First established in August of 2017, The Centre for Ocean Research and Education (CORE) was founded to identify, and address deficits in environmental education efforts among the out-island communities of The Bahamas. This was achieved by providing experiential initiatives that came at no cost to students or the communities in which we worked. Through collaborations with local schools and the Ministry of Education, we began providing the tools to empower young people to recognise the value of their saltwater backyards through environmental science classes, workshops, residential summer research camps and by incorporating young people into graduate student research projects that we supervised and hosted, centered on the island of Eleuthera. Before long we came to realize that our approach was transformative in ways that transcended the concept of 'learning' and our program soon gained island-wide traction. The ethos that we still abide by today, is working with the community, for the community, in the community, and we were soon recognised for our initiatives among multiple stakeholders across several Family Islands. Our response to this demand for our innovative approach to contemporary education was to acquire a space that we converted into a functioning research field station, including a classroom, science library and accommodations to start hosting collaborators, residential summer classes and a drop in centre for the local community. We soon began drawing researchers from all over the world to embrace the unique biodiversity and Colleen Spring The Bahamas has to offer, and by March 2018, we had established our first two research collaborations that soon functioned as conduits to developing our educational programs further. Our first ‘flagship’ research program was in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution in a study addressing the tropicalisation of a western Atlantic seagrass (Thalassia testudinum) meadows which eventually provided several side projects. Our second partnership was with the University of Tampa, supporting professors, postdoctoral researchers and undergraduate students in a genetic study looking into evolutionary pathways among an isolated (sub) population of lined seahorses (Hippocampus erectus) from an anchialine lake.
Within 12 months of being established, CORE had appointed a highly skilled and diverse board of directors, received 501(c)(3) non-profit status from the IRS, provided full time internships for seven local students, established six research projects with Universities and institutions from The USA, Canada, England and The Netherlands, and developed, hosted and delivered educational programs to 12 schools, universities and outreach programs from the USA, England and The Bahamas. By Christmas of 2018, we had presented research at four international conferences and meetings and had taken on two graduate students from Wageningen University in The Netherlands and the University of Essex in the UK to develop and supervise PhD and MSc research programs in The Bahamas. These projects were aimed at deriving conservation strategy and management frameworks for vulnerable ecosystems, specifically (1) addressing the impacts of macro-herbivores on grazing Thalassia sp. seagrass meadows and (2) inferring evolutionary trajectories in the paradigms of behaviour in the Caribbean octopus from an isolated saltwater lake. Both projects have seen several research papers published on the findings derived from these multiple year applied research projects.
We also began attracting attention from the international media, and in December 2018 we began filming for the latest Blue Planet series with the BBC’s Natural History Unit. Additionally we were engaged by Condé Nast and WIRED magazine to film an episode on the sensory biology of sharks for an innovative feature on shark repellent devices. CORE was now being considered as a leading regional expert in marine conservation biology and excellence in environmental education. Our final media engagement for 2018 was an invitation to contribute to the latest book by internationally acclaimed photographer Philip Hamilton ‘Call of the Blue’, whereby we provided a chapter of text to accompany award winning photographs of rays.
After the successes of what was our first full year in operation, 2019 was truly the year that defined this organisation. We diversified our portfolio of research to include a further three projects and four new collaborating partners which included increased numbers of graduate students, which, as a result, saw us commit to a larger stake in island community education by introducing a range of new and exciting projects, that we received local and international funding for. We also saw our first scientific publications and submitted articles gain international attention, and we were awarded competitive grants and donations. Due to the attention we were now receiving on an international platform, leaders in industry were competing for our consultancy services for a range of projects, including environmental impact assessments, baseline ecological monitoring and the establishment of long term monitoring programs for port development, private island innovation and services related to establishing outreach programs among a greater and diverse number of islands throughout the Caribbean. However, of all these new and exciting opportunities, we are most proud of being formally recognised by the communities in which we serve, by being a two time recipient of local community awards. Our CEO, Dr. Owen O’Shea was publicly presented with two awards to acknowledge the contributions to local education, capacity building and outreach initiatives in the Family Islands that CORE had now become synonymous with.
The anticipation of increasing our presence in 2020 was tangible, yet no one was prepared for the reality of yet another defining year, albeit for different reasons.
CORE exploded into 2020 with three new projects and collaborations with the Universita di Padova in Italy, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Memorial University of Newfoundland, where Dr. O’Shea was appointed adjunct professor within the School of Ocean Sciences. We saw rapid increases in education programs to now 15 separate initiatives among several islands and we were providing off-site training and technical internships for international students as well as local Bahamians. This included discussion with the University of The Bahamas to begin training their undergraduates in marine field techniques for ecological monitoring, and we are immensely proud to have supported and funded a local student to attend the University of Rhode Island to develop analytical techniques to bring back to CORE in a world first project assessing the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on the energetic requirements of a calcium carbonate secreting organism - the queen conch.
It was in March of 2020 when the world just….stopped and CORE was impacted greatly by the pandemic. All of our international graduate programs were put on hold due to restrictions in travel, and for several months we were in a holding pattern. Changes in Government also saw aggressive restrictions placed on research programs throughout The Bahamas in an indiscriminate move that saw both Bahamian and non-Bahamian research programs virtually shut down overnight - an issue that is still affecting conservation progression there today. By the summer of 2020 we had made the decision to lean into the new landscape, and so had pivoted to focus all of our efforts onto community education. We further continued to keep the research programs alive that we still had existing permits for in the absence of our overseas collaborators, and were able to see all of our projects to their natural conclusion, but frustratingly, were forced to turn away new projects from new relationships on account of the Government permitting issue. Despite these challenges, 2020 saw successes including two presentations at an international (virtual) conference, four further publications of our research and several more were papers submitted for peer review (and have since been published). Due to our focus on community education, we were able to attract new and fresh revenue streams in the form of foundation grants aimed at outreach and grass roots education. While we were ever so slowly losing the momentum we had gained over the previous three years, we were still able to collaborate with Paul Nicklen and Cristina (Mitty) Mittermeiter of SeaLegacy as well as being involved in a range of other media based initiatives aimed at bringing marine conservation to those without access to the ocean.
All of these programs and new relationships delivered resounding successes and we surpassed previous numbers in terms of educational programs during the pandemic year; however, with no resolution of these global events remotely close, we found ourselves at a distressing crossroads and began urgently developing new strategies for new directions to maintain our vision and keep our mission alive. However, it was not meant to be, and while 2021 brought both new projects and collaborators, it was short lived, and the consequence of running such a grassroots organisation in a remote part of a remote country, was that we were unable to sustain ourselves through multiple impacts, including those that the pandemic wrought.
Our final education program provided a local school with zoology classes and an advocacy through art program, while our last research program was aimed at determining how local knowledge of the black land crab fishery played into the cultural significance of island people. Both projects delivered upon our commitments through results driven success and in September 2021 we closed our doors for what we thought was the last time…
Fast Forward to 2023….
your contribution counts
Donations and gifts to our organization will directly contribute to fostering the next generation of environmental leaders, through the provision of resources critical in developing research education and engagement. Your support will cultivate and inspire a passionate community of students and citizen scientists dedicated to driving positive change in the preservation of our wild spaces.