Hurricanes and storms in the past, such as Tropical Storm Noel, moved sediment and pollutants into near shore waters, resulting in the die-off of seagrasses and sponges. On Long Island, for instance, the passing of the tropical storm in 2007 resulted in a coastal “dead zone” which impacted the livelihood of fishermen throughout the island. (A dead zone is the result of an algal bloom that consumes all the oxygen in the water thus killing all other living organisms in that area.) The size and scope of Hurricane Matthew passing through the entire country presents a unique opportunity to look along the hurricane path from south to north at the damage to a large portion of the marine environment.
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. 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 new YME Hurricane Matthew initiative can provide valuable training and exposure for high school students on four islands, by emphasising the importance our natural resources play in supporting our way of life.
Young Marine Explorers 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. When asked to comment on the shift in the programme’s curriculum Founder and CEO Nikita Shiel-Rolle said "As a nation, we have just experienced a massive hurricane that has drastically impacted our lives. I believe as Bahamians we need to be proactive if we are to ensure that we are prepared for future natural disasters, which could also have major effects on our coastal and marine environments. I am very happy that YME has the ability to mobilise and engage so many youth in a research project that will positively influence our response to hurricanes in the future.”
This project will lay the foundation for a long-term monitoring programme that will be managed by Young Marine Explorers. The data collected by YME members will produce valuable information that can be used by both governmental and non-governmental agencies. The usual YME curriculum engages students in marine leadership education classes hosted after school and on Saturdays.