Editor’s Note: Sam Teicher is the co-founder and chief reef officer of Coral Vita, a company that grows coral to restore dying reefs. Joe Oliver is the coral farm manager at Coral Vita. They live in Freeport, Grand Bahama, where the Coral Vita team launched their first coral farm to revitalize reef health to sustain marine life and the welfare of the Bahamian people. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the authors. View more opinion at CNN.
When Hurricane Dorian hit our home in the Grand Bahama on September 1, all eyes were on the canal beside our house.
There were eight of us in total, including a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. We had two levels of concrete and hurricane windows, but we had still rehearsed several contingency plans. Our last-ditch plan was to cut a hole in the roof, strap inflated scuba vests to two people holding the kids, and cling on to a rope tied to the house. Thankfully, the waters somehow never rose past the dock by our house. The same can’t be said for so many people across the country.
The Bahamas has suffered unprecedented destruction in the wake of Dorian, which was the strongest storm to hit here since records began in 1851. The official death toll will likely continue to rise. Homes that were built generations ago and passed down through families – along with those that were newly built – were flooded, splintered, or left with only the foundation as a solemn reminder.
Communities are now facing dwindling food, water, and building materials. Many people still are cut off from contacting the outside world.
Yet in the midst of this destruction, people are coming together in extraordinary ways, showing a personal and communal resilience that exceeds anything we’ve ever experienced. That is the truest spirit of the people of The Bahamas.
After three days of fearing for the worst, the storm calmed down enough for us and our friend Luke Hopper – a teacher whose family sheltered with us – to turn our attention towards distributing relief. It started on September 3, with rescue teams in small craft racing off to find trapped people buried by house-high floodwaters while the storm still unleashed 100-plus mph winds. Brave folks like Jason Albury, Brad Thompson, Aron Long, and many more saved lives with no thought for their own.
In the coming days, we joined volunteers pushing further and further east to cut-off settlements, driving in limited supplies of water, food, and tarps to communities that were left with practically nothing after Dorian. It was during this first wave of aid that the stories came flooding out of the survivors, each with a uniquely heartbreaking tale to tell.
One man from High Rock opened up about his wheelchair-bound brother being ripped from his arms by the storm surge. After losing him to the waters, the man was forced outside, where he survived by swimming to a nearby tree – to which he clung for hours. He never saw his brother again.
In that same settlement, a 4-year-old boy was taken in by the community after he lost his mother. There were upturned caskets in the cemeteries in several towns, and countless people are still missing.
And yet during this past week of tragedy and horror, we are repeatedly buoyed by tales of survival and hope.
A teenager named JP, who was swept off his roof during the storm, managed to cling to a mango tree for two days of flooding before climbing down, walk out of the woods, and bring the greatest sense of relief to his loved ones. Marilyn Laing, a friend and environmental guide at a local botanical garden, offered up her High Rock home as a distribution center for water, shoes, food, and fuel to the community.
Grand Bahama native and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest delivered aid and comfort across the island. Volunteers all around Freeport offered up their cars to deliver supplies. The Rotary Club pumped out and distributed clean water. Bahamians came together to help each other as they waited on help from the outside world – and the examples of community spirit continue.
The rebuilding process is going to be long and full of hardships. And given what this community and so many around the world are already experiencing, the obvious must be accepted by everyone who is not fueled by greed or ignorance: Humanity and our planet are in the midst of a climate emergency.
This is the first time in the satellite era that this part of the world has experienced four straight years of Category 5 hurricanes. Storms are intensifying as the ocean warms, sea levels rise, and natural barriers that shelter coasts like coral reefs and mangroves die and are destroyed. And all the while our political, industry, and media leaders go above and beyond to betray us with inaction.
The fact that we live in a time when entrepreneurs, NGOs, and scientists must revitalize dying ecosystems says it all. The Amazon is burning. The Arctic is melting. And islanders are fighting for their lives. Failing to act now is an abdication of leadership and the highest form of cowardice.
Smart, resilient, and sustainable planning must begin now – both for rebuilding the Bahamas and for all future development around the world. Climate change is a clear and present danger, and lives are already being lost to it. From green infrastructure to the widespread adoption of renewable energy and the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems, we must take steps to ensure that the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated.
What matters most right now, however, is delivering aid to the Abacos and Grand Bahama. Please consider donating – every bit counts. The mental, physical, and spiritual resilience of the Bahamian people is beyond inspirational, but the recovery is going to be long and full of hardship, and these people need your help. Now is the time for humanity to help one another, just as Bahamians are doing for each other every day.
We have nothing but awe and respect for the Bahamian people. And we hope you honor them too by sending urgent relief aid and help them rebuild for a changing world.