Shiel-Rolle, a Bahamian conservation biologist and climate justice advocate also known as Eagleray Empress. Nikita’s deep passion for the ocean, exploration, and education, coupled with her love for The Bahamas, has shaped both her personal and her professional goals. A leader in driving the development of a sustainable blue economy in The Bahamas, Nikita established the Cat Island Conservation Institute with the support of a diverse group of thought leaders, in response to Hurricane Dorian which devastated the Northern Islands of The Bahamas in 2019.

Given that failing to protect its marine areas today could have serious implications for both Bahamians and the planet, Nikita sheds light on the challenges and opportunities that The Bahamas faces as an ocean nation, against the backdrop of the accelerating climate crisis.

Discover the story of how Nikita is helping make Bahamian communities climate-resilient through love, care, and compassion.

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Cat Island Conservation Institute

The Cat Island Conservation Institute was born out of the recognized need to drive bold and ambitious climate action in The Bahamas by closing the gap between science, society, and policy—a critical step in creating climate-resilient communities.

The institute seeks to achieve this by reducing barriers to science, which requires meeting community members wherever they are, understanding that many Bahamians struggle with reading comprehension, cannot swim, and are unaware of how the changing climate will impact their lives.

The Cat Island Conservation Institute believes that a sustainable future for island communities is only possible through experiential education, equitable collaboration, and most importantly, love and appreciation for both the island people and all the ocean has to offer.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be following progress on the community conservation laboratory, led by Nikita, as well as shining a light on the Cat Island Conservation Institute’s ongoing work.

The scientific data collected by the Cat Island Conservation Institute will articulate and elevate voices and needs on the ground, thus contributing to the development of adaptive climate solutions · Photo: Nikita Shiel-Rolle

Become a Tide member

Join Nikita, the Cat Island Conservation Institute, and some of the world’s most determined changemakers to play your part in helping to rebuild ocean life and tackle the climate crisis—together, we can shape a better future.

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