SAVING OUR ENVIRONMENT
By: Krysta Kearney
Kristal Ambrose, also known as Kristal Ocean, is an environmental scientist, conservationist and activist who began her career in fighting plastic pollution at a young age. She created the Bahamas Plastic Movement, a nonprofit that tackles the global plastic pollution crisis through research, education, citizen science and policy change. In 2012 she sailed across the Pacific Ocean to study the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where she ended up finding more than she was seeking, a whole new purpose in life, a cause to stand for, and a mission worth fighting. This journey was an eye awakening experience that quickly shifted her focus to researching how to help stop the use of plastics, to promote plastic-free seas. Once she returned home to Eleuthera Island, The Bahamas there was no looking back, she had a vision and began a plastic pollution revolution.
Her first venture in 2013 was a citizen science initiative called the Plastic Beach Project, where volunteers would study plastic pollution concentrations on local beaches. This eventually led to The Bahamas Plastic Movement (BPM), a nonprofit which is still an incredible program to this day.
“Bahamas Plastic Movement is an environmental nonprofit organization geared towards raising awareness and finding solutions to plastic pollution through research, education, citizen science and policy change. We have set high standards for creating innovative ways to transform society’s use of single use plastic into sustainable choices benefiting not only us but also the environment we so depend on. - BPM Website
BPM not only finds and executes solutions to plastic pollution but also educates youth in The Bahamas. Through engaging programs, BPM offers tuition-free camps providing educational programs, lectures and seminars. The youth are our future leaders, the ones who will make the next impact on the world. The arduous fight against plastic pollution will only continue, it’s important to educate the young.
“It doesn’t matter how young you are, where you are from, or what color you are. This is your world. This is your future. You deserve a seat at the table in making decisions that impact you.”
Ambrose grew up in Nassau, The Bahamas surrounded by a loving family and a vast ocean. Daily, she would accompany her father on his morning swims which contributed to her connection with the ocean growing stronger through the years. She was always fascinated by water, allured by the ocean, and intrigued by what was happening beneath the sea.
Having always known she wanted to pursue some type of career in ocean science, just after high school she began working at a local dive shop and quickly went from being a novice to a divemaster. Soon after, she transitioned into her role as an aquarist at the Atlantis Aquarium where she had her first encounter with the detrimental impacts of plastic pollution. She recalls a life-changing moment where she spent two days pulling plastic out of a sea turtle. From then on she vowed she would, ‘Never drop a piece of plastic on the ground again.’
In 2012 she attended a conference where Marcus Eriksen (founder of the 5 Gyres organization) gave a talk about plastic pollution and the effect it was having on our oceans. He spoke of organizing a trip to go study the Western Garbage Patch and she knew she had to go.
“Before I knew it I was living on a boat with 14 strangers studying garbage in the ocean.”
At that moment she realized how inconsiderate of the environment humans are and also how she herself was a contributor to the ocean’s pollution. She had more plastic in her apartment than anyone she knew. Most of the debris in the garbage patch was items that she grew up using, that everyone uses daily such as plastic bags, styrofoam and straws. She knew she had to do more, how could she not? When she returned home nothing stopped her. She was young, didn’t have personal funding and had no connections to turn to but she had to do something.
“This is my planet, this is my ocean, I deserve to fight and my voice matters.”
That’s when she started BPM. As she continued her studies and learned more about plastics and how they affect our environment, she decided to take her actions even further. In 2014 she was awarded the Environmental Youth Leader award by The Bahamas government for her efforts.
In 2016 she earned a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary science from Gannon University in Erie, PA with a focus on environmental science, biology and education. After graduating from Gannon in 2017 she was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship program at Dalhousie University. In the same year, she moderated an event at the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on international governance for marine litter and also received the Unsung Hero Award for her work from Professional Services Bahamas and has been featured in a large list of other periodicals across the globe.
Then in 2018, with the help of a lawyer, she drafted a bill of what the Bahamas would look like without plastic pollution and what the future could potentially hold if the government took action on this major issue. With the help from her students (aka #plasticwarriors), she landed a meeting with The Bahamas Environmental Minister and convinced the government why it is so important to act on single-use plastics. The reaction was unbelievable as well as a success, The Bahamas agreed to ban single-use plastics! In April of 2018, the Environmental Minister announced the ban of single-use plastics in the Bahamas and it became effective in July of 2020. Yes, that means what you think it means! No more plastic bags, styrofoam, straws, cutlery...you name the single-use plastic, it is no longer legal on the islands and the efforts all began with Kristal Ambrose.
“We have a multi-faceted issue here. We are dealing with waste that we generate as a nation that comes from locals and also from the tourism industry. And we are also faced with all of this marine debris that’s lacing our shores. The question is, what do we do with it?
Kristal Ambrose managed to get an entire country to stop using single-use plastics, a tremendous defeat. It’s monumental for any one person to create a movement and being a young black woman from the Bahamas, she has set an incredible example for women and people of color. The Bahamas is a place of racial inequality and elitism. It was only recently, in 1973, that they gained independence from Britain, meaning that they had been governed by a white minority; it's highly visible in many aspects of the country. Coming from a background without affluent privilege or expandable resources and living in an economic environment that is run by racial inequality, she is proof for the youth of the Bahamas (and everywhere) that they too can save the world, fight through the thick barriers of injustice and raise awareness for any cause.
“My face, being a young black and Bahamian woman at the forefront of an environmental issue, working at the grassroots level, is so important because it sends the message that you can do this too.”
In 2020, Ambrose was the recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize for Islands and Island Nations. It is given every year to activists in each of the world’s six inhabited continents. This is an incredibly prestigious award, it’s the world’s foremost environmental prize there is. Its purpose is to honor those who are fighting issues in saving our planet through sustainable and environmental activism.
“Being honored at this level is extremely humbling. It’s a reminder to keep going and validation that the work that I’m doing is important, but not by any means a sign to slow down and get comfortable. I’m extremely grateful for the recognition at all levels.”
Currently, she is studying at the World Maritime University in Sweden, where she is working on obtaining her PhD with a focus on plastic pollution. Her research will help to overcome challenges associated with marine debris in The Caribbean. For now, her main focus is her doctoral work. She knows that upon completing her degree, she will continue to be a grassroots warrior in tackling the world’s pollution as well as a model for the youth of our future.
Ambrose is consistently inspiring not just those around her but people everywhere, even you, by reading this article! We here at Moxxi are feeling the energy too after having gotten to know this #fearlessfemale and learning of her relentless ambition and promotion of positive change. She says, ‘You can inspire more people to change with hope than despair.’ Meaning it is important to take the good with the bad, look at the whole picture and instead of only being discouraged and depressed about our current global issues, take a stand, give your energy, emanate prosperity and realize that there is something that can be done. The more we uplift one another, the greater frequency of positivity we will see.
She is known as one of the heroes of our planet, and her ocean advocacy is sparking innovation throughout the world. To find out more about her nonprofit and continue to follow her journey please take the time to read more on the website and follow the links below. She is instrumental in the change our world needs to see.
Find out more about what Ambrose is doing here as well as the Bahamas Plastic Movement!!
Facebook: Bahamas Plastic Movement IG: @bahamasplasticmovement / @kristaloceanspeaks Twitter: @bahaplasmvmnt