La Réserve naturelle de Saint-Martin est une aire marine protégée de 30km2 située au nord-est de l’île de Saint-Martin. Créé en 1998, cet espace préserve les cinq principaux écosystèmes de l’île : récifs coralliens, mangroves, herbiers de phanérogames, étangs et forêt sèche littorale. La Réserve gère également les 14 étangs du Conservatoire du littoral et ses 11 km de rivages terrestres naturels.

Journal-33

Téléchargez le PDF:
Download PDF - Télécharger le PDF

Journal-33

To promote the conservation of the coral reefs and related species

© Julien Chalifour
© Julien Chalifour

Keeping an eye on the health of the marine milieu, and especially the coral reefs and their resident populations, is a priority for IFRECOR— French Initiative For Coral Reefs.

With this in mind, an agreement between the Réserve Naturelle and IFRECOR, via the Regional Direction for the Environment, will lead to the development of indicators to track the health of the reef communities, as well as review the 2018 activities of the “reef network” in the French West Indies. Amandine Vaslet, PhD in marine biology, will lead these two projects. She recently evaluated the first management plan for the Réserve Naturelle, before creating the second.

In order to lead these projects properly, the scientist will refer to the data from scientific studies on the reefs done by the Réserve in 2017 and 2018, as part of the reserve network’s Reef Check project.

The analysis of this data will provide information about the extent to which hurricane Irma impacted the coral in Saint Martin.

Vaslet’s report is expected in December 2018.

BIOHAB2 © Julien Chalifour
BIOHAB2 © Julien Chalifour

Guillaume Montagne, an intern at the Réserve from April through August 2018, made an oral report on the results of his internship for his professors at the Université de Calais (ULCO), where he just got his degree in the management of property and personnel, natural hazards, and the management of urban spaces. In charge of the planning stages, conception, implantation of BIOHAB2, he followed the evolution of this artificial habitat located near the Remorqueur dive site, off the coast of de Tintamare. One month after the immersion of the structures, a dive afforded the observation that the number of individuals per species was well superior to that observed by BIOHAB1, which disappeared with hurricane Irma. The data is still being sorted, but Julien Chalifour suspects that this abundance is due, in part, to size of the new installation and in addition, the proximity to Remorqueur, a site already over-populated. Schools of young pigfish were seen here alongside young surgeonfish, butterfly fish, and angelfish, as well as young royal lobsters. A month later, a second dive revealed an augmentation of all these populations and the incorporation of new species as well. The first successes recorded for BIOHAB2 was broadcast by IoTV, a local channel, and will be showcased on Thalassa early next year, on a program dedicated to Saint Martin and climate change (see article page 6).

Requin dans un récif corallien – Shark in a coral reef © Franck Mazéas
Requin dans un récif corallien – Shark in a coral reef © Franck Mazéas

On October 15-17, 2018 at the Overseas Ministry, Nicolas Maslach, director of the Réserve Naturelle de Saint-Martin, participated in the standing committee of IFRECOR—French Initiative For Coral Reefs. Site by site, studies conducted about the ocean floor in the French Overseas Territories were presented. This report preceded a session on strategies to follow, or establish, for the conservation of the reefs, plant beds, and mangroves in years to come. At the same time, various methods of working were proposed concerning development projects threatening these natural environments, and the method MERCI, to Avoid, Reduce, and Compensate, was born. In other words, in the short term, to avoid development, but if it has to take place, act to reduce the consequences on the marine milieu, and finally impose an obligation on the developer to compensate for the expected impact, by financing ecologically sound projects.

Interview de Nicolas Maslach – Nicolas Maslach interviewed © Chris Joe
Interview de Nicolas Maslach – Nicolas Maslach interviewed © Chris Joe

On October 8-11, the Réserve met with a crew from Thalassa, who were working on a television report on the evolution of the island in terms of housing and daily life, as well as the environment. They discussed the impact on the island’s flora and fauna, as well as the development of the ecosystems and related activities. The BIOHAB2 artificial habitat project, coral regeneration, as well as the creation of nurseries designed to revitalize the coastal littoral were especially of interest to Thalassa, as well as the program “Educative Marine Area,” intended to raise awareness for children (see article page 23). The journalists will return to complete their reporting in January 2019, in order to follow up on these projects.

A quarter to a third of the mangrove damaged by Irma is recovering. The recent heavy rains saw the water level rise in parched ponds and favored the growth of young shoots on the mangroves.
Mérou de Nassau © Julien Chalifour
Mérou de Nassau © Julien Chalifour

The European LIFE Program disposes three billion euros to fund projects that promote the environment and climate between 2014 and 2020. This year, LIFE targeted species that have special conservations needs, and the Réserve Naturelle presented a dossier aspiring to restoring two species of grouper: the Nassau grouper, which rarely reaches adult size due to over fishing, and the giant grouper, which can be observed locally in an anecdotal fashion, once every two or three years. Appreciated by divers due to their curiosity toward them, these fish are superior predators ecologically speaking—they could take care of the lionfish population for example— but also economically in the long term, for the delicacy of their flesh. This dossier is part of an international collaboration with Martinique, Barbados, Florida, and mainland France, and is part of a global project proposed by Overseas France, and coordinated by the League for the Protection of Birds, which is not sectarian. The dossier constituted by the Réserve is based on several projects, but the ultimate goal is the sustainable management of these populations:

  • Creation of a socio-economic report on the role of these species in Saint Martin in terms of ecology, consumption, and tradition;
  • Study of the state of these populations still present; • Public awareness in general and in particular for school students;
  • Experimental studies on the recruitment of these two species, knowing that grouper larva migrates for several months over hundreds of miles, depending on the currents, before the post-larval and young grouper settle onto the reefs;
  • A study on the evolution of regulations concerning these two species. More than 200,000 euros was allotted to the Réserve for the period 2018-2023. This budget will allow the Réserve to finance visits by specialists to create diagnostics and train the agents. A project manager will be recruited shortly: this post will be shared between the LIFE program and the AFB project for the preservation of sea turtles. (see article page 24).

To promote the conservation of seagrass beds and related marine plant species

Algues vertes dans l’herbier – Green algae in the seagrass © Julien Chalifour
Algues vertes dans l’herbier – Green algae in the seagrass © Julien Chalifour

Organized every year since 2008, this year’s Reef Check took place on September 17-19, off the coast of Galion, Caye Verte, Pinel, and Rocher Créole. Two volunteers, Théo Feger and Guillaume —of Jorakhae Free Diving School — joined forces with the Réserve. The data is still being evaluated but, one year after hurricane Irma, observation revealed a high presence of green filamentous algae, especially on coral reefs and plant beds, but also washed up on the beaches, including Pinel. These algae are generally present in these areas, but usually on a seasonal basis and of a smaller quantity. Their abundance this year is an indication of organic coastal pollution, with water treatment stations at but 50% of their capacity, according to a press release issued by the EEASM in October 2018. The proliferation of these algae is promoted by strong rains, at which time runoff water is filled with organic materials and nutrients, and this year also from non-purified wastewater. Consequently, the soil leaching and coastal pollution enrich the shoreline milieu, which benefits the algae, but to the detriment of the coral that suffocates. The degraded quality of the coastal waters represents the first cause of deterioration of the marine biodiversity in Saint Martin.

© Julien Chalifour
© Julien Chalifour

Since 2007, the Réserve Naturelle has continued its annual scientific study of the reefs and plant beds. This took place this year on September 24-26, with the support of Jonas Hochart, from Saint Barth’s Territorial Environmental Agency. He helped the team from Saint Martin in documenting the evolution and general state of the coral communities and plant beds on the three reef stations— Chico, Rocher Pélican, and Fish Pot, a site located outside of the Réserve —and the three plant bed stations — Rocher Créole, Pinel, and Grand-Case, this last site also outside of the Réserve. The data is under evaluation, but the divers reported the return of sponges, which were heavily impacted by hurricane Irma. They also noted an excessive presence of dead coral colonies, also due to Irma. On the other hand they observed green algae, as well as the return of young macro-algae, which had drastically regressed due to the effects of successive swells. These algae compete for space and light with the coral, and clearly benefitted from the wastewater thrown into the sea.

Under the aegis of joint underwater projects between reserves, Julien Chalifour went to lend a hand in Saint Barth in an identical context, but this time for the reef stations at Boeuf islet and near Colombier. He also participated in the implantation of a new plantbed station in Petit-Cul-de-Sac, since the historic station in Marigot Bay disappeared due to private cutting of vegetation, which provoked soil leaching and subsequently the suffocation of plant beds. Participation in a study organized by the Réserve of Petite Terre in Guadeloupe followed shortly thereafter.

To promote the conservation of the sea turtle population

Tortue verte - Green Turtle © Julien Chalifour
Tortue verte - Green Turtle © Julien Chalifour

On the evening of August 31, at about 11pm, on the beach at Long Bay, about 40 eco-volunteers following the activity of sea turtles were able to observe a green turtle in the process of trying to lay her eggs. For an hour and a half, the animal tried multiple times, but finally went back to the sea without laying any eggs. She came back a little later, but this new effort was also a failure as the next collapsed onto itself as the turtle tired to dig it. According to Julien Chalifour, these unsuccessful attempts are caused by a beach built up with too much sand, as created by Irma, as well as successive swells caused by the hurricane. This episode once again illustrates the importance of not disturbing such egg-laying activities, as well as preservation and management of the natural aspects of the egg-laying zones: vegetation, development, compacting of sand, lighting...

Good To Know
A sea turtle ready to lay her eggs has a window of just three days to do so successfully. After this time frame, and considering that she is capable of nesting several times in the same season, she must dispose of her eggs in the ocean to make room for the next eggs that are forming. Sea turtles only lay eggs every two or three years, but are capable of making nests three to eight times in the same season, with an average of 60 to 120 eggs each time. But only one in 1000 baby sea turtles ever reaches adulthood, 20 to 25 years after hatching. The others often fall to predators, or are victims of accidents, pollution, fishing boats, or poachers.
Sans commentaire - No comment
Sans commentaire - No comment

The activities of construction and reconstruction in Saint Martin have been really ramping up over the past five months, and it is totally legitimate that everyone wants to rebuild their homes and businesses. The island’s natural ecosystems, also impacted by the hazards of climate change, remain in bad condition and need revitalization. It is equally as important to avoid damaging them any further. Contrary to common sense, it is also important to respect the regulations and to get solid advice from the appropriate services that have jurisdiction over the environment, such as UT DEAL Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin at the prefecture. That’s what a villa owner in Terres-Basses should have done before starting work to rebuild a wall along the beach. This work led the builder to create a cavity more than three meters deep on a beach listed and identified as an egg-laying site sea turtles. In France—and this in Saint Martin —sea turtles, certain bird and plant species are protected, as are the habitats that shelter them. The destruction of sites with geological importance, or the natural habitats of non-domesticated animal species, and non-cultivated vegetation constitutes an offense, as noted in the environmental code. The responsible party risks a maximum term of two years in prison and a fine of 150,000 €. This regulation applies in all natural, terrestrial, and coastal zones in Saint Martin.

To maintain or improve local conditions for nesting bird populations

Èchasse d’Amérique Black-necked stilt © Julien Chalifour
Èchasse d’Amérique Black-necked stilt © Julien Chalifour

According to a study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, amateur bird watchers brought 36 billion dollars to the American economy in 2006, and 20% of Americans identify as bird watchers. At the same time, the Kuşcenneti National Park in Turkey— a Ramsar site like Saint Martin—attracts amateur bird watchers from around the world. Thus represents direct and indirect revenue of more than $1million per year. Guided visits have become a major activity, with no less than 127 businesses offering visits around the globe. Knowing that the avifauna counted on the ponds of Saint Martin comprises more than 85 species of birds, this abundance and this richness have naturally encouraged the Réserve Naturelle and the Conservatoire du Littoral to promote the conservation of these species and their habitats, by way of development adapted at for public access at each site. The idea, in the absence of a tourism strategy other beach-oriented in Saint Martin, is to propose the development of eco-tourism based on bird watching, for which Saint Martin has perhaps the best potential for all of the Caribbean. For this to develop, it is necessary in parallel to expand the protection of coastal zones by developing them for properly for human activities. In the post-Irma context, at which time everyone agrees it is necessary to rethink our model for the development of coastal areas in Saint Martin, other than for their heritage value, the increase of eco-tourism in Saint Martin could be the answer. The Réserve estimates that a budget of 1.6 million euros is needed for the renewal of the salt ponds.

The salt ponds of Saint Martin, an important buffer zone between the shore and the sea, are too often still thought of as unhealthy places. Their negative image, combined with development issues facilitating their destruction, is partially the reason for their disastrous evolution. The overall coastal zones in Saint Martin were impacted by the violence of the winds brought by hurricane Irma. The mangroves are practically destroyed, the vegetation along the shores disappeared, ripped up by the strong gusts. The impact on the biodiversity for marine and terrestrial fauna is difficult to quantify, but it is certain that the disappearance of these habitats and ecosystems will have a lasting impact in the short, middle, and long term on the global stock and production of animal and vegetable biodiversity. Actions taken for the renewal of the biodiversity for coastal zones will allow to minimize such impacts and to lessen the effect on the biodiversity in a general manner in the future.

To maintain or improve the ecological health of the salt ponds

L’étang de Chevrise - Chevrise Pond © Conservatoire du littoral
L’étang de Chevrise - Chevrise Pond © Conservatoire du littoral

1,314 tons of debris! That’s the number reported by the Conservatoire du Littoral on October 1, or three months after the start of a major clean-up campaign at all of the Conservatoire’s sites, with a special focus on the salt ponds. Metal—primarily from roofs—represents a third of this debris, with the other two thirds comprising large objects. L & A Transport, the company that won the contract awarded by Conservatoire, removed the largest items—roofs, containers—in July and August. A team of about 10 people attacked this gigantesque task, with the help of large machinery.

L’étang de la Savane - Savane Pond © Conservatoire du littoral
L’étang de la Savane - Savane Pond © Conservatoire du littoral

This clean-up operation has since continued with the six agents of the association ACED and Aude Berger, tasked by Conservatoire for the coordination of the clearing of the sites since July 1. The collection of debris, both large and small, is sorted before taken to the trash center at the eco-site, where they are treated. Three car bodies, a good-sized boat, and a jet ski were removed thanks to this effort, as well as numerous personal objects, such as clothing, stuffed animals, and a large number of car parts. The Conservatoire appreciates the work done by ACED, especially in the ponds, where is it not easy to remove debris from the silt and pull it onto the shore, either by hand or on a kayak. At the Etang de Grand-Case, which is badly polluted, the agents worked between 5am and 7am, before air traffic began for the day. In July, they has help from 20 Belgian scouts and 100 scouts from France, supervised by the agents from the Réserve Naturelle, as well as by such associations as What de 9 and Clean Saint-Martin, and several local residents. The result today is that almost all of the ponds are clean, or will be by mid-December.

L’équipe de l’ACED - The ACED Team © Conservatoire du littoral
L’équipe de l’ACED - The ACED Team © Conservatoire du littoral

It is now time to think about replanting the mangroves, which requires an agreement between ACED, the Conservatoire du Littoral and the Réserve Naturelle. After the cleanup and management by the Conservatoire, the Réserve Naturelle will take over. The ACED agents will dedicate the first six months of 2019 to the creative of a mangrove nursery, and the planting of trees in the impacted areas. Before this next step, they will benefit from theoretical and practical training led by Aude Berger and Anne-Marie Bouillé, who will teach them about the ecology of wetlands, the ecosystems of the mangroves and the ponds, as well as the role of environmental professions, especially that of a coastal warden. It took 141,000 euros to complete the clean-up of the Conservatoire’s sites, With the monies coming from the French Agency for Biodiversity, the Collectivité from government funds, and the Conservatoire du Littoral.

The taking of aerial photographs with the help of a drone preceded this vast ecological restoration project, in particular above the salt ponds in order to indentify the damage to the mangroves, verify the state of the outlets, and pinpoint the debris in the most inaccessible areas. After that step, ecologist Mélanie Haerteman and Anne-Marie Bouillé, head of the Conservatoire in Saint Martin, did a study of the ponds: hydrologic measures (temperature, oxygenation, salinity, currents), and checked the health of the flora and fauna, as well as mapping the debris. A list of recommendations was created, with priorities for each site, actions to avoid and those to promote.
In order to complete the funding request that was presented to the French Agency for Biodiversity last year, some ecological engineering work will be done in the next few weeks at he Etang de la Barrière, with the creation of channels to increase the flow of water at part of the site, as well as the clearing of the hydraulic connections between the Salines d’Orient and the Etang aux Poissons.
The total cost of this project (aerial photos, ecological study, clean-up and ecological engineering): 89,663 euros (80% AFB and 20% Conserva
Des élèves enthousiastes - Enthusiastic pupils © Christophe Joe
Des élèves enthousiastes - Enthusiastic pupils © Christophe Joe

Created in 2012 in the Marquises from the imagination of elementary school students, the concept of an “educative marine area” (AME) has been developed successfully across the French islands. In Saint Martin, three classes manage their marine area and were awarded the “educative marine area” label on June 4, 2018. This label, awarded by the French Agency for Biodiversity (AFB), recognizes the creation of an ecological project that invites students to think about the management and protection of natural marine heritage. These “junior rangers” become interested in a sector of their natural heritage and invest themselves in its protection and management. For example, a CM1 class at the Clair Saint-Maximim School alternates classroom study and field visits at Galion, under the watchful eye of their guide, Vincent Oliva, who is in charge of environmental education for the Réserve Naturelle. At the same time, two sixth grade classes at the Collège Mont des Accords have taken an interest in the littoral at Galisbay, with Amandine Vaslet, from the association “My School, My Whale.” The idea for all of these students is to define priorities for the protection of biodiversity at the site for which they are responsible, and apply their scholastic program to real-world examples, such as the replanting of the mangroves. The twinning of these classes is planned.

To promote the conservation of drought-resistant vegetation

The impact of hurricane Irma on the environment incited the French Agency for Biodiversity to call for projects that would restore biodiversity throughout the overseas territories. The Réserve responded to this call by submitting three dossiers. One of these projects, which has already been accepted, aims to finance the realization of a scientific inventory of the imparct of Irma on the flora on the small islands within the Réserve Naturelle—Pinel, Petite Clé, Caye Verte, and Tintamare—and the goal is to propose projects to restore the species and their habitants. A second project, not yet validated, concerns activities for the conservation of sea turtles and their protection. The objective it to continue the scientific study during the egg-laying season, as well as to develop the networks for marine mammals, to rehabilitate their essential habitats, which are the beaches where they lay eggs and the zones where they feed, and to reinforce public awareness programs. A third dossier, submitted by Vincent Oliva, seeks financing for the acquisition of awareness materials that can be used in schools.

Police Activity

The technical division and nature police for the Réserve Naturelle carried out 259 patrols during the first nine months of 2018: 192 patrols on land and 67 at sea. Of these 259 patrols, 46 of them—or 29 on land and 17 at sea—resulted in warnings and eventually the seizing of material. These infractions include debris deposited in the Réserve, drones flying without authorization, stealing sand from Galion, boats mooring in places where it is forbidden to drop an anchor, use of jet skis, kite surfing outside of the zone authorized at Galion, and 11 fishing incidents in the Réserve: trap fishing at Galion, crab fishing in the salt ponds, fishing with a kayak on the Salines d’Orient, fishing with rods at Galion. At the same time, a quad user was informed that his motorized vehicle is not authorized on the roads within the Réserve and never on the beach.

? Top