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Students show the way forward in sustainable energy


 The rest of us may feel helpless in the face of massive dump fires that blanket entire neighborhoods in black, acrid smoke, but the nation’s budding environmental scientists know how to turn a troubling situation to their advantage.


The victorious young science lovers of Aquinas College were one of eight teams in total and four who took aim at the timely problem of landfill fires during this year’s Earth Day Enviro-Science Competition, sponsored by environmental attorney and consultant Romi Ferreira.


“The gas released by waste material which fuels the dump fires can be harnessed for many environmentally friendly household uses,” explained Aquinas team member Farrah Johnson, 15. “It can be made into gas for cooking or boiling water, fertilizer for plants, even water for irrigation.”


Both Aquinas and C.R. Walker constructed bio-digesters, which turn the methane that fuels subterranean dump fires into vital resources such as water, cooking gas, and even electricity.


“Methane, when uncontained, is actually very dangerous, as you can see at the dump, Farrah said. “Our school had to be closed several times recently to protect the students and faculty and staff from health effects from the smoke.


“That’s what inspired this project. We thought, how can we take something that is so dangerous and detrimental to society, and turn it into something that will be co-efficient and beneficial to us?”


She said implementing inexpensive, portable bio-digesters in homes across The Bahamascould greatly reduce the amount of household waste discarded, lower the cost of electricity and provide free cooking gas.


The Aquinas team used pig dung to produce the methane which they transformed into fire, water and fuel before attendees’ very eyes.


Once it gets started with a methane producing substance, she explained, the device can be fed with food scraps and leftovers, essentially becoming a household recycling appliance and reducing the amount of waste that must be sent to the city dump.


Ferreira, who hosted the event for the second time, praised all the teams for focusing on environmental issues that are relevant to today’s Bahamas.


“You can’t ignore the environmental degradation that you see. It’s all around us,” he said. “The city dump has been burning for weeks.


“I am so proud that so many of you chose to address that very same issue. I wish you could all finish first.”

The environmental attorney, who was chosen by CARICOM to create model legislation for the energy sector in the Caribbean, said his aim in creating the Earth Day contest was to get students thinking about what the future will be like for them, their children and their grandchildren in the face of unregulated development which is destroying the country’s precious natural resources.


“You are the future and it is up to you to address it,” he told the students. “It is the fight of your generation.”


Ferreira, a director of the fast-growing environmental advocacy group Save The Bays, has repeatedly called for the creation of anEnvironmental Protection Act, as well as a Freedom of Information Act so citizens can stay informed about how their natural heritage is being used.


The crusade for sustainable development is clearly resonating with young Bahamians, with several of the entries highlightingkey platforms of Save The Bays.


These included the importance of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before adevelopment is allowed proceed.


Grade 10 student Ronniciea Saunders from Bishop Michael Eldon High School gave the example of the ongoing construction in Bimini, which she said, “was started without an EIA and now there are many serious problems with both the land and the sea”.


Teammate Janae Culmer added: “It affected the ocean, so that means it will also affect jobs. Think about the fishermen, there is no way for them to support their families now.”


The judges of the competition were: Deon Stewart, a small grants coordinator for the United Nations Development Programme; Debbie Deal, principal of Contemporary Builders XIX Ltd; and engineer Deshon Fox.


“These students really get it,” Fox said. “They get what the issues are, what the problems are. I was so impressed by the creative thinking I saw here.”


Entries in this year’s Earth Day Enviro-Science Competition included:

  • Aquinas College: Waste Management/Renewable Energy
  • Bishop Michael Eldon High School: The Importance of Environmental Impact Assessments; Waste Management
  • C.R. Walker High School: The Open Burning of Garbage at the City Dump is a Real Challenge to the Bahamian Environment
  • St. John’s College: What a Waste! How municipal waste can be converted to energy for St. Johns College and be Applied on a Commercial Scale
  • The Government High School: Wetlands


Photo: TRASH TO TREASURE – Team Aquinas shows judge Deshon Fox (right) how their bio-digester can be used to turn waste material into vital resources such as cooking gas, fertilizer and fresh water. The Earth Day Enviro-Science Competition, held at the Paul Farquharson conference at Police Headquarters, was organised by Romi Ferreira, the country’s foremost environmental attorney. (Photo: Derek Smith Jr. for DPA)


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