GAIN AN EDGE: Kristal’s battle to tackle Bahamas’ plastic pollution

Kristal Ambrose of the Bahama Plastic Movement at the Ka iwi shoreline in Hawaii for the Sierra Club.

Kristal Ambrose of the Bahama Plastic Movement at the Ka iwi shoreline in Hawaii for the Sierra Club.

Kristal Ambrose is a changemaker. She has participated in research conferences around the world and has been recognized for her fight in ending plastic pollution. Kristal’s advocacy and the work of a Bahamian non-profit she founded have also been featured in international publications showcasing the work of environmental innovators.

Since 1982, Lyford Cay Foundations has supported Bahamians pursuing higher education. Over decades Bahamians have demonstrated their talent and ideas combined with post-secondary education, equip them to lead, create and innovate to the benefit of The Bahamas. To earn her BA in Environmental Science at Gannon University, Kristal is one among some 3,000 Bahamians who have received scholarship funding from Lyford Cay Foundations.

In November 2013, Kristal launched the non-profit organisation Bahamas Plastic Movement. The organization was a Lyford Cay Foundations’ grant recipient for its youth summer camp in Eleuthera.

“The philanthropic opportunities available through the Foundations were a driving force. As a scholar, I was aware of their support of a variety of community, education and conservation-based initiatives. The visibility and the platform provided by the Foundations to expand upon our work has been monumental and greatly appreciated.”

Kristal went on to complete a master’s degree at Dalhousie University. Armed with her passion and her studies, she feels confident in her capacity to continue her fight to better our world.

She said: “Every day I am making progress towards my ever-expanding vision. With the Foundations’ support both personally and professionally, I am constantly growing in my field and driving historic change in The Bahamas thanks to the assistance of young Bahamian students that have been involved in our educational programming.”

The following is an excerpt from a recent interview with Kristal from YES! Magazine, a publication dedicated to telling the stories of people building a better world.

“At age 22, on an expedition in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Kristal Ambrose witnessed a horror she couldn’t unsee: a vast patch of garbage, made up mostly of plastics.

She was onboard the ship of the 5 Gyres Institute, a Los Angles-based nonprofit that studies gyres, ocean currents that trap marine debris. What she saw inspired her to take on the problem of plastic pollution back in her home country of the Bahamas.

Now 29, Ambrose is an environmental educator and founder of the Bahamas Plastic Movement, a youth-led initiative that last year convinced the Bahamian government to commit to banning all single-use plastics countrywide.

She was in Seattle recently to address the regional office of the US Environmental Protection Agency about her group’s work. She sat down with Fran Korten to talk about how she took on plastic pollution in the islands.

Yes: You have mounted a successful campaign to reduce plastics in The Bahamas. What inspired you to do that?

Kristal: In 2008, when I was 18, I was working at an aquarium in The Bahamas. We had a sea turtle that had some internal blockage. For two and a half days we had to go inside the rectum of the sea turtle. We pulled out one piece of plastic after another. My role was to hold down her front flippers. Now, sea turtles have salt glands to protect their eyes from the sand, so it looks as if they’re crying. So while I’m holding down her fins, she’s crying and I’m crying. I’m saying to myself, “I’ll never drop a piece of plastic on the ground again.

“Then in 2012 I met Dr Marcus Eriksen, who cofounded the 5 Gyres Institute, which studies the huge circulating ocean currents that trap marine debris. He was mounting an expedition that would sail from the Marshall Islands all the way to Japan to study the Western garbage patch. I wanted to go.

“So I raised money to get to the Marshall Islands and back home from Japan. I lived on the boat for 20 days with all these strangers who were trying to understand the problem of plastic. We were out there where there were no landmasses, just us, wildlife, and the garbage. We pulled this huge discarded net onto the boat. There were all these different types of plastic. As we looked through the waste I realised that everything there were things that I was using at home — plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic cutlery, straws. I realised I was the biggest offender that I knew.”

You can find full article “Where Kids Fought Plastic Pollution — and Won” on https://www.yesmagazine.org

• “Gain An Edge” is a weekly collaboration of the Lyford Cay Foundations, Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute and University of The Bahamas aimed at promoting a national dialogue on higher education. To share your thoughts, email gainanedge@tribunemedia.net.


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