Antiguan Children Adopting Coastlines, Programme Also Coming To Nevis Soon.

Photocredit: Adoptacoastline. This is what a beach could look like if not cared for. A cruise ship looms in the background.
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One twenty-mile stretch of coastline in Angtigua is suddenly looking a whole lot more cared for.

There are newly planted trees, the litter-free beaches, the signature tyre waste receptacles, painted ocean blue, and bearing the charge “Adopt-a-Coastline”, a slogan showing the presence of an organization recently created to preserve  the coastal environment, and  see it thriving and healthy for people and wildlife.

The Community Coastal Stewardship Project, implemented by Adoptacoastline (Antigua and Barbuda) Inc, aims to “Restore Coastal Ecosystems to Pristine Habitat, Free of Waste”.

With funding of $49,510 USD from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme Adoptacoastline is changing the way people think about keeping island shores looking nice.

Through this project, there will be up to 30 bins, across 10 to 15 beaches managed by sports teams, schools, community groups, businesses, yachts, and local and international volunteers.

Communities, including schoolchildren  “adopt” beaches and bays and charge themselves with the responsibility of maintaining clean surroundings.

In Antigua, like the rest of the Caribbean, the impacts of climate change are a daily reality, evidenced in receding beaches, worsening hurricanes, debilitating droughts and increasingly suffocating summers.

Some islanders, however, are fighting back.

Kih’Nyiah McKay, aged 11 is one of more than 60 girls and young women who have been trained as coastal stewards, and given the job of  planting indigenous trees to slow coastal erosion, protecting the nesting sites of critically endangered turtles, and making and managing beach bins where people can leave their trash instead of leaving it for the tides to wash away.

The project created by local NGO Adopt-a-Coastline has been so successful, it was selected for a $100,000 (£80,000) grant from the United Nations’ Global Environment Facility last August, one of just 23 ventures chosen from 600 applications.

The funding will enable it to roll out to three other small Caribbean islands – Antigua’s sister Barbuda, plus Nevis and Carriacou – later this year.

A key part of the work is encouraging women and girls to “have more of a voice”, explains Adopt-a-Coastline’s executive director Kat Byles.

Traditional gender roles are still deeply ingrained in much of the Caribbean and the project aims to instil new skills, such as collating and analysing eco data, into the next generation of women and inspire them into taking leadership roles.

Kih’Nyiah’s school principal, Ryona Shaw-Joseph, was delighted to get involved by rounding up a clutch of kids to take part and pitching in with a beach clean-up.

“We need to teach children to take care of what we have, so it can be sustained for the future,” she says.

“And it’s important to show the girls a different path; not everyone can just go and work for the government,” she adds, in reference to the country’s bloated public sector.

Kaiesha Joseph is one who needs little convincing.

At 24, the youth parliamentarian dreams not of working for the government, but running it, by one day becoming the country’s first female prime minister.

For now, though, she has her sights set on taking her younger peers along for the ride by supporting Adopt-a-Coastline’s endeavours.

“We have developed a culture in Antigua and Barbuda where certain roles are for men, and many women still gravitate towards nurturing jobs like midwives, teachers and secretaries,” she tells the BBC.

“They would rather assist from the back and let the men step forward.”

Pensioners Beach on Antigua’s west coast is one of several adopted under the programme to be cleaned and cared for by community volunteers.

Kaiesha points out the bins the team have crafted from discarded tyres, otherwise destined for the landfill site which smokes silently in the distance.

Here, the sands are fringed by seagrape trees, creating a picture-postcard tableau that enthrals the tourists who flock to this sunny island each year.

But the arrival of short-term visitors also means an additional amount of waste, which must be disposed of by the tiny nation with its meagre resources. On one recent day, four huge cruise ships could be seen dwarfing the capital city’s port and filling its streets with pedestrians.

Next month several thousand more visitors, including dozens of world leaders, are due to arrive when Antigua stages the UN’s fourth small island developing states conference.

The event aims to assess the ability of small islands like this one, which suffer the worst effects of climate change, to develop sustainably and to agree a path forward.

Input from young women such as Kaiesha will be vital. “We may be a small country,” she says, “but we need to make our voices heard.”

Carolyn Perry, from the government’s youth affairs department, says that while more girls and women from Antigua are now entering higher education, they still struggle to attain upper management jobs.

“If we empower them from a young age, we will see our communities transformed,” she says hopefully.

Adopt-a-Coastline is also helping girls earn a modest income by teaching them how to craft jewellery, bird boxes and benches from marine debris for sale in the charity’s shop.

The NGO was founded in 2009 by long-term resident Jennifer Meranto.

“I added up all the trash I’d contributed to Antigua over the last 20 years. People have a misconception that if they throw something away, it goes away. But it doesn’t; much of it ends up in the ocean. I decided I wanted to erase my own footprint,” she explains.

Sources: Antigua Observer, BBC. Instagram.
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