Meet five of Bermuda’s young environmental activists dedicating themselves to protecting Bermuda’s natural environments while raising awareness, educating and sounding the alarm on climate change and the effects on Bermuda – and the planet.
They are bold, bright and ready to fight using the innovative tools of today such as data collecting, global social media campaigns and crowd-sourcing. With their youth, perseverance and grit, they are the future of conservation in Bermuda
Stratton Hatfield by Annabel Cooper
An environmentalist in his spare time, with a day job as director of development for alternative energy company BE Solar, Stratton Hatfield lives and breathes climate change awareness and potential solutions.
He was a volunteer, in his 20s, for the government’s Sustainable Development Department, and was the force behind a team that cleared away invasive trees in Paget Marsh, replanting the area with endemic species; he has worked with Groundswell on their lionfish campaign, participated in the Bermuda National Trust’s Vision 2020 campaign, which aims to plant 2,020 trees in the year 2020, and is a regular at Keep Bermuda Beautiful (KBB) clean- ups. He also takes an active interest in policy, leading the marketing for the Better Energy Plan, which moved Bermuda onto the path of having 85 percent of the island’s electricity supply generated from renewable sources by 2035.
Hatfield’s passion for the world around him began at a young age. “My grandmother was always a big environmentalist and her sister, Phyllis West-Harron, started KBB,” he says. Now, at 34, Hatfield’s main concern is the lack of urgency society is placing on “this catastrophe,” saying, “people are more aware of it now, but they’re not changing their habits or their lifestyle—they’re not making the shifts we need to change things…Something as simple as shifting what you choose to eat, how often you travel, what sort of transportation you choose to use, the businesses you choose to support.” He emphasises that every small, positive change you make, has a ripple effect. “You don’t have to become full vegan. Think of the CO2 associated with producing a gallon of milk. If you cut it out once a week, you’re still making a difference.”
Hatfield studied industrial design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, with an emphasis on sustainability and sustainable design practices, later starting his own design consulting company, Strativist. He returned to full-time education in 2018, earning a MSc from Brunel University in London after completing a degree in sustainability entrepreneurship and design, during which he conducted considerable research on food security in Bermuda.
“About 80 percent of our food is imported,” he says. “If we can grow it here, it would mean we are more secure.” He is currently supporting a company called Agra Living, which promotes growing food locally. In the future, Hatfield hopes to be in a position to guide Bermuda towards a more resilient and sustainable community, and hasn’t ruled out running for parliament as an independent.
“Right now, the world and Bermuda lack leadership with regards to enhancing our sustainable development. I’m interested, long term, in what I can do to help shift that leadership mentality.”
Jessica Rego by Annabel Cooper
In February 2019, Jessica Rego completed a gruelling 3,000-mile rowing challenge across the Atlantic Ocean to highlight the problem of ocean plastic pollution, raising over $15,000 for the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). She did this as part of a three-woman team called Status Row.
It took them 61 days to complete the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge which set out from San Sebastian de la Gomera in the Canary Islands and finished at Nelson’s Dock in Antigua. All three worked in offices at the time and none had any prior rowing experience.
“It was an insane journey,” says the Bermuda native who works in London. “Nothing can prepare you to row an ocean. We did 18 months of physical training, we did all the courses, we mentally prepared for it, but we all had the best and worst days of our lives out there. You don’t know what the ocean’s going to throw at you.”
From a young age, Rego always loved animals but became more vocal about her environmental beliefs as a teenager. “There was a building development at Southlands that was proposed and I remember reading about it and being so enraged and wanted to protect this gorgeous piece of land,” she says. “I teamed up with the Sustainability Task Force and they came up with the idea of the tunnel protest. I was 15 or 16 and went along with that. My mother let me go as long as my schoolwork was done. She supported whatever I wanted to do as long as I was informed about it.”
Status Row chose to support MCS because they wanted a challenge that would have a positive impact on the environment. MCS is a UK-based marine charity which strives, through a number of different initiatives, to ensure the planet’s seas are “healthy, pollution free and protected.”
“We crossed the ocean for the ocean,” says Rego. She explains that one of the many things the charity does is highlight “little changes you can make,” adding that if you can get “people to commit to one little change of trying not to use as many single-use plastics, then you could get them thinking more consciously and sustainably.” One of her own habits is to take her refillable containers to the local bulk grocery store in London.
There were some tough days for Rego on the ocean, and on one particularly bad day, they put out a “call to action.” Within a couple of hours they received messages not just from friends and family, but also strangers who were “telling us the changes they were making like we don’t use cling film anymore or use plastic bottles anymore. If one stranger makes a change, I feel like we’ve accomplished something.”
Choy Aming by Elizabeth Jones
An aquarist at BAMZ and principal investigator at the Bermuda Shark Project, Choy Aming has long been interested in Bermuda’s marine environment. Growing up on the south shore, he says he has been running barefoot along the rocks since he was a child. “I used to spot all kinds of sea creatures and did not know what half of them were so sometimes made up names for them.” Observing those creatures began his lifelong curiosity about the natural world. At the age of 13, he became aware of how seriously the planet is imperiled, especially after buying the Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors album on cassette tape. “It came with a large insert about environmental issues. After reading that, I was inspired and have been involved in environmental action ever since.”
Following his passion, he obtained a degree in marine science from the University of Victoria and in various roles has since been committed to understanding Bermuda’s ecosystem and working to ensure its health and protection. In addition, he finds sharing his knowledge with the community, particularly students, to be very rewarding.
Aming has been involved with many conservation projects, and has worked with numerous other species including turtles, birds, eagle rays and whales. His work with tiger sharks goes back to 2006 when local veterinarian and ocean explorer Dr Neil Burnie became interested in diving with these fish. Invited to join his team as the underwater cameraman, Aming became dedicated to the cause as soon as he saw his first shark.
A key discovery so far is the tiger shark migration route between the Caribbean and North Atlantic. “Most of the male tiger sharks from the Caribbean migrate up to the North Atlantic in the summer and many frequent Bermuda,” he explains. “This information is incredibly important for researchers and policy makers because it has to be factored in when planning fishing and conservation legislation. If we don’t understand the life history of a species. it becomes very hard to protect it, especially with an apex predator, like a shark, that is vital to any marine ecosystem.” While he now has extensive data on adult tiger sharks, there is very little on juveniles. He has been tagging juveniles for three years, the only person in the world, he believes, to be doing so.
Aming is grimly realistic about the future, certain that we are not doing nearly enough to protect it. “Worldwide fishing is due to collapse by 2048 if we continue on the current path. We can expect 250 million climate change refugees by the year 2050, which is more than 60 times the Syrian refugee crisis. The next few decades will determine how we survive as a species. And so many adults wonder why Greta is angry?”
Beth Neale by Elizabeth Jones
The future of our endangered planet will lie in the hands of our grown children. It has therefore never been so important to make the young acutely aware of issues related to conservation and ecology by exposing them to the wonders of nature. How to do it? For Beth Neale, a four-time South African free dive champion and self-confessed “mermaid,” sharing her love for the ocean is the answer—connecting children to the sea means inspiring them to understand how important oceans are to the entire planet. For the last six years, Bermuda’s youth has benefitted hugely from her passion. Working with the Bermuda Zoological Society and Dr Alex Amat, she now facilitates two ocean conservation programmes. The two-day Kids on the Reef programme, now held in both the spring and the fall, teaches young Bermudians about ocean ecology, introduces them to snorkelling and allows them to experience first-hand a healthy coral reef as well as aquatic life around shipwrecks. The second programme, a five-day free- diving camp for children aged 8-15, is the world’s first of its kind. Neale coaches the participants to discover their free diving abilities, thus allowing them to have magical interactions with marine life. These experiences, she believes, “will inspire them to become ocean guardians for Bermuda and the world.” In addition to conducting the programmes, in 2019 Neale raised over $20,000 for the Bermuda Zoological Society Ocean Education Programmes, by breaking a South African and African continental record diving to 50m/164ft without fins. “It’s the deepest free dive ever in Bermudian waters,” she explains, “and an African continental record.” The free dive raised awareness about Bermuda’s pioneering free diving ocean conservation work with children while putting our island on the map as a free diving destination.
Neale’s love of animals goes back to her childhood in South Africa, where she spent many holidays on safari, as well as on the coast. Aged 11, she wanted to be a dolphin trainer but a visit to SeaWorld made her realise the injustice of keeping animals in captivity. Swimming with dolphins and whales for the first time gave her a purpose: “It was the first time that I felt completely and deeply connected to nature. It was from then that I felt a strong calling to protect our blue planet and I knew that whatever work I did would need to be connected to that.”
She continues to keep true to her calling. Through her company Aqua Souls, she focuses on promoting the conservation and preservation of the ocean by developing film and social media projects. And, of course, she continues to offer free-diving workshops for adults and children. “Free diving,” she enthuses, “is your passport to a whole new world.”
Meredith Andrews by Annabel Cooper
Already a household name in Bermuda as a photographer and artist, Meredith Andrews can now add eco-warrior to that list of accolades. By turning ocean plastic into striking and colourful pieces of art she is highlighting a dark but important message. Her rainbow assortments of recognisable ocean debris such as plastic bottle tops, cigarette lighters, fishing tackle, pens, rope, medicine containers and pieces of general plastic stand out in stark contrast to the magnificent portraits and landscapes on her Instagram page.
Come December, her thousands of followers are treated to an Adventgram. Each day highlights a different ocean plastic issue, inspiring people to clean up the beaches, dispose of their plastic correctly, and avoid single-use plastic wherever possible. “It’s an opportunity for me to tell facts about the scourge of ocean plastic,” she says. “I can explain where these glow sticks are coming from, for example.”
Being Bermudian, Andrews always had an intimate relationship with the environment and this grew while she was at sixth-form college in Wales during the early ’90s. “I went to this college which had a fantastic ethos about thinking globally and acting locally—it was at the time of the rise of the environmental movement,” she explains. It was when she returned to Bermuda in 2014, with her husband and two children, however, that she fully appreciated how bad the situation was becoming. “I started going for daily walks and noticed how much more plastic there was on the beach than previously,” she says. “I’ve always been a collector with my work and one day I was struck by whatever item I found—toy, toothbrush, hairbrush.” Andrews’s message gained traction quickly, spreading throughout the whole island and beyond, even attracting the attention of CNN. Last year she gave the image of one of her rainbow ocean plastic pieces to Axa XL for use on the re-usable shopping bags they sponsored to reduce the number of plastic bags in circulation.
Out of everything she has created, the artwork she is most proud of is the eight-foot by three-foot sculpture of plastics, which was commissioned by the Bermuda Tourism Authority for their new visitor centre on Front Street. “It’s epic compared to anything else I’ve created,” she says. “For individuals to spend a couple of minutes and see all the things we recognise from our everyday life, makes us all culpable. It’s easy to point fingers, but at the same time we have to take personal responsibility.
“Think before you choose that plastic bottle over that glass bottle. Even the smallest actions have a big consequence down the road. We really do have a big problem on our hands.”