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The Marine Ecosystem: A means of food security and defence against coastal erosion
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The Marine Ecosystem: A means of food security and defence against coastal erosion

Sasha Middleton is one of 20 finalists for this year’s Commonwealth Youth Awards. She is the CEO of Antigua and Barbuda Marine Ecosystems Protected Area Trust Inc., one of several National Conservation Trust Funds in the Caribbean. The project’s mission is to actively fundraise and work with multi-sectoral partners to support the protection, recovery, and effective management of Antigua and Barbuda’s protected areas. Precious Obiabunmo, a 21-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Nigeria, spoke with Sasha about what drives her work.

Sasha Middleton is passionate about pushing for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, which deals with climate action.  

As part of this mission, she has stirred to help her country become more resilient to climate-related hazards, among other things. Her Trust has raised and distributed more than $600,000 for recovery efforts in Barbuda following hurricane damage. She also employs over 100 people in various projects and supports more than 40 children in after-school programmes.

How did you first get interested in climate change activism?

After I completed a Business Management degree in 2015, I returned home to Antigua and secured a job at the Department of Environment (DoE). It was while working at the DoE that I finally got a full grasp of what climate change is and its importance. Being educated on climate change made a difference for me, as you cannot care about something you know nothing about. This drove my passion to get more involved in climate change activism and to continue being an environmental defender. Additionally, I wanted be a change agent in my society, considering Antigua and Barbuda is a small island developing state which is heavily impacted by climate change.

Why should people care about the marine ecosystem?

People should care about the marine ecosystem because it is a means of ensuring food security. As the global population grows, there will be greater demand for protein – a demand livestock alone will not be able to meet. As such, food from the oceans will play an integral role in feeding the world. However, if we fail to take care of our marine ecosystems, we risk destroying this source of food by destroying fish habitats through ocean pollution.

The marine ecosystem is also important since it is one of the first lines of defence against natural disasters that contribute to coastal erosion. Additionally, for countries like Antigua and Barbuda, tourism is our main industry and eco-tourism contributes significantly to this. But if we have a poor marine ecosystem, then tourists will not be enthusiastic about diving, snorkelling and other activities, which means the economy will suffer. 

Tell us more about your company.

The Marine Ecosystems Protected Area Trust, also known as the MEPA Trust, was established in May 2015. It is one of several national conservation trust funds set up throughout the Caribbean region to support environmental initiatives through grants. Each of the funds, to include the MEPA Trust, was set up by the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund, with the help of the Nature Conservancy, World Bank, KfW German bank and more. 

In what way is your company tackling the challenges facing the marine ecosystem?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are one of our top priorities and funding is always needed to support the protection and recovery of our MPAs. So, we raise and mobilise funds on the ground for private sector, non-government as well as government organisations, community groups and others to support conservation and climate change related activities.

How do you think you can get more young people in Antigua and Barbuda interested in climate activism?

Education and awareness is key. Sharing information on various media platforms will help raise awareness and peak individuals’ interest to get involved. I also think lobbying with various private and government agencies to have more young people involved in decision making and climate change activities would be critical in youths’ participation. Partnering with other local development groups will also help increase participation among youth in climate activism. 

As a young climate leader, which of your undertakings are you proudest of?

I am proudest of is being able to build partnerships and synergies locally, regionally and internationally to support the recovery efforts in Barbuda following the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma. I am also proud that our grant-making mechanism was put in place to finally issue grants to support conservation-related activities in Antigua and Barbuda.

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Photo Credit: Sasha Middleton

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About Precious Obiabunmo: My interests lie in literacy, youth and women empowerment. My love for reading and writing led me into creating a blog and write for other brands. I also have a podcast where I share tips and experiences that will help campus students launch their careers. Currently, I work as a content creator and social media manager. I hope to head the Communications team of a tech startup someday.

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The Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work highlights the contributions of young people who are making a difference in their communities and celebrates their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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