IGNITING CONVERSATION: North Abaco fire chief participates in landmark climate change hearing

IGNITING CONVERSATION: North Abaco fire chief participates in landmark climate change hearing
North Abaco Fire Chief Kirk Murray.

“I think The Bahamas should participate more but have a more independent say so we could target more stuff”

COOPER’S TOWN, ABACO — When Kirk Murray is not fighting fires in his local community, he is igniting meaningful discourse about a hot-button issue plaguing the Caribbean region at large: climate change. 

Within his purview as a fire chief, Murray has the opportunity to conduct educational presentations on climate change at North Abaco schools and recently acted as a delegate on behalf of The Bahamas in a virtual climate change hearing under the theme “Impact of Extractive Industries on Human Rights and Climate Change”. 

The landmark event, which was hosted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), featured a panel of other environmental ambassadors hailing from several Caribbean nations.  

Murray presented on how the issue affects The Bahamas, putting forward the view that as a small nation, we are susceptible to increasingly intense storm systems due to climate change. 

He noted the catastrophic effects of the devastating Hurricane Dorian, which rampaged through the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama in 2019 and rendered 74 dead and hundreds more still declared missing. 

“My [contribution] was the impact of Hurricane Dorian. Our biggest climate change [crisis] is the effect of storms,” he said in an interview with Eyewitness News

Although primarily focused on his environmental activism and personal mission to inform both himself and his local community about the harsh reality of climate change, he acknowledged that the hearings have sensitized him to the challenges faced by neighboring countries in the Caribbean that have also dealt with environmental plights as a result of climate change.

The 23-year-old said that the hearing fostered a “sense of unity and solidarity together as countries”. 

Murray stressed that The Bahamas should continue to participate in climate change dialogues because of the widespread destruction caused by the environmental phenomenon. 

He said: “I think The Bahamas should participate more but have a more independent say so we could target more stuff. 

“Our climate change [issues] are not just hurricanes, it affects something else, like our conch and fish.”


Motherly wisdom 

According to the budding environmentalist, his mother, who works as an assistant superintendent for fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Marine Resources in North Abaco, gave him a prime example of the destructive ripple effect that strong hurricanes have on Bahamian fisheries. 

She taught him that when strong storms hit, conchs are often displaced from its natural habitat in the sea and washed ashore, leaving the endangered species vulnerable.  

“They [wash] up on the beach. The rainwater kills them,” he said 

“If a hurricane comes, you notice how you see all kinds of stuff from the ocean on land? Sometimes that’s conch and when conch gets wet [from rainwater], they die.”

What’s more, Murray told Eyewitness News that in his capacity as fire chief on Abaco, he saw firsthand the disastrous effects of a climate-induced storm, recalling that in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the community experienced daily bouts of wildfires due to lingering extreme temperatures. 

“After the storm, we had different dry bushes and different structures that are old. It caused us a lot of fires. 

“The fires were happening every day.

“We were wondering why the fires were catching so much. There was so much dry bush and the heat from Dorian dried the bushes up. 

“All of the debris, the cans in the bushes and the bottles — when the bottles catch heat, it sends off an ignition for the dry bush to catch fire… The bushes were dry, trees were down, trees were all dried up and the sun came out like hot, hot, hot.”

The fire chief, who boasts several environmental courses and fire safety certifications under his belt, plans to take his newfound knowledge to Abaco schools and create a document using parts of his hearing speech to distribute as educational material to students.

This comes as the nation’s leaders, including Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, prepare to address the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Written by Eyewitness News Intern Gabrielle Sterling