Inspiring a new generation of environmentalistsUP CLOSE AND PERSONAL – Vanessa Haley-Benjamin gets to know a baby bonefish while conducting academic fieldwork in Andros. The newly appointed Save The Bays CEO hopes to use educational programs to instill a fascination with the environment in thousands of Bahamian students.

The effort to protect the environment is ultimately a struggle to preserve the country’s natural heritage for the benefit of future generations, according to Vanessa Haley-Benjamin.

That is why the newly appointed CEO of fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays (STB), believes nothing could be more important than inspiring young Bahamians to take up the mantle of environmental stewardship.

“Save The Bays boasts a diverse range of priorities, from environmental protection, to freedom of information, to the rule of law,” Haley-Benjamin said. “Central to it all, though, is the ideal of protecting the rights and opportunities of today’s youth and generations unborn.

“One of my main areas of focus, therefore, will be expanding and diversifying the excellent work of STB’s Youth Environmental Ambassador’s program (YEA), already a pioneering effort in The Bahamas.”

YEA, only in its second year in existence, has already touched the lives of thousands of students, sparking a love for the beauty and diversity The Bahamian environment and a commitment to preserving it in the face of pollution, overfishing, unregulated development and other pressures.

“The program is about teaching students the importance of sustainable development, warning them of the many threats to our natural resources today, and emphasizing the vital relationship between a healthy natural environment and thriving local communities,” Haley-Benjamin said.

“Going forward, we want not only to expand the reach of YEA into more schools and summer programs around The Bahamas; we will also seek to broaden its scope to emphasize leadership and organizational skills, fundraising and social advocacy. STB wants to ensure that each participant is equipped with all the tools necessary to take their future into their own hands.”

Haley-Benjamin holds a Master’s of Science degree in Biology from Florida International University. She also holds graduate level certification in Geographical Informational Systems (GIS) and is a graduate fellow of the Kerzner Marine Foundation, a private non-profit that fosters the preservation and enhancement of global marine ecosystems through scientific research, education, and community outreach. She has participated or led a number of local and international conservation projects, including coral reef restoration efforts and the scientific monitoring and evaluation of marine parks in The Bahamas and Belize. Most recently, Haley-Benjamin served as director of science and policy at The Bahamas National Trust, where she was responsible for leading all of BNT’s scientific initiatives, the development and subsequent execution of fundraising programs and the implementation of policy initiatives.

“The environment and its protection has always been an integral part of my life,” she said. “Being raised to respect the environment for what it is and what it has to offer us has inspired me to pursue a career to work to protect it and ensure its sustainable use.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to work with Save The Bays, an organization I have long admired, and which I believe has a vital role to play in the future of environmental protection in The Bahamas through policy change, education, advocacy and legal action. I am committed to overseeing the strategic forward direction of STB and working together to achieve our mission.”

Haley-Benjamin praised the work of outgoing CEO Lindsey McCoy, who she said was able make monumental strides and position STB at the forefront of environmental advocacy movement, all within just a few short years.

For Her part, McCoy said the new CEO is the right person to take the helm at this time. “I truly believe STB has the power to make lasting positive change in The Bahamas and Vanessa will be able to help make that happen, she said. Save The Bays chairman Fred Smith concurred, saying the group could not be more pleased with its choice of CEO.

“Vanessa is exactly what we were looking for – a passionate, articulate and accomplished environmental expert who can lead STB to the next level in terms of protecting the social and environmental rights of all those who live in The Bahamas.

“She brings to the table a wealth of experience and an unbounded enthusiasm for the cause. With her hand on the rudder, we are extremely optimistic about our prospects for the future.”

Founded just under two years ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. The grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of the archipelago from unregulated development has transformed into a broad-based coalition that is at the forefront of both social and environmental issues. The group is calling for comprehensive environmental protections, oil spill legislation, greater transparency in government and much needed ‘conchservation’ laws.

With more than 17,200 followers on Facebook, STB is the fastest growing, most popular non-profit, non-government organization in Bahamas history on social media. The group’s petition calling on the government to enact an Environmental Protection Act, a Freedom of Information Act, to stop unregulated development and to take a stance against oil pollution, is also climbing in numbers, with 6,384 signatures so far. To get involved, sign the petition or learn more, visit here.