Antigua Youth Takes Lead in Climate Action

Clearing the nation’s beaches of rubbish

In a small classroom in Antigua, 11-year-old Kih’Nyiah McKay is emerging as a young environmental activist. Despite her youth, Kih’Nyiah deeply understands the urgent climate crisis and the severe impacts of deforestation and marine pollution on her island.

“Saving the Earth is our duty,” she states with a maturity that belies her age.

As the relentless sun beats down, making it difficult for electric fans to cool the classrooms, the harsh realities of climate change are evident in Antigua and the wider Caribbean. Receding coastlines, stronger hurricanes, and sweltering summers highlight the critical need for action.

Kih’Nyiah McKay

Yet, amidst these challenges, there is hope.

Kih’Nyiah is part of a group of over 60 young girls and women trained as coastal stewards. They undertake essential tasks such as planting native trees to prevent erosion, protecting turtle nesting sites, and managing beach waste.

This initiative, led by local NGO Adopt-a-Coastline, has achieved notable success. It received a $100,000 grant from the United Nations’ Global Environment Facility (GEF) last August, chosen from 600 applicants for its innovative approach to environmental conservation.

Coastal stewards

With this funding, Adopt-a-Coastline plans to expand to three more Caribbean islands this year, increasing its regional impact.

The project’s core mission is to empower women and girls. By challenging traditional gender roles in Caribbean society, Adopt-a-Coastline equips young women with skills in environmental leadership and data analysis, fostering a new generation of female conservation leaders.

For Kih’Nyiah’s school principal, Ryona Shaw-Joseph, involvement in these initiatives is essential for the planet’s future sustainability. Teaching children the importance of environmental stewardship is crucial for preserving resources for future generations, she emphasizes.

Kaiesha Joseph, a 24-year-old youth parliamentarian aiming to become Antigua’s first female prime minister, shares this belief. By challenging gender norms, Kaiesha advocates for greater female representation in decision-making processes, stressing the importance of women voicing their beliefs and taking up leadership roles.

Pensioners Beach, one of the sites adopted by Adopt-a-Coastline, exemplifies community-driven conservation. Volunteers there repurpose discarded tires into bins, reducing shoreline pollution and promoting sustainable waste management.

As Antigua prepares to host the UN’s fourth Small Island Developing States Conference, the voices of young women like Kaiesha will be crucial in shaping discussions on sustainable development and climate resilience. Their advocacy highlights the need for inclusivity and gender parity in environmental governance.

Through initiatives like Adopt-a-Coastline, young girls not only contribute to environmental conservation but also gain valuable skills and economic opportunities. By transforming marine debris into marketable products, they clean up beaches while fostering economic empowerment in their communities.

Founded in 2009 by long-time resident Jennifer Meranto, Adopt-a-Coastline demonstrates the power of grassroots activism. What started as a personal mission to reduce environmental impact has grown into a community-driven movement, clearing thousands of bags of litter from beaches and inspiring a new generation of environmental stewards.

As the project extends its reach, it offers hope for a more sustainable future. By empowering young women to lead, advocate, and effect change, initiatives like Adopt-a-Coastline not only protect the environment but also cultivate new environmental leaders.