The Bahamas National Trust celebrates outstanding contributions to conservation in The Bahamas. A total of 22 Conservation Legends and 37 Conservation Champions have been awarded in honour of their lifetime achievements and leadership in various fields. Their impact-led works have challenged the status quo by being a voice for the environment, applying solutions, and creating policies for sustainable approaches to conservation in The Bahamas.
Their actions contributed to the creation of The Bahamas national park system, the creation of The Bahamas National Trust as the manager of this collection of outstanding areas of beauty, and protection of ecosystems that are vital to the natural history of our nation.
Lynn P. Holowesko has been the voice of environmental protection and sustainability for over four decades. She served as the President of the BNT from 1976 – 1982 and then returned to serve from 1984 -1991. She was honoured with The Bahamas National Trust’s 25th Anniversary Award for Outstanding Contribution to Conservation. In 1994 at the request of the Government she founded The Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission. She served as the Ambassador for the environment and headed Bahamas delegations at the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Mrs. Holowesko also served two terms as a member of the Council for the World Conservation Union (IUCN). She has been an outspoken defender of the environment and is a true Conservation Legend.
Shelby White is well known for her philanthropy and commitment to conservation. She is recognized as a Conservation Legend for her visionary creation of the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve on the island of Eleuthera. The 25-acre Preserve is the first of its kind in the region. Operated by the BNT for the study and display of native Bahamian plants, it is an important visitor attraction and community centre for the island. Shelby and her late husband, Leon Levy, first came to The Bahamas in the 1970s and they shared the goal of contributing to a better future for the island of Eleuthera- their home away from home. Shelby wanted to memorialize Leon’s long-term devotion to the people and natural environment of Eleuthera by creating the Preserve. The Preserve opened in 2011 and promotes education, conservation and research, and is an outstanding addition to The Bahamian national park system.
Dr. G. Carleton Ray is a founding member of The Bahamas National Trust. Dr. Ray and colleague Ilya Tolstoy led the efforts that established the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, the world’s first land and sea park in The Bahamas in the late 1950s, which led to further conservation activities. Dr. Ray was recently recognized for half a century of environmental work by being awarded the inaugural NOGI Award by the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences recognizing those who have had a global impact on the exploration, enjoyment, and preservation of the underwater world and to passing the stewardship of the sea on to future generations.
A true gentleman, Mr. Manuel Cutillas was known for his warmth, kindness, unwavering consideration of others, and remarkably unassuming nature. Mr. Cutillas supported countless civic and philanthropic organizations, including many devoted to the preservation of the environment. One of his outstanding contributions was the launch of the Parks Partnership Project as an initiative of the Bacardi Family Foundation. The goal of the project was to improve the management of The Bahamas’ marine environment by building organizational capacity and strengthening park management on the ground and in the water. The project was instrumental in helping to expand the capacity of the BNT and laid the foundation for the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park to become recognized as one of 16 Blue Parks in the world.
Mr. Basil Kelly was President of the BNT from 1992 – 1994. He was instrumental in the preservation of the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, working with friends and Operation Raleigh, to raise funds to construct the first park headquarters. He also personally built many of the early boundary signs for the park. Due to his efforts, the Rand Nature Centre was given to the BNT and it now serves as the headquarters for the BNT in Grand Bahama. Mr. Kelly worked with hunters and volunteers to band White-crowned Pigeons to learn about their habitat needs and to educate and stop out of season shooting and the disturbance of nesting colonies. He enjoyed sharing the beauty of The Bahamas with guests and friends on his yacht, the “Saga Boy”. A Bahamian patriot, he loved his country, his people, and the environment of The Bahamas. His last request before his passing was for friends to donate to the BNT.
Samuel Nixon was known as the best hunter on the island of Inagua. He met Robert Porter Allen of National Audubon Society who was searching for flamingos and agreed to take him to the interior Lake Rosa where a flamingo colony of 5,000 birds was known to nest. When Allen saw the flamingos in the interior of Lake Rosa he knew that there was a colony that could repopulate the Caribbean and save the species. Samuel became the first park warden of the Inagua National Park and cared for the flamingos for over 30 years. Working with Audubon he became the protector of the tall pink birds and instilled a conservation ethic in the people of Inagua who continue to treasure the flame-coloured birds that populate the island.
James “Jimmy” Nixon, brother to Samuel Nixon became the second park warden of the Inagua National Park. Stories of the two brothers are legendary, and the flamingo camp in Inagua was the inspiration for a scene in Ian Fleming’s “Dr. No”. Jimmy worked with Robert Porter Allen and Alexander “Sandy” Sprunt IV documenting nesting success and banding flamingos tracking their travels and providing important information to aid in their conservation. He welcomed many celebrities to Inagua, including Prince Phillip. Jimmy was honored for his service when he received a Cacique Award in the 1990s.
A lawyer of 46 years, Mr. Pericles Maillis is also a serious farmer, fisherman, and conservationist. He is a fearless and outspoken advocate for the wise and sustainable use of The Bahamas’ natural resources, and was one of the recipients of The Bahamas’ silver jubilee awards in July 1998 for his contributions in the sphere of the environment. He has been active in The Bahamas National Trust since 1973, serving as a volunteer on the Wildlife and Gamebird Committees. He also served as President between 1991 –1994, and has served as an elected member of the BNT governing Council for many years. He conceived and chaired the 1990-91 Adelaide Creek Wetland Restoration Project which has inspired similar wetland restorations throughout the Caribbean and led the fight to ban Long Line Fishing in The Bahamas. Mr. Maillis was the driving force behind the creation of the Primeval Forest National Park, a significant area of old-growth forest and geological significance on New Providence, which provides students and visitors a glimpse into the early geological history of the island.
Basil Minns has been a staunch BNT member for many years supporting conservation efforts on the island of Great Exuma. Basil received the 1999 Cacique Award for “Nature Tourism” and served on many influential committees and boards promoting Great Exuma as a tourism destination. A former BNT council member, Basil began a campaign to have Moriah Harbour Cay designated a national park. Working with the BNT, he and his wife, Jane, documented the natural history of the area and its importance as a marine reserve. Their hard work paid off and the Moriah Harbour Cay National Park was established in 2002. This national park protects terrestrial and marine areas that are vital parts of the ecosystem between Great and Little Exuma.
The Hon. Godfrey Higgs founded the law firm of Higgs & Johnson in 1948. He had a long and distinguished career in law and politics and holds a place in history for leading the defense of Count Alfred de Marigny, who was tried and acquitted in 1943 for the murder of Canadian gold baron Sir Harry Oakes. He was also part of a group of concerned citizens who wanted to protect the unique and beautiful natural areas in The Bahamas. Following the model of the 1909 British National Trust Act, Sir Godfrey drafted the Bahamas National Trust Act passed on July 13, 1959. It provided for the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park to become a reality by a 99-year lease and was the first land and sea park in this hemisphere. He also served as the BNT’s first President. Today, the organization created by the Act has grown The Bahamas national park system from one park to 32 parks that protect the natural environment which is part of the cultural fabric of our nation.
Oris Russell, OBE, was a founding member and life-long Council Member of the BNT, serving as President from 1972 – 1973. He was a member of the scientific expedition that surveyed the Exuma Cays in 1958 to recommend that a national park be established under the authority of a proposed national trust. Mr. Russell had a distinguished career in the Civil Service, serving as the Director of Agriculture and Permanent Secretary to that Ministry after the change to ministerial government. Mr. Russell was known for his great interest in gardening with special emphasis on the flora of The Bahamas. He was recognized by the Society of Caribbean Ornithology in 1996 for his contributions to Bahamian ornithology and conservation. His scientific contributions were numerous, but few people know that he coined the name of the BNT’s annual Arts and Crafts Festival saying one day that we should hold a “jollification” during the pre-Christmas season. This annual event is now one of the BNT’s chief fundraisers.
Sir Geoffrey Johnstone was recognized as a nation-builder, who loved his country and served The Bahamas in both public and private life. He served as the BNT’s legal advisor for many years and was an active member of the BNT’s Wildlife Committee. As a Wildlife Committee volunteer he led many expeditions to census and band White-crowned Pigeons contributing to the conservation management of this popular game bird species. He was a supporter of many BNT initiatives providing physical and monetary support in a quiet and unassuming way.
Sir Nicholas Nuthall founded The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) in 1993 and immediately created a leading non-governmental environmental organization. BREEF is dedicated to providing opportunities for educators to learn and experience the marine environment, and encouraging decision-makers to enact stronger legislation to support sustainable use of our marine resources. It is perhaps in the area of education that The Bahamas will continue to reap the benefits of Sir Nicholas’ passion for the marine environment. BREEF’s marine conservation teacher training workshops provided teachers, throughout The Bahamas, with an unparalleled experience in learning about the marine environment. Sir Nicholas knew that the ocean’s resources were not unlimited and was joined by many scientists and conservationists in his plea to save the Nassau Grouper, but it is without dispute that his voice was the most persistent – relentless and fearless in the pursuit of the conservation of this iconic natural resource. As a result of his efforts, Bahamians are more knowledgeable and can make wise decisions about the use of our natural resources.
Allen was a pioneer in early field biology and led conservation efforts around the world to save the whooping crane, roseate spoonbill, and the American flamingo between 1950 – 1956. Allen visited the known range of the flamingo throughout the Caribbean and it was during this period that he discovered the colony of flamingos on Inagua which would serve as the foundation for repopulating historic colonies on other islands in the Caribbean. Working with Samuel and James Nixon, the first wardens of the Inagua National Park, Allen studied the birds and wrote the book “The Flamingos, their Life, History, and Survival”. His work helped to lead conservation efforts for flamingos in the Caribbean and is responsible for saving this iconic species, The National Bird of The Bahamas.
Alexander Sprunt IV, the National Audubon Society’s Vice President for Research served on the BNT Council until his retirement in 1995. “Sandy” as he was affectionately known, first came to The Bahamas to work with Robert Porter Allen to document the natural history of the flamingo population on Great Inagua Island. Local Inaguans nicknamed Mr. Sprunt “de fillymingo mon” for his efforts to chart the comeback of the pink flamingo at its remote breeding grounds there. He was an important partner and resource in introducing the first birding tour guide training with The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, working with the BNT Wildlife Committee to census and band White-crowned Pigeons and researching Caribbean seabirds documenting seabird breeding colonies in The Bahamas.
Sir Jack Hayward was a long-time friend, and benefactor of the BNT, supporting the Operations Raleigh Initiative which built the first bridge in the Lucayan Park, as well as purchasing half the property value of the Retreat, which became the headquarters of the BNT. Sir Jack was probably best known among BNT supporters for his challenge gift of $1M, which created an incentive for donors to give to the Heritage Fund Endowment, raising $2M. Sir Jack honoured his pledge in March of 1989, presenting the BNT with a cheque for $1M thus creating the Heritage Fund Endowment, which continues to support the work of the BNT. In 2005, the BNT closed the bridge built by Operation Raleigh in 1985. Raising the funds to replace the bridge was a daunting task made easier by a very generous donation from Sir Jack. Sir Jack was one of the BNT’s most steadfast supporters and the organization was immeasurably strengthened as a result of his philanthropy.
Ilya Tolstoy, grandson of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, was one of the pioneering underwater photographers who worked in The Bahamas before the Second World War. He became associated with the American Museum of Natural History and the Explorer’s Club and was a frequent visitor to The Bahamas. Tolstoy became concerned about environmental degradation in The Bahamas and in 1953 he began leveraging his international connections to promote the idea of setting aside some islands in The Bahamas as protected areas. Tolstoy presented his idea to The Bahamian government, which agreed to temporarily set aside a 22-mile stretch of the Exuma Cays providing that some group would explore and make concrete recommendations for its protection. Tolstoy and Carleton Ray joined forces and by January 1958 they had organized their Exuma expedition. The expedition concluded that the area should be protected and that the “The Exuma Cays park under consideration should be regarded as only the beginning of a conservation movement that is vital to The Bahamas as a whole. It will also be a beginning of a new concept, integrated land-and-sea conservation, in which The Bahamas will take the lead and show the way to other nations throughout the world.”
Margaret “Peggy” Hall was a businesswoman, park warden, conservationist, and boating enthusiast. The history of conservation in The Bahamas was changed forever when, at age 61, after a full life as a single woman in charge of Nassau Plastics Company, Peggy took over as park warden for the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park and declared it the first “No Take” preserve in The Bahamas. The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park are successful today because of the work set in motion during Peggy’s tenure as its park warden.
Arthur Vernay, an amateur zoologist, travelled around the world on collecting expeditions for the American Museum of Natural History. In the 1950s when the National Audubon Society decided to take a stand in Inagua to protect the flamingos on the island, Arthur Vernay with a group of influential backers formed the Society for the Protection of Flamingo. The Society along with assistance from the Erickson Family in Matthew Town funded the wardens before the Inagua National Park was established. The early work of the society supported the early conservation work on Bahamian flamingos and the establishment of the Inagua National Park.
Mr. McKinney was the proprietor of John S. George and Company- for many years the largest hardware business in The Bahamas. Herbert McKinney represented The Bahamas- along with Oris Russell- on the 1958 scientific expedition evaluating whether 22-miles in the Exumas should be permanently protected as the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. A founding member and benefactor of the BNT he was committed to the protection of the natural environment of The Bahamas. In 1959 at the passage of The Bahamas National Trust Act he said, “A serious problem would appear to be one of making people aware of the pressing need for conservation. The attitude of the people seems to be that the good Lord will always send more.”
The legendary Ben Rose was the first to ever dive in the world-renowned Ben’s Cave system in the Lucayan National Park. Discovered in 1960, Ben and his brother explored and surveyed the six and a half-mile underground system documenting the crystal formations and fossils found at Burial Mound, The Skylight Room and Mermaid’s Lair. The entrance cave is named Ben’s Cave in his honor and he led professional diving expeditions on behalf of Unexso for many years. A great supporter of The Bahamas National Trust on Grand Bahama he was a lover of nature and shared his knowledge of the flora and fauna of the island with residents and visitors for many years.
Mrs. Glory Harris Banks was a professional commercial artist in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1977, Mrs. Banks retired to Freeport, Grand Bahama where she became involved in the Freeport community as a respected and energetic volunteer. She pledged her commitment to further community development on Grand Bahama by donating $1M to The Bahamas National Trust. As part of her bequest, an art gallery was built in the Rand Nature Centre, providing a permanent space for Bahamian artists to display their work. Visitors to the Rand Nature Centre can enjoy and view art displayed by Bahamian artists year-round. Glory Harris Banks’ donation was transformative for the Rand Nature Centre and expanded the work of the BNT on Grand Bahama.