On June 8, people around the globe will celebrate World Oceans Day with beach clean-ups, community education, and eye-opening environmental art. For the nearly 20,000 employees of Sandals and Beaches Resorts and the Sandals Foundation, it’s natural to observe World Oceans Day because the purpose is ingrained into their daily lives–How fitting, then, that June is also Caribbean Heritage Month.
“The ocean writes the stories of our islands and cultures,” says Patrice Gilpin, public relations manager for the Sandals Foundation. “One sea ties the Caribbean Islands together, yet each island has different shores, flavors, colors, and voices.”
In the Caribbean, the Ocean is a source of life, community, and connection. However, the health of the Ocean is not guaranteed and faces significant threats. Sandals Resorts International takes concrete steps towards saving the oceans for future generations, which we’ll celebrate this World Oceans Day.
To commemorate World Oceans Day, for every reservation made at any Sandals and Beaches Resorts on June 8th, a donation will be made on the guest’s behalf to the Sandals Foundation to continue safeguarding the ocean for future generations..
"The ocean intertwines with our heritage and livelihoods," says Diego, a Jamaican fisherman whose family's ocean story goes back more generations than he can count. He takes us back eleven years to when the nearby reef had disintegrated.
“The snapper and dolphin were disappearing–bringing with them our way of life. People from the Sandals Foundation knew our situation because they grew up in the Caribbean, too. They’d already helped improve our schools and our hospital, so we listened to them.”
The Sandals Foundation team invited Diego and other locals to the Boscobel Fish Sanctuary on Jamaica's northern shore to show how focused effort could bring a marine ecosystem back to life; Diego and his friends were in awe. They're still fishermen, but now they're also educators for the Sandals Foundation.
The Sandals Foundation also funds ongoing coral nursery maintenance activities to reduce algal bloom and remove predators.
“The best way to keep the ocean healthy,” says Georgia Scarlett, environmental coordinator for Sandals Foundation, “is when people in the communities see the differences for themselves and spread the message.”
Divers removing harmful plastic waste from marine plant life.
The fish population around Whitehouse, a local community in Jamaica, has increased by more than 700% since 2012. The entire community is now a network of ocean ambassadors.
“We’ve learned that if we take care of the ocean,” says Diego, “then the ocean will take care of us.”
Care is in action across the entire Caribbean Sea. With support from the Sandals Foundation, dive teams and resort guests have planted more than 20,000 coral "seedlings" across the Caribbean. Over 1,000 miles from Jamaica, off the coast of St. Lucia, underwater gardeners show Sandals Resorts guests how to nurture tiny coral fragments into flourishing trees and beds.
Guests also have the opportunity to help in the replanting of thousands of coral pieces to help restore local reefs, fish populations and shorelines
“Our teams are proud to share our home with resort guests,” says Gilpin. “When our guests see this pride, and the results of our work, they become more conscientious, too.”
At certain Sandals and Beaches Resorts (those located south of Turks & Caicos) guests can go on special dives to learn about invasive lionfish. Once thought to be the most destructive force in the ocean, lionfish is now a culinary delicacy on the islands. Divers are trained by the Sandals Foundation to capture and clean lionfish, so they can be prepared as fried lionfish, garlic lionfish, or lionfish soup.
The Sandals Foundation teaches locals how to reduce the number of invasive lionfish.
“By learning how to use lionfish in meals,” says Scarlett, “the people who live here become active in removing them from the ocean while also providing for their families.”
In coves around Grenada, Exuma and Jamaica, Sandals Foundation crews work with local volunteers to replant mangroves — more than 4,000 of them so far. Schoolkids and teachers come away with muddy feet and minds opened to the truth about coastal protection and food sourcing.
With the help of various partners, the Sandals Foundation continues to expand awareness about the importance of mangrove ecosystems
“The way we spread our wings the widest across the islands,” says Gilpin, “is by educating children.”
At every elementary school in The Bahamas, teachers are beginning to use a new environmentally-focused science curriculum, funded by the Sandals Foundation and implemented through the Bahamas National Trust. In nearby Turks and Caicos, children as young as six learn through a Sharks4Kids program why sharks are necessary for a balanced ecosystem. Fear turns into appreciation. “Children learn about being better stewards,” says Scarlett, “and then they are the ones who influence adults.”
Local students learn sustainable composting methods, resulting in increased organic fertilizer and less chemical run-off to the sea.
At a high school two hours east of Montego Bay, classes have been dismissed. Fifteen students are staying after school to hear Sandals Foundation mentors describe what’s required to be a marine biologist.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Antigua,” one student says. “Could I be a marine biologist in Antigua?”
“That would be a lovely idea,” one of the mentors says.
More than 900 miles away, in the shallow water off Grenada, swim instructors in a program called Ocean Connect invite boys and girls to come out to them. The original goal was to teach 1,000 children how to swim in the ocean here, around Antigua, and throughout The Bahamas.
“The goal has shifted because parents are showing up — they want to learn to swim, too,” says Deleon Forrester, Public Relations Manager of Sandals Grenada. “Once they’re comfortable and they see the reef and fish with their own eyes, they become connected.”
Together we can preserve the shores and sands of the Caribbean Sea for generations to come.
They become daily caretakers.
And look at this. The care is bearing results, of all places, on fields in Curaçao. Teenagers carry soccer balls in bags made from fishing nets found in the ocean. They will pass those balls closer and closer to goals created from discarded plastic bottles. At last count, volunteers for the program called Future Goals had collected 600,000 plastic bottles, which have been transformed into 40 goals.
Working with local Curaçaon recycling company Limpi, Future Goals has created football goals from recyled plastic bottles and caps.
“Human behavior impacts nature, positively or negatively,” says Gilpin. “Eventually, it all hits home.”
At Sandals and Beaches Resorts in the Ocho Rios region, guests can join in on turtle conservation efforts and participate in turtle watching tours.
While all of this goes on daily, guests at every Sandals and Beaches Resort marvel at the ocean water lapping over their feet. How can anything in this world be so out of this world? So clean. So perfect. How can it be? Who’s responsible for this?
It’s the responsibility of Jamaicans who need snapper for food, Grenadians who covet sea moss for wellness, Antiguans who rely on the pixie-dust magic of sand underfoot for tourism, and every resort guest who enjoys this Caribbean wonderworld. So, keep coming. Keep diving. Keep appreciating. And keep in mind that every dollar donated to the Sandals Foundation goes directly towards uplifting the Caribbean.
“Wait for it,” says Dwayne, driving a Sandals Foundation van back from a village in the mountains. Just when you think the ride can’t get any prettier, he begins a descent with curvy curves and one spectacular sight: the ocean. Dwayne whistles an ooh-la-la kind of whistle.
“I can’t help it,” Dwayne says, his eyes and cheeks sparkling. “I love that ocean.”
This World Oceans Day, we’re celebrating the sea that connects us all.
Check out the Sandals PalmCast episode on World Oceans Day for more an in-depth interview with Jerlene Lane of the Boscobel Fish Sanctuary.