Congratulations to Jonisha Cartwright: 2021 National Youth Awards Top Winner
By: Elijah Sands
Growing up in paradise, the ocean was Jonisha’s playground, classroom and greatest source of curiosity. She spent the majority of her childhood days barefoot, salty and sun-dried, exploring every coast, crevice and mystery the islands had to offer. Whether it was by foot or by boat, she would return home tanned, partially wet and filled with stories and questions for her family. This curiosity is what sparked her love and appreciation for the underwater world and the environment as a whole. Love and appreciation that drives her passion and work, work that’s been going on for 8 years and was recently recognized and awarded with 2 National Youth Awards.
Video: Jonisha receives Prime Minister’s Cup Award from The Hon. Phillip Brave Davis, Prime Minister of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas
The work of the BNT is driven by a team of passionate, energetic and devoted individuals. Young people make up a large portion of our staff complement. All around the country, young BNT staff are leading major projects and initiatives that are fueling conservation impact in The Bahamas. As part of our education and outreach team, Jonisha’s work at the BNT focuses on educating Bahamians about their environment and natural resources, encouraging them to explore their parks, and supporting teachers and educators in delivering quality environmental education.
Immediately after graduating high school, she received a technical grant from the Bahamas Government to attend university. She saw this as an opportunity to follow her passion and she used it to pursue a degree in maritime studies at Holland College on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Inspired by a family of boat captains and fishermen, she always knew she wanted to work on or around the water. However, after just one semester in Canada, she realized maritime was not the profession for her and she needed more. She craved a closer connection to the ocean. She wanted to be under the sea and not just skimming its surface.
After returning home in 2014, Jonisha joined BREEF as a volunteer, then intern, then as an employee and would go on to have a very fulfilling and impactful 3 years at BREEF. Some of her responsibilities and achievements include; assisting with teacher training workshops, planning and executing summer sea camps for kids, conducting many coastal field trips and in-class presentations for private and public high schools, and assisting with scientific research trips. She also spent a lot of time raising awareness on conservation issues like fisheries regulations and marine protected areas.
During this time of working in public schools around The Bahamas with BREEF, teaching kids about marine biology, and the ocean, she would ignite a new passion for building community, especially working with troubled children, mentally and physically disabled children and children that are failing at school. So she struggled for so long trying to find a way to marry her experience in marine conservation with her newfound interest in humanitarianism.
Photos of Jonisha working with youth during her time at BREEF
Jonisha joined the BNT in March 2020, only 3 days before the country went into its first emergency lockdown due to Covid-19. This was the beginning of a very challenging time for the BNT. We would experience park closures, which led to an increase in poaching, pollution and other illegal activities; reduced hours for all of our staff, and abrupt disruptions to our physical events and key programs.
This included all of our education programs which came to a screeching halt because they are hands-on and depend on physical interaction. When being physically together became unsafe due to the coronavirus, we had to quickly pivot into virtual learning mechanisms and other innovative ways to carry on our education and outreach programs. Amongst all of the rigorous planning, program restructuring, and working on reduced hours, some bright ideas and crucial support came through for the BNT.
The Adventures of Xuma
Photos from the launch of The Adventures of Xuma Animated Video Series
BNT’s longtime partner and valuable supporter The Sandals Foundation provided funding to the BNT to develop an Environmental Education component of the Primary Science National Curriculum of The Bahamas. A part of this project was to create an animated video series targeted towards younger children. Jonisha along with her education team member Tika worked diligently to create a quality product that will spark the curiosity in children and teach them environmental education in a way that’s relatable and fun. Hence, the Adventures of Xuma was born. You can watch the premiere of The Adventures of Xuma here.
Ecosystems of The Bahamas with The BNT
Behind the scenes of filming Ecosystems of The Bahamas with The BNT
Another project that came to life is “Ecosystems of The Bahamas with the BNT”. A live-action, video series aimed towards high school students and adults. The goal of this video series is to raise awareness and share information about the many ecosystems of The Bahamas. Unlike Xuma, this video series would be “live-action”, meaning shot on location, in the environment. Jonisha’s involvement in this project would be to co-produce, co-write and be the primary subject in all of the videos. This would include working with her colleague to write the science-based scripts, record the audio narrations, and most of all, get down and dirty in national parks and other habitats to film each video. The anticipated video series hasn’t been officially launched yet, but a trailer was released back in September.
Video: Ecosystems of The Bahamas Trailer
In her spare time, Jonisha is a mermaid who spreads cheer and teaches kids about conservation through ‘edutainment’ (education through entertainment). As part of Bahamas Mermaids as “Mermaid Nish”, she’s one of few professional mermaids in The Bahamas and enjoys using fun, creative ways to make learning about marine conservation fun for kids and adults.
“Just like the guy at the mall in the Santa suit can get your kids to eat their veggies and do their homework, the lady in the mermaid tail can help your kids understand why it’s important to collect garbage at the beach and respect the closed seasons of our treasured Grouper and Crawfish”. – Jonisha Cartwright
“Mermaid Nish”. Photo by TFL Studios
Jonisha’s love and admiration for the marine environment evolved into a strong passion for educating the public about key conservation issues and raising awareness about climate change and climate action. She believes that people would not care about or pay attention to issues they are not educated about, so education would always be a focus of her work, but she knows there’s much more to conservation than education, and she hopes to go on leaving positive impacts on people and encouraging sustainability and climate action.
It is often said that the youth are the future, and the truth behind these words is often overlooked. I think it is important for mentors, and good role models to be present in local communities and schools. I believe that there are a lot of parents out there that cannot do it alone, and as the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child.” I am very grateful for even being nominated for the youth awards. I was surprised to win the award for the environment and my jaw dropped when I won the Prime Ministers Cup. I’m very honoured to know that other people believe the work that i am doing is important” – Jonisha Cartwright
Jonisha is in her last year of university, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with a minor in sustainability. She hopes this degree can equip her with the skills necessary to combine conservation with community building to have an even greater impact on The Bahamas.
I am blessed and privileged to work with some of the most passionate, dedicated, and talented young people on the planet. Huge congratulations to Jonisha on this well-deserved award. Your work is building awareness and appreciation for the Bahamian environment. More importantly, you’re helping to create environmental stewards to help protect these ephemeral isles” – Eric Carey, BNT Executive Director
Congratulations Jonisha, from all of us in your BNT Family! We can’t wait to see what else you will go on to achieve.
Be sure to tune in to ZNS The Morning Edition on Monday November 8th at 8am to see Jonisha speak about her work and winning the awards.
Jonisha with the 2021 National Youth Award for the Environment and The Prime Minister’s Cup
It’s been so rewarding working and learning with Jonisha over the last few years. When I first joined the BNT back in 2016, I would spend many occasions volunteering with BREFF working with Jonisha in the field, doing snorkelling field trips, marine biology lessons and best of all getting certified as a PADI Dive Against Debris Diver back in 2017. Fast forward a few years, it’s still so energetic and rewarding to work more closely with a friend to create and inspire, and advance conservation for both people and the planet.
PADI Dive Against Debris certification class, January 2017