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-30

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Journal-30

informational sign after Irma
Informational sign after Irma

Saint Martin was getting ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its nature reserve and had no intention of inviting Irma to join in the festivities.

Yet in just a few hours, this unprecedented category-5 hurricane brought winds of up to 225/mph and effectively erased the work of the past 20 years. For our natural heritage, the damage is quite considerable.

The mangroves were wiped out.

The underwater milieu and especially the coral, which was already suffering from effects of climate change, are ruined A massive amount of debris, carried by the wind, has polluted all of the protected spaces along the coastline and in the salt ponds.

The pond in Cul de Sac

Various facilities put in over the past few years no longer exist or are badly damaged:

  • Four bird observatori
  • The Galion whale watching observatory
  • Two walkways in the mangroves
  • Dozens of informational sign
  • Five shelter
  • Eight demarcation buoys
  • 30 mooring buoys
  • A bird nesting raft; the underwater path and the wooden pier at Pinel Island
  • Coral nurseries
  • Artificial marine habitats
  • The ongoing replanting along the coastline…

Le ponton à Pinel - The pier in Pinel © Manu Demanez

Un carbet à Coralita - A shelter on Coralita

The offices of the Réserve in Anse Marcel The offices of the Réserve in Anse Marcel were flooded, and two vehicles, luckily insured, cannot be used.

Sadly there is not enough insurance to cover all of these natural sites, where the damage is estimated at close to 850,000€ just for the various facilities.

More than half of the budget of the Réserve lies in its ability to self-finance in the amount of 470,000€ per year, thanks to economic and ecotourism activities permitted in these beautiful sites.

It is clear that the level of tourism will be non-existent for the rest of 2017, and close to zero in 2018.

So this self-financing will be reduced to almost nothing, just at the time when the Réserve needs this money more than ever, as its efforts to rebuild this natural heritage will be hindered.

The small islands of Tintamare and Pinel, and sites such as Creole Rock, Galion Bay, Petites Cayes, and Wilderness were the natural jewels of Saint Martin and its Réserve Naturelle, the last protected sites on the French side, highly valued by the population and the island’s visitors.

The devastation of this natural heritage will have severe consequences on ecotourism, nautical activities and the economy in general.

The entrance of the Froussards path, in Anse Marcel

L’observatoire aux Oiseaux de l’étang de Chevrise

L’observatoire aux oiseaux à Cul-de-Sac - Impossible. The bird observatory in Cul de SacL’étang de l’Anse Marcel - The Anse Marcel pond La plage du Galion - Galion beach

 

And yet we are not giving up the fight.

First we have to clean up all the sites on land, at sea, and in the wetlands.
The facilities and equipment that were destroyed or damaged, as well as public visitors’ centers, will be rebuilt thanks to financial support from the Conservatoire du Littoral.

We are already hard at work.

At the same time, thanks to financial aid from the French Biodiversity Agency, we hope as of this week to implement innovative ways to recover the biodiversity and ecological restoration in our terrestrial, marine, and shoreline milieus. Alone, and without the proper means, the job is colossal..

Impossible.

The population of Saint Martin and their property suffered massive damage and destruction when hurricane Irma struck the island.
For the biodiversity of the island, the worst is yet to come for many different species if we don’t intervene as quickly as possible to restore their natural habitats:

  • coastal vegetation essential for sea turtles during their egg-laying season
  • mangroves and ponds
  • nurseries for marine species
  • resting and feeding sites for more than 50 species of birds
  • certain of which are on the endangered list; and marine habitats such as coral and sea beds that are indispensable to marine life in our region.
To help complement the financial support of our partners,
we have launched a fund-raising campaign on the gofundme website: https://www.gofundme.com/reserve-naturelle-stmartin-vs-irma,
to spur private donations.

And finally, we were one day away from requesting authorization for a building permit for the Caribbean Institute Of Insular Biodiversity.

Today, everyone is preoccupied with the urgencies of reestablishing our normal way of life.
And yet, we continue to heavily promote the realization of the Institute, which seems even more to be the perfect symbol of the reconstruction of Saint Martin, which should be exemplary, innovative, and respectful of the geological, geographical, and climatic specificities of our region. More than ever, the Caribbean Institute Of Insular Biodiversity is relevant after the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, in terms of the themes it proposes to develop, in the fight against the effects of climate change, the recovery of our biodiversity, scientific research, recommendations for urban planning, development, improvement of the island, and tourism strategies…

There was life before Irma, and there will be life after Irma. Our future, that of Saint Martin and its population, depends on the choices we make now.

My most sincere thanks go to the French Biodiversity Agency, the Conservatoire du Littoral, the Ministry of Ecology, the Réserves naturelles de France, all of our sponsors and our other partners.

Nicolas Maslach,
Director, Réserve Naturelle of Saint-Martin

IRMA

La baie de Cul-de-Sac - Avant
La baie de Cul-de-Sac - Avant

For the Réserve Naturelle of Saint-Martin, Irma represents an unusual event, whose impact on the flora and fauna remains to be evaluated, both now and in the future.

If the mangrove and the marine milieu have both been damaged, there are still a lot of questions to be asked.

What about the gaïacs on Tintamare? Or the skink, the small lizard recently discovered on the small island of Tintamare, where it was thought to have been extinct?

And the sea turtles that were at the peak of their egg-laying season? And what about the birds?

Galion : la plage et l’étang - Avant / Après - Galion : the beach and the pond - Before / After

La baie de Cul-de-Sac - Avant / Après - Cul de Sac bay - Before / After

L’étang du cimetière à Grand-Case - The cementery pond in Grand Case
L’étang du cimetière à Grand-Case - The cementery pond in Grand Case

Where the mangroves are still present and in good health, this essential vegetation played its role as the second line of defense against the storm surge from the hurricane, after the coral reefs, which were often already in bad shape.

In mitigating the energy of the sea, this littoral forest along the back of the beaches suffered enormously. The trees are broken, leafless, buried and burned by the sand carried by the waves, and covered with debris left by the water as it retreated or carried on the wind.

The good news is that these dynamic areas are used to stress — caused by the wind, the waves, or by man — and the mangroves will recover in time, given proper care and promotion of its reconstitution.

The first task consists in evacuating debris of all sizes.

This colossal job will take a long time, as a large amount of debris of all kinds must be removed.

One positive thing is that the mangrove seeds can float and will repopulate the damaged areas.

Adapted to difficult and unstable situations, the mangrove has luckily developed mechanisms for resistance, such as reinforced roots, the capacity to live in salt water, and the scattering of floating seeds with water currents.

L’étang du cimetière à Grand-Case - Avant / Après - The cementery pond in Grand Case - Before / After

Oiseaux dans la mangrove, avant Irma - Birds in the mangrove, before Irma
Oiseaux dans la mangrove, avant Irma - Birds in the mangrove, before Irma

Where are the birds?

Other than the sugar birds that we see everywhere, and often next to a hummingbird, it is rare to see a pelican, egret, frigate, or other large species.

Small groups of individual birds of various species can be seen here and there.

The Réserve Naturelle hopes that the birds flew away before hurricane Irma hit the island, and that they will come back shortly. Various species seen in Saint Martin are migratory — such as the brown noddy, which normally would be gone from Tintamre by early September — and they are not afraid of long distances. We should see a large number of species return over the next few months.

Birds in the mangrove, before Irma - Mangrove in Cul de Sac, after Irma

This coral nursery has been destroyed
This coral nursery has been destroyed

Ocean and the staff of the Réserve had not yet been able to go diving to ascertain the effects of the hurricane on the underwater milieu.

One thing that is certain is that this milieu directly suffered from the effects of Irma, given the intensity of the storm surge and pollution from sediments. Among the expected damage, one can list the tearing up of plant beds, due to the movement of great quantities of sand and silt, as well as sand covering rocky zones and reefs.
The annual check-up of the sea beds was scheduled for right after Irma hit, and will now take place as soon as visibility in the water, which is now limited due to the presence of sediment, makes it possible.
The scientific department already knows that the results will be different than usual, and that the appearance of most sites will have been disturbed: species and mobile individuals displaced — fish, crustaceans, shellfish — as well as the mortality and fragmentation of fixed fauna, such as coral and sponges.
This fragmentation, begun artificially for the creation of nurseries, is not necessarily negative and can give way to the creation of healthy new colonies in a few years time. Another eventual positive consequence is that the strong waves and sand have reduced the surface occupied by algae competing with the coral, which on the other hand risk suffering from the high ocean water temperature at the moment.
When the water hovers at 84°F, the coral risk to expulse the micro algae zooxanthele which feeds them, thus loosing a primary source of nourishment, which translates to a major phenomenon of bleaching of the coral.

The question concerning the presence of debris of all kinds remains suspended for the moment and a project is planned for early November to evaluate the quantities and study the means available to cleanup the underwater milieu.

Cette pépinière de coraux a disparu - This coral nursery has been destroyed

Irma caused a massive movement of sand, which has modified the look of the beaches, the water currents, and the behavior of certain salt ponds and lagoons.
But experience has taught us that the beaches generally return to their normal state little by little.
And there will be an examination of the sites where marine turtles lay their eggs in Saint Martin, in order to characterize the evolution in comparison to prior data.

La plage de la baie Orientale - Avant - Orient Bay beach - Before

La plage de la baie Orientale - Après - Orient Bay beach - After

Déchets près de Club Orient - Debris next to Club Orient
Déchets près de Club Orient - Debris next to Club Orient

In additional to environmental considerations, safety is also an essential aspect when it comes to removing all debris.
A piece of metal left lying around becomes a dangerous projectile once again during the next hurricane.
The number of containers that ended up in the most unlikely places will have to be cut into small pieces in order to be removed.
A hard job, but it must be done.

Déchets près de Club Orient - Debris next to Club Orient

 

 

Déchets sur la route du Galion - Debris next to Galion road

La nouvelle route vers l’écosite, à flan de colline - The new road towards the eco-site (ex dump) up on the hill
La nouvelle route vers l’écosite, à flan de colline - The new road towards the eco-site (ex dump) up on the hill

Necessity rules: a new road was built on the flank of the hillside above the beach in Grandes Cayes, replacing the old “road to the dump”. Requested for years by the Réserve Naturelle, this new route provides direct, permanent access to the eco-site. The Collectivité authorized its creation after Irma, at the request of Jean-Pierre Tey, director of the eco-site, since the original road was impossible to use, broken all the way to the rock or covered with sand. A military engineer supervised the roadwork, with the help of his men and materials. The edges of the beach in Grandes Cayes should eventually recover their natural, undeveloped aspects, characteristic of the zone and its classification as a nature reserve.

La plage de Grandes Cayes, très étroite avant Irma - Grandes Cayes beach, very narrow before Irma
La plage de Grandes Cayes, très étroite avant Irma - Grandes Cayes beach, very narrow before Irma

There is at least some excellent news — the disappearance of the old “road to the dump” provides an opportunity to rehabilitate the coastline along Grandes Cayes and make it open to the public.
Planned for a long time at this site where sea turtles lay their eggs, this project will finally see the light of day, thanks to Irma.

Even though we don’t want to thank this storm for much else!

La plage de Grandes Cayes, très étroite avant Irma - Grandes Cayes beach, very narrow before Irma

Nouveau chenal au Galion © Alexina Paya
Nouveau chenal au Galion © Alexina Paya

Irma has seriously modified our shores, especially as can be seen at Galion, where a connection appeared naturally between the Salines d’Orient and the Baie de l’Embouchure.
This liaison allowed for the evacuation of water accumulated in the wetlands and is permitting improvement of the water circulating in the two ponds and the bay, that is to say the water is clearer, less oxygenated, and cooler. In theory, the consequences are very positive for the flora and fauna species, previously under great stress in the dry season.
The sustainability of this channel could greatly improve the quality of the ponds and the Baie de l’Embouchure and accelerate the reconstitution process of the littoral forest, a veritable nursery for fish and crustaceans.

Nouveau chenal au Galion © Alexina Paya

A new channel at the Galion © Alexina Paya

 

 

Saint-Barth, votre bouée est ici !
Saint-Barth, votre bouée est ici !

The buoy that can be seen stationed off of the beach in Grandes Cayes floated over from Saint Barthélemy after its chain broke
. It is a demarcation buoy from the Réserve Marine of our sister island.

Saint-Barth, votre bouée est ici !

Saint Barth, your buoy is here!

 

Libération d’une tortue à Oyster Pond Release of a turtle in Oyster Pond © Philippe Joly
Libération d’une tortue à Oyster Pond Release of a turtle in Oyster Pond © Philippe Joly

At least three sea turtles have come to lay their eggs on the beaches of Saint Martin since Irma hit the island. If the storm surge from the hurricane had a negative impact on eggs laid in July and August, the turtles have indicated their desire to continue to come lay their eggs on our shores.
The first turtle was seen a week after the storm, on the beach of Grandes Cayes, which was invaded by sand.
The second, seen on Coralita beach in Oyster Pond, was first captured and tied up by a person with bad intensions. Luckily, the turtle was released thanks to the actions of the local residents and the gendarmes.
And a third egg-laying observation was at the number one spot in Saint Martin: Baie Longue..

And tomorrow...

Life is slowly getting back to normal after Hurricane Irma, and the Réserve has all of its usual scientific studies and surveillance missions underway once again, working out of temporary offices in Anse Marcel. Director Nicolas Maslach is preparing a list of activities that the Réserve envisions in terms of the recovery of the island’s biodiversity. He will submit his list to the French Biodiversity Agency, which is offering a special donation for these kinds of projects. A dramatic event, Irma currently provides a new challenge for the Réserve and its staff, already hard at work with the tasks at hand, but who will finish by being even stronger than before.

 

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