Plastic pollution is a big challenge to the Caribbean islands. One pressing challenge in the region is to develop an efficient waste disposal system and discourage the use of single-use plastics. In The Bahamas, however, this problem is not only a challenge that can be tackled locally as a great amount of plastic that is washed to the shore is not prevenient from the country, but from foreign sources. It is estimated that 20% to 30% of the plastic in the oceans come from fishing nets, lines and ropes.
Photo by Dorlan Curtis Jr
Having in mind the importance of protecting the oceans. The Bahamas Plastic Movement is aiming to change local’s relationship with plastic one pupil at a time. Having the passion for the ocean as a central aspect, this initiative is fighting to create awareness amongst the community in Eleuthera, organizing beach clean ups and promoting science as its flagship to create engagement between local youth and policy making. This grassroot innovation is all about slow growth and high impact with the objective of turning The Bahamas into a nation that is free of plastic debris.
Photo by Dorlan Curtis Jr
Launched in 2014, The Bahamas Plastic Movement is dedicated to achieving a plastic free Bahamas through research, education, science and policy. Their research focuses on citizen science to look at how plastic moves over space. They aim to create a regional approach to harmonize and coordinate monitoring strategies to understand the extent of plastic debris pollution, and how to shape policy based on science. In order to achieve that, the organization has been running a tuition free summer camp for youth. The program is based on turning young people into environmental stewards through two pillars: education and mentorship. They aim to connect young people with the ocean through research that will spill over to the community, while the mentorship side comes from students that have already completed the program and want to come back as counselors. This is a very unique innovation as it is completely made for locals by locals with a strong activism component that wants to position black people in the center of environmental movements.
One of the main goals of the organization is to continue being a voice for island nations when it comes to marine debris, plastic pollution and waste management. Their goal is to expand our thinking not only about plastic pollution, but to reevaluate our relationship towards trash using the circular economy. Another goal is to establish a Research and Education Center so they can take on more people interested in learning and researching about the environment, waste management and circular economy. Finally, with these goals, The Bahamas Plastic Movement will contribute to create more independence as bright young people would be able to stay in the island to conduct research, eliminating the need of looking for opportunities outside of the country.
As The Bahamas Plastic Movement is highly dependent on its founder, Kristal Ambrose, it has been hard to grow the organization and conduct extensive research at the same time. The time problem arises from the fact that the founder is a full time PhD student making it difficult to balance organization time and study time. Even though the PhD is time consuming, they are confident that the knowledge coming from the studies will be crucial to help the organization reach its goals. The lack of a fixed location is also an issue that they are struggling with. Nevertheless, they are working hard to achieve enough funding to fix this and continue growing.
Their impact that are easier to measure are the following: the organization has engaged over 1000 students in their summer camp, removed almost half a ton of debris from beaches on eight different islands in The Bahamas, helped pass the law that banned single use plastic from the country and had students from The Bahamas travel to California to attend International Youth summits for five years consecutively. On the other hand, some impacts are more subtle and cannot be put into metrics. Those are the fact that The Bahamas Plastic Movement has helped giving a voice to the Caribbean in international conferences, the noticeable change in the student’s confidence once they finish the program, the spillover impact that the program has on the student’s families and putting the youth from The Bahamas in a position of leadership when it comes to change and environmental engagement.
In the future, the organization is confident that they will be able to start their education and research center. They aim to be able to open their program not only to The Bahamas and the Caribbean, but to young people around the world that are interested in helping, learning and researching. They want to turn The Bahamas into a research and training hub for the Caribbean. Another expected outcome for the future is to expand their research and become more engaged in finding ways of working with the circular economy, looking into, more specifically, how different sustainable materials can replace plastic.