Island entity spearheading storm relief
Following weeks of planning, the Sanibel Sea School in partnership with Mang and others organized a delivery of supplies last week to Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas as part of a Hurricane Dorian relief effort.
On Sept. 18, Sanibel Sea School Co-founder and Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill and five others flew out of Fort Lauderdale on a small, chartered cargo plane. Including a structural engineer and general contractor, the team carried along 1,800 pounds of tools and supplies for the island of about 600 residents. For weeks, it coordinated the effort with the Green Turtle Cay Foundation and citizens.
“There are a number of folks locally that have a close association with Green Turtle Cay,” Neill said, explaining that after the storm the organization helped to mobilize those seeking a way to help.
“There are dozens of islands that are devastated, but we took more of a laser focus,” he said. “This is a single community we can specifically help. We have connections that are literally on the ground.”
Currently, the island has no electricity, no running water and most telephone poles are down.
“Most of the structures on Green Turtle Cay are either demolished or roofless or somehow really not habitable,” Neill said.
Thanks to the generosity of the local community, the Sanibel Sea School collected donations like clothing, towels and diapers that it sent to the island by working with the Green Turtle Cay Foundation. However, in talking with those on the ground, it learned that building supplies were truly needed.
So, it started a fund to help with recovery and rebuilding, recently raising over $30,000.
“It came from a variety of folks. Most came from island residents or seasonal residents,” he said, expressing appreciation for the generosity of donors on behalf of the Sanibel Sea School and others.
Working closely again with the Green Turtle Cay Foundation, the Sanibel team headed to local hardware and home improvement stores to purchase building supplies and tools, while the foundation coordinated the shipment of wood, roofing and building materials to the island on a large barge.
“We purchased all sorts of tools,” Neill said.
The shopping list included electrical generators, air compressors for nail guns, tarps, floor fans for drying out buildings, sprayers to spray bleach in the buildings, roofing shovels to clear off the remnants of damaged roofs, cordless power tool kits, and all the necessary bits, blades and screws to rebuild.
He noted that on the day the Sanibel team arrived, a separate group of roofers out of Destin also touched down to lend a hand but they lacked the needed items to start. Using some of the tools and supplies just brought over by the Sanibel team, the roofers climbed on roofs and got to work.
Neill explained that the team’s goal was to deliver the initial tools needed to establish stabilization, along with deciding how it could best help the island move forward with its reconstruction. Meeting with the Bahamian equivalent of the mayor of Green Turtle Cay and another city council member, it toured a handful of churches and the island’s only school, also speaking with the school principal.
“One of our main goals was public areas,” Neill said. “All of those communal spaces are heavily impacted and the school most heavily impacted.”
“We want to help them stabilize,” he added. “Then they have to rebuild.”
One church that was being used as a hurricane relief center had a well on site, but no electricity. Handing over a generator, oil and an extension cord, a toilet was soon working for residents.
“We mostly looked around, talked to people and listened,” Neill said. “We asked ‘What can we do to help you?'”
“It’s just like here after a hurricane. There’s a million things that need to be done,” he added. “This is going to take months or years for them to rebuild.”
As it left the various sites it visited, the team left behind tools and supplies. At the school, the team’s structural engineer and general contractor took measurements to come up with a plan to rebuild.
Neill noted that this was a first delivery in an ongoing operation.
“We’re not done yet,” he said.
The team returned to Southwest Florida late that night.
Neill explained that the Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future one person at a time, so some may be confused as to why the conservation educational organization is doing this.
“The answer to that question is that our communities rely on healthy natural resources, and communities who are struggling to exist can’t afford on the short-term to take care of the marine environment,” he said. “However, if you don’t take care of your marine environment, your natural resource degrades and puts you in economic and social imperil.”
He cited the decline on Haiti as one example.
“So, this is marine conservation,” Neill said of helping Green Turtle Cay get back on its feet and become more sustainable and better stewards of the environment. “This is how conservation works.”
To donate to the ongoing cause, visit sanibelseaschool.org/bahamasrelief.
In addition, the Sanibel team is compiling a list of volunteers interested to traveling to Green Turtle Cay to put in “sweat equity,” whether it be using a hammer, handing out water or cooking food.
Neill explained that the idea is to send volunteers in shifts over a few consecutive days.
For more information or to sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org.