Nikita Shiel-Rolle

Nikita Shiel-Rolle

By Katy Hennig

Nikita Shiel-Rolle

By Katy Hennig
Alumna works towards sustainable development and education in her native Bahamas.

Growing up in Nassau, Bahamas, Nikita Shiel-Rolle, B.A.M.A. ’10, fell in love with the ocean at a young age. “My brother and I spent our childhood exploring the bush and the pond behind our house, or riding our bikes to the undeveloped canals in our neighborhood and snorkeling in them,” shares Sheil-Rolle.

Passionate about environmental education, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences graduate knew that her heart and success would be in implementing knowledge surrounding cultural and geographical hardships faced by global communities.

Shiel-Rolle developed collaborative connections her first year at the university, diving in to the underwater world. “I had the opportunity to work with some incredible professors who created opportunities for me to be doing this work. While I was working in the lab of Dr. Pamela Reid, a Marine Geologist and Geophysicist, I founded Young Marine Explorers (YME).”

Sheil-Rolle went on to earn her Masters in Biodiversity Wildlife and Ecosystem Health from the University of Edinburgh, while actively building and enhancing the YME, the Bahamian environmental advocacy and educational program that she started in 2011.

Living in Cat Island Bahamas, Sheil-Rolle continues to accelerate in building connections with younger generations and working toward implementing climate crisis solution strategies.

“My current career path has me on a journey of contributing toward creating a new global narrative, one that highlights the opportunities available through sustainability and paints a picture of hope through climate action.”

Funded by a UNESCO grant, Shiel-Rolle established The Cat Island Conservation Institute (CICI) pronounced "SeaSea," a participatory science-research institute that drives climate action within local communities in The Bahamas. Through a series of discussions and workshops to accelerate climate change solutions and community-driven conservation, the institute has just launched "Operation Teal," a ten year sustainability plan to transform The Bahamas to green islands and a blue economy.

Learn more about Nikita Sheil-Rolle’s impact and mission surrounding climate change:

How did you develop your love for the environment?

The summer after 9th grade I got a job at Stuart Coves Dive Bahamas working on the snorkel boat and I was living my best life, spending my days taking tourists on snorkel trips. I became a PADI OW SCUBA Diver that summer and I fell head over heels in love with the ocean and everything underwater. It was a magical experience being able to spend so much time in the ocean. That summer I decided to become a marine biologist because I saw how incredible nature was and how mother earth and the ocean gave us so much and that as humans, we were so destructive, destroying what was literally feeding us and giving us life.

Can you share any details and major influencing moments during your time here at the U?

I had an amazing time at the U. I lived in Club Richter. I would get kicked out of the library every night at 2 am and it was amazing. I had the opportunity to work with some incredible professors who created opportunities for me to be doing this work. While I was working in the lab of Dr. Pamela Reid, a Marine Geologist and Geophysicist, I founded Young Marine Explorers (YME). Working with her on her stromatolite work in the Exuma’s led to us establishing what was known as The Danguiullecourt Project, focusing on education, research and art around the natural history of the Bahamas. This project had me spending months exploring the Northern Exuma Cays capturing images of the flora, fauna, and geology of the islands, both above and below water. This led to us to the publishing of Islands of the Sun: A tribute to the Northern Exuma Cays.

Funds raised from book sales went towards establishing YME, which was at the time was called Young Bahamian Marine Scientists (YBMS). During my junior year, I scheduled my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that I could fly back home for the weekends to run marine science classes for high school students. Through working with Dr. Reid, I was able to get a good introduction to the environmental world in The Bahamas.

I had an incredible opportunity to work with Dr. Kenny Broad, a Professor in the Marine Ecosystem and Society Department at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. I joined Kenny on a National Geographic Expedition exploring Bahamian Blue Holes. Through participating in this project, I became certified as a full cave diver and became the first Bahamian Cave diver. This expedition enabled me to explore the blue holes that were literally located on my families’ property in South Andros. Discoveries included remains of Lucayans, the indigenous people who lived in the Bahamas prior to Columbus arrival. The expedition discovered remains of giant tortoises and crocodiles that are long extinct. I had the opportunity to not only dive with the expedition team I also worked as a research assistant to Dr. Jenn Macalady, an astrobiologist at Pennsylvania State University's Department of Geosciences, who was studying the water chemistry of Bahamian blue holes to understand the conditions most similar to the earliest, oxygen-free environments that supported life.

I also worked closely with Dr. Sarah Meltzoff from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Department of Marine Ecosystem and Society. With Sarah, I traveled to indigenous communities in Panama learning about conservation in coastal communities. I also went with her to the Galapagos in the first group of UM Galapagos students. I spent my last semester at the U in the Galapagos where I developed some of my closest friendships and learned from UM professors while camped on the rims of a volcano studying geology; diving with penguins and manta rays for marine ecology and experiencing a different and amazing culture.

You dedicate your voice, heart, and soul to conservation, and sharing that inspiring message with the rest of the world. Can you tell us a little about your passion, and the importance to communicate science in a way that people will embrace?

My personal vision is to be an active and contributing member in a world that is living in harmony with nature. Where everyone has the opportunity to experience and love their life and express their authenticity during their time on this planet. I love the ocean; I often say that I am a human personification of the ocean. My mission is to spread love for the ocean because for me loving the ocean and nature is really about loving yourself. I think connecting people with the ocean is a way for people to connect with life itself. I think science and the scientific method of inquiry is so important. It is a skill the stretches far beyond the laboratory. I believe that helping people to see the world through a scientific lens is important and can be so much fun. And that you can be talking about science and working on an art project and the exact same time – they are not mutually exclusive. If anything, science helps us to appreciate the art and complexity of nature.

Can you share how the interconnectedness and collaborative nature of your work, as well as the connectivity in our environment, is such a major factor in the success of improving the state of our global community? 

Climate change is a global problem and because of that it requires a collaborative and global approach to creating a solution. As a world, we are learning how to live as a global community, and this is complex. Because of the complexity we require diverse perspectives and backgrounds at the table to make sure that we are taking a holistic look at the problem, this is why so much of my work involves getting to know different people from different sectors and understanding the problem through their perspective to see where our work overlaps. Climate change is intersectional. This is why I really like the UN Sustainable Development Goals because it provides an umbrella framework for sustainable development.  

Humanity needs to reconnect with nature. Our busy technology driven lives disconnect us from nature. Indigenous leaders and healers from around the world have been saying this for years, but we haven’t listened to them. I believe by developing our connection with nature and understanding and appreciating all the gifts that we receive from the earth we can use science and local an indigenous knowledge to help guide us to create the solutions required for us to thrive while living in harmony with nature.