Thursday, January 17, 2013
Rhonda's Run for the Environment
On Saturday January 12, Rhonda Claridge made history by running the length of Abaco from Crown Haven in the north to Sandy Point in the south (roughly 120 miles) to raise awareness of the plight of disappearing coral reefs and to raise funds for Abaco’s conservation organization Friends of the Environment. Rhonda has had a successful career in ultra running over the past 5 years, with 8 podium finishes out of the ten 100 mile races that she has completed around the world, but Saturday’s event was her longest and hardest run to date.
Despite the overwhelming challenge of Rhonda’s effort, she was floored by the amount of support that was shown from the entire island of Abaco. Crowds came out in every settlement to yell words of encouragement and their enthusiasm was infectious. Residents made signs and posted them on lamp posts along the highway and many individuals joined her along the way either on bike or on foot. A visitor that has been coming to Abaco for many years, Chris Fitzpatrick, rode her bike with Rhonda for almost 12 hours from Crown Haven to Marsh Harbour! Brother James rode his bike from Coopers Town to Treasure Cay generating support all along the way, urging people to come out of their houses. He got the customs and booking agents at the Treasure Cay airport to step outside and cheer her on! An eleventh grade student ran from Marsh Harbour to Spring City alongside Rhonda barefoot! Others rode their bikes and ran distances up to 15 miles, setting their own personal records.
Rhonda took on this challenge after reading an alarming article about the global status of coral reefs in the British newspaper The Independent. According to the article coral reef ecosystems are not predicted to survive past this century. Professor Peter Sale of the University of Sydney, a top United Nations scientist who has studied the Great Barrier Reef for decades, explained that humankind’s burning of fossil fuels has led to warmer sea water temperatures and acidification, both of which are killing reefs.
“The report stated that children today are likely to be the last generation to see coral reefs,” Claridge says. “Having been born in a country that has the third-largest barrier reef in the world, and that relies on coral reefs for both tourism and fishing, and having a personal connection to the magical underwater world of reefs, I was stunned.”
Claridge, 45, grew up in Nassau and spent many weekends with her family anchored off of an island, playing in the sea. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have had those experiences. One of my earliest memories is of swimming with my mother, wearing a mask... an image of some purple and yellow fairy basslets in a reef hole, caught in a ray of sunlight.”
She lived for a few years in Abaco and was an active member of Friends of the Environment, before moving to the high country of Southwestern Colorado, where she teaches English at Colorado Mesa University. “When you leave the Bahamas and come back, its rareness really strikes you. The sea is not only beautiful; it’s alive, and it supports the whole Caribbean.”
Over the last five years Claridge has discovered a talent for long-distance running or “ultrarunning”: “I don’t have any exceptional athletic skills, but I can hang in there a long time.” Limited to short visits to the islands, Claridge has wanted to contribute more to conservation of the Bahamian ecology, so she decided to raise money for Friends of the Environment over the holidays by running the length of Abaco’s largest island on January 12th.
“FRIENDS largely facilitates and coordinates scientific research of The Bahamas, so that we get a big picture of changes that are occurring in our environment and have the hard evidence necessary for advocating new policies. FRIENDS also devotes enormous resources to educating the next generation about our environment: Kids go snorkeling, pick up garbage, work alongside scientists. They are going to be in a position to manage and conserve our natural resources when they grow up.”
Though she acknowledges that it is difficult for a small island nation to alter the effects of global oil and gas use, Claridge feels that the Bahamian government could be more outspoken internationally about the impacts of carbon burning on our coral reefs, and more proactive at home about conserving our natural heritage.
She ran in the hopes that people would pledge currency per mile of the run, and that the very generous will double their pledges if she finishes in less than 25 hours - both which happened as Rhonda finished in 22 hours and 45 minutes. You can still donate in support of Rhonda’s run by visiting Friends of the Environment’s website: www.FriendsoftheEnvironment.org or sending checks to Friends of the Environment, PO Box AB 20755, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas, please note on the check that it is in support of Rhonda’s run.