To promote the conservation of the coral reefs and related species

To promote the conservation of the coral reefs and related species

To promote the conservation of the coral reefs and related species

Sylvère Robin, 23 years old, in a gap year between his Master 1 and Master 2, has decided to become an agricultural engineer specialized in fisheries. He is studying at the Agrocampus Ouest in Rennes and is certified as a professional diver.

Two Projects In The France Relance Program

Two programs proposed by the Réserve Naturelle were selected as part of the France Relance program, as financed by France and Europe for one year. The first project concerns the submersion of artificial “Biohut” habitats as part of the port infrastructure in Saint Martin. Sylvère Robin, an intern at the Réserve between February and July 2022, was responsible for managing the installation of these artificial nurseries whose role is to promote recolonization by underwater flora and fauna. He worked in collaboration with the operators of the Port of Galisbay, the Marina Fort Louis, and the marina at Anse Marcel, all of whom approved the project. A linear module of 6 Biohuts was submerged at Galisbay and two linear modules of 6 Biohuts at Anse Marcel and Fort Louis. The structures are provided by Ecocéan, a company specializing in the ecological restoration of the aquatic milieu. They were on the island in July 2022 to build and install the Biohuts, filled with empty conch shells. These artificial habitats serve as nurseries and are intended to shelter fish and crustaceans during the very early stages of their life, to give them a better chance of survival at this critical stage. An initial investigation of the sites was done before installation of the habitats to allow for a comparison during the first follow-up, planned for October.

See the second France Relance project concerning the regulation of small rodents page 19.

Le lambi, que l’on a tendance à imaginer sédentaire, peut se déplacer sur plusieurs kilomètres, à raison d’un kilomètre par jour et être présents jusqu’à 100 mètres de profondeur. Par ailleurs, ses larves sont emportées par les courants, ce qui complique encore la mission de l’OFB.
Conch, which we have a tendency to consider sedentary, can travel for several kilometers, at the rate of a kilometer per day and can be found at depths up to 100 meters. However, its larvae can be carried away by the currents, which complicates the missio

The Fight Against The Illegal Sale Of Conch

After his first visit to Saint Martin in 2020, Julien Lopez Pardo, agent of the OFB (French Office of Biodiversity), made a second visit to the Réserve Naturelle in April 2022, in order to present the first results of his work. His mission, related to the illegal sale of conch in the Caribbean, is based on the development of a tool that will help the police to determine the origin of this protected species, which is now endangered, and the fishing and importation of which is subject to regulations in France. And which leads to trafficking targeted by environmental customs inspectors. The idea behind the project is to see if there exists an imprint—perhaps genetic or isotopic (based on the energy signatures of the atoms)—specific to the conch population for each of the French islands. It turns out that the first samples collected in Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are quite distinguishable, which is not the case in Martinique and in Guadeloupe, where the imprints overlap and tend not to differentiate. The project continues in the hope of refining the results and confirming that creation of this control tool is effectively viable.

Bateaux à l’ancre à l’îlet Pinel – Boats anchored in Pinel
Bateaux à l’ancre à l’îlet Pinel – Boats anchored in Pinel

Ecological Moorings To Protect Coral Reefs

During the summer of 2022, the scientific department of the Réserve worked hand-in-hand with Fleur Wintzer to refine a project under consideration by the French Office of Biodiversity (OFB), whose goal would be to reinforce the number of ecological moorings—at Rocher Créole, Tintamarre, Pinel, and Caye Verte— and the maritime buoys of the Réserve. This project was previously submitted to the OFB by the Réserve, in response to the call for de ReCorEA projects for the rehabilitation of coral reefs and their associated eco-systems. It was submitted a second time to the ReCorEA jury in a more detailed version: preparatory diagnostics on zones frequented by boats, definition of a deployment strategy for mooring zones with lighted buoys, and awareness activities for a better acceptance of this program by boaters. This fits perfectly with the approach initiated by the Port Authority of Saint Martin, for the placing of lighted buoys in the bays of Marigot and Grand-Case. On September 8, Julien Chalifour defended this project, which had been validated by the management council presided by the prefect, via video conference before the ReCorEA jury. The jury, which once again has the support of its members, only asked a few questions and requested just for one small modification before granting their acceptance.

As part of the definition of the strategy to reinforce the mooring options for recreational and professional boaters, preliminary studies are planned to support the discussion. The first consists of updating the cartography for the under-water and terrestrial habitats in the Réserve, integrating zones close to the Réserve in Grand-Case, Anse Marcel, Cul-de-Sac, and Orient Bay. Also planned is an analysis of the flow of boats in and out of these zones, a study of turbid water plumes (containing troublesome particles that can be provoked by ravines, pollution, or sargassum…), as well as an observation of the eventual evolution of the coastline, due to erosion of the littoral. All of this information will help better define the propositions of the project, with demarcation, regulations, and equipment adapted to the needs of the boats, such as a sufficient number of buoys to meet the needs of boats of different sizes.
Une biohut et des alevins |A biohut with juvenile fish
Une biohut et des alevins |A biohut with juvenile fish

Annual Review of Marine Reserves Continues

The annual review of marine reserves in Guadeloupe (Petit Terre), Saint Barthélemy, and Saint Martin continues on a regular basis. Julien Chalifour and Vincent Oliva went from Saint Martin to Petite Terre from October 18-21, 2021, as invited by the ONF and Ti Té, who manage the site. They then went to Saint Barthélemy on October 25-27, for an identical mission with the staff of the ATE. The annual review for the Réserve in Saint Martin, scheduled for December 6-10, did not take place for technical reasons. It has been postponed until January 11-12, 2022.

Une biohut et des alevins | A biohut with juvenile fish
Une biohut et des alevins | A biohut with juvenile fish

Juvenile Fish Appreciate The BioHuts

If exploratory fishing missions, as part of the BIODIV’OM Life project, aim to document and describe the arrival of post-larvae by our shores, the installation in February 2020 of 14 BioHuts, actual huts to protect out coastal biodiversity, add a complementary approach, The huts are also part of a study on the colonization of small coastal areas, as well as the study of the two species of grouper cited. On September 2, a dive took place to observe these artificial habitats, where juvenile fish can mature, out of the reach of their predators. The metal mesh of these BioHuts allow observation of the young fish and serves as a support for the development of the food they need. This second approach also allows the observation of other species, less sensitive to light, who escaped from the exploratory fisheries.

Tom Desfossez
Tom Desfossez

Two Interns Participate in BIODIV’OM Life

Tom Desfossez, a university student in a two-year program for the management and protection of nature at the IGPN in Montpellier, completed an internship from June 28 to August 20 at the Réserve Naturelle. In addition to ongoing missions of the Réserve, he was especially interested in the BIODIV’OM Life project that promotes the conservation of the Nassau and Atlantic goliath grouper. He worked hard during the collection of post-larvae, on their identification, and management of the data. He questioned local fishermen in order to better understand their practices, the size of their catch, and how often they caught grouper. He also created an awareness tool for the protection of grouper, in the form of a brochure intended for socio-professionals: fishermen, merchants, and restaurateurs, as well as to provide information for visitors to the island. A marine biology major at the University of La Rochelle, Matthieu Pujol spontaneously presented his candidature for a month-long internship at the Réserve Naturelle, as a volunteer. He participated in the daily operations with the staff, and most notably took part in the inquiry led by Tom Desfossez.

Récupération matinale des dispositifs de pêche exploratoire Morning recovery of exploratory fishing devices
Récupération matinale des dispositifs de pêche exploratoire Morning recovery of exploratory fishing devices

Final Exploratory Fishing Session For The Life Program

As part of the BIODIV’OM Life program, the sixth session for collecting samples of post-larvae took place on October 3-9, 2021, under a new moon, closing out exploratory fishing. The data is being sorted and will reveal whether or not post-larvae for the Nassau or Atlantic goliath grouper were found in the waters of Saint Martin. These results are not totally conclusive, as the arrival of such post-larvae could have been outside of the time periods when the samples were taken, or at other sites, or even that the sampling was done under unusual conditions tied to the water currents or the water temperature of the ocean. However, a large number of post-larvae for other species could be observed, in proportions that do not necessarily correspond to that of adult fish as observed during dives. The greater pipefish—for example—a sort of unrolled seahorse, very present among the post-larvae—is much more rarely identified in its adult stage. These observations will also help adapt the calendar of post-larvae arrivals, which will facilitate additional operations to rejuvenate other species such as, among others, the surgeonfish.

Thank You To The Volunteers The Réserve Naturelle sincerely thanks all of the volunteers who came to lend a hand during these excursions at sea, which took place at night to place light traps, and at dawn to collect them.

IFRECOR Activities in Saint Barthélemy

On September 24, 2021, Julien Chalifour met with the local committee of IFRECOR (French Initiative For Coral Reefs) in Saint Barthélemy, wearing two hats; as a scientific expert and as the representative of the local IFRECOR committee in Saint Martin. The aim was to provide an update on the committee’s activities 2021 in Saint Barthélemy—a study on wastewater from the water treatment plant, collaboration with an association working on coral restoration and the replanting of vegetation along beaches, and a general attempt to limit the impact on underwater plant beds and reefs—and to shed light on projects for 2022.

The local IFRECOR committee of Saint Martin is still in its initial structuring phase. In fact, only local elected officials can officially request the creation of such a committee, which has already been unofficially recognized by IFRECOR
  • On September 22, with an eye toward the tourist season, the technical services department inspected and repaired the mooring blocks and buoys made available to boats at Rocher Créole and Tintamare.
  • On September 30, new mooring buoys were installed at Rocher Créole and Tintamare.
Les post-larves - The post-larvae
Les post-larves - The post-larvae

Positive results in the LIFE program to protect two grouper species

As we mentioned in our most recent issue of this Journal, in October 2019 the staff of the Réserve began to collect larvae as part of the European LIFE BIODIV’OM program for the preservation of the Nassau grouper and the giant grouper, two globally endangered species. After this preparatory part of the project, the Réserve will now put its knowledge to work by collecting the post-larvae fish—sadly more than 90% die before settling by our shores—with the goal of identifying the grouper, isolating them, allowing them to mature in an aquarium, before releasing them in their natural milieu once they have reached a size that allows them a better chance of survival. Two exploratory collections took place in January and February 2020, over the course of seven consecutive nights, when the moon was not very bright to maximize the efficiency of the light on the sampling devices. The first results were very encouraging, especially in terms of the number of individuals as well as the diversity of the species observed. The difficulty was identifying the grouper among all the newly spawned fish, so certain examples were placed in an aquarium until their identification can be certain, then have been be returned to the sea. This exploratory phase, which comprises the identification of the larvae and the calendar for the arrival of the alevins— all species do not reproduce at the same time—should have been completed by May, but was delayed by the arrival of Covid-19 on a worldwide basis.

Suivi scientifique annuel des récifs et des herbiers Annual scientific study of reefs and sea grass beds
Suivi scientifique annuel des récifs et des herbiers Annual scientific study of reefs and sea grass beds

Cooperation between reserves

Since 2007, the Réserve Naturelle has conducted its annual scientific study of the reefs and underwater plant beds. In 2019, this took place on September 9-12, with the support of a representative from the Réserve Guadeloupéenne de Petite-Terre. He came to help the staff in Saint Martin document the evolution of the overall health of the coral communities and sea grass beds, at stations both in and outside of the perimeters of the Réserve. This year, this ongoing study was complemented by a study of groupers, as part of the LIFE program, on four of the eight sites that were observed. These sites will be the focus of a bi-annual study, until the conclusion of the LIFE program in 2023. As usual, this cooperation also saw the team from Saint Martin lend a hand to Saint Barth and Petite-Terre under the same conditions. Aude Berger went to Petite-Terre on November 15-17 and Vincent Oliva to Saint Barth on November 20-22.

Formation pour Julien Chalifour et Aude Berger
Training for Julien Chalifour and Aude Berger

As part of the European project, LIFE BIODIV’OM, the goal of Réserve Naturelle de Saint-Martin is to concentrate on the preservation of the Nassau grouper and giant grouper, two endangered species. Aude Berger, who holds a diploma in ocean sciences and techniques as well as a professional degree in environmental protection from the University Antilles- Guyana, was expressly recruited in January 2019 by the Réserve to head this project for a period of five years. Working with Julien Chalifour, scientific director of the Réserve, she was trained in the beginning of the year to use the TESSA tools to measure various impacts inflicted on the natural milieu and the consequences on the services that a healthy ecosystem should provide. More recently, on June 24-28, the two scientists took part in a training session led by two professors from the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) at the University of Barbados, and learned all about the SocMon method for «socio-monitoring.» Initially created for coastal marine ecosystems, this method was adapted to the two grouper species targeted by the LIFE program, in order to understand the challenges, including economic ramifications, as the goal is population growth for these two kinds of fish. For that to happen, they will have to study the history of these fish, as well as understand their use, to be able to identify the roadblocks in creating a sustainable management program. Then on July 10-12, a third professor from the CERMES gave them the necessary tools for a field-based inquiry comprising a questionnaire to help facilitate the challenges related to these grouper species for the population of Saint Martin.

Récupération des dispositifs - Collecting the tubes in the water
Récupération des dispositifs - Collecting the tubes in the water

It is interesting to note that 90% of the fish larvae, including the grouper, dies during its dispersion in ocean currents, while the recuperation and raising of post-larva fish is an efficient method to increase the number of individuals. But several questions remain. How to catch these tiny little fish? When? Where exactly? How many? And how to recognize them? To help find the answers to these questions, the company, Écocéans, trained the team at the Réserve Naturelle in larval collection, as part of the LIFE program. On October 3, and for a few days after, luminous sampling tubes were deployed in the ocean to collect larvae carried by the currents. The larvae are then moved to a marine milieu where they transform into post-larvae, ready to colonize the coastal waters. This operation takes place at night, as these miniscule animals are attracted by the light, and will be repeated regularly over a period of two years to determine the best moment to recover the grouper larvae. Once this technique has been mastered, the larvae will be raised in an aquarium until they are large enough to return to their natural milieu and have a better chance of survival.

Colette Buisson en plongée - Colette Buisson diving
Colette Buisson en plongée - Colette Buisson diving

An intern at the Réserve Naturelle from August 15-30, Colette Buisson was a student at the Institut Intechmer of Cherbourg (CNAM), where for three years she trained in engineering techniques for marine environments, and where she successful completed her program. While at the Réserve, she participated in the implantation of the second BioHab2 artificial habitat, not far from Anse Marcel within the perimeter of the Réserve Naturelle, and to study the colonization of these under-water habitats. Encouraged by Julien Chalifour, the young woman decided to enroll for a master’s degree at the University of Corsica.

Volunteers wanted!
La Réserve Naturelle is seeking volunteers to answer a questionnaire designed to determine the presence of certain species of fish in Saint Martin. If you would like to participate, please contact: reservenat.aude@yahoo.com, 06 90 47 02 13.
Les participants au comité national IFRECOR — IFRECOR national committee participants
Les participants au comité national IFRECOR — IFRECOR national committee participants

On June 3-7, the Réserve Naturelle hosted the 35 participants of the IFRECOR national committee (French Initiative For Coral Reefs). Created in 1999 and led by the environmental and overseas ministers, IFRECOR set out to create a policy that promotes the preservation and management of coral reefs. Saint Martin was selected to organize this important biennial event, and to showcase the island almost two years after Irma. After a first meeting at the CCISM, the working meetings took place at the Esmeralda Hotel, where the committee was staying. On the agenda: activities created by all of the local committees as well as the Réserve Naturelle of Saint Martin —as the island does not have its own IFRECOR committee at the moment— to discuss coral conservation, post-Irma shipwrecks, and a post-hurricane report about the island. As coral reefs and related flora, such as the underwater plant beds and mangroves, are threatened throughout all French overseas areas, each participant presented the current situation on their island, in each of the three oceans. At the same time, scientific experts discussed the results of their work and the actions taken

IFRECOR is the French version of the ICRI (International Coral Reef Initiative), which was created in 1994 by eight countries: Australia, France, Japan, Jamaica, The Philippines, The United Kingdom, The United States, and Sweden. The goal of the ICRI is to raise awareness among waterfront communities close to coral reefs, as well as administrative and political bodies, nautical activities, and the general public about the importance of protecting this sensitive and indispensable habitat. The ICRI is a partnership between governments, international organizations, and NGOs. The ICRI now counts more than 80 countries out of the 100 that have coral reefs along their littoral.
Blanchissement du corail © IFRECOR — Bleaching of coral © IFRECOR
Blanchissement du corail © IFRECOR — Bleaching of coral © IFRECOR

Alphanova presented a check for 12,000€ to the Réserve Naturelle, as part of its 1% program for coral. This donation was made at KKO restaurant on Monday, June 3, during a cocktail party sponsored by Alphanova for the inauguration of the IFRECOR committee meeting in Saint Martin. As we announced in our last issue, this company has invested in organic suntan products that respect the environment, and has signed a sponsorship agreement with the Réserve Naturelle of Saint Martin, to which they donate 1% of their worldwide sales. In exchange, the Réserve has promised to promote the restoration of coral in its marine zones, especially by planting new cuttings. In early June, a group from Alphanova Sun was able to experience the marine milieu of the Réserve and appreciate the work done by their staff, accompanied by Julien Chalifour, as well as Camille Sanchez and Colette Buisson, the two student interns at the Réserve. They visited the artificial habitats, which since October 2018 have become a refuge for coral cuttings. Hundreds of cuttings were recovered from the nurseries that were weakened by Irma and were able to be fragmented to encourage their multiplication. At the same time, 200 of these little sprouts were added to the BioHab2 site off the coast of Tintamare. To date, the Réserve has limited this activity to these artificial sites, as it is necessary to have special permission from the government to replant the coral at natural sites, since the two types of coral —elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis)— have been considered protected species in the French Antilles since 2017.

Every year, between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of suntan lotion go into the ocean, and along with climate change, comprise one of the principal causes of coral bleaching. Among the chemical —and toxic— ingredients meant to protect our skin from UV rays, oxybenzone is pure poison for coral, as it modifies the DNA and causes new shoots to die with no possibility to develop. In Hawaii, where more than half of the coral suffered from bleaching between 2014 and 2015, the local government has passed a law forbidding the sale and use of suntan products that are toxic to coral, as of 2021.
Coraux victimes de la maladie SCTL © Guillaume Jorakhae
Coraux victimes de la maladie SCTL © Guillaume Jorakhae

As if the coral has not suffered enough from higher temperatures due to climate change, the past year has also seen a new disease that kills coral within just a few days. Very present in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, this disease baptized SCTL —Stony Coral Tissue Loss— was first observed on the Dutch side earlier this year and is possibly transported and spread via the ballast of cruise ships and cargo ships. As its name indicates, this disease is characterized by a rapid necrosis of living tissue on the surface of massive coral —brain coral, pillar coral— which die in the space of a week without possibility of recuperation. The presence of this disease was confirmed at Rocher Créole and Tintamare and is of a bacterial nature. The Réserve Naturelle invites all divers to report any new sightings as well as take all necessary precautions to avoid spreading the disease, for example by disinfecting all dive gear: rinse in fresh water with chlorine and dry in the sun.

Suivi scientifique du récif corallien - Scientific study of the coral reef © Julien Chalifour
Suivi scientifique du récif corallien - Scientific study of the coral reef © Julien Chalifour

How is the overall health of the reefs and underwater plant beds recovering since hurricane Irma? A question that Emma Bernardin, a third-year student at Jean- François Champollion University in France, tried to answer. She has been working on extrapolating the data collected during underwater dives led by the Réserve in 2018, within and outside of protected sites. For the plant beds, the feeling remains that they were only lightly impacted, with the station outside of the Réserve in Grand Case showing the most damage in terms of the density of the plants and eutrophication, since the water was over enriched with organic material. Concerning the reefs, a reduction in the overall coverage of the coral was observed especially outside of Réserve and in proximity to Orient Bay, where the reef is less than 10% covered with living coral. Irma also provided these stations with a major reduction in macro algae and algal turf.

La première réunion du comité IFRECOR de Saint-Barth The first meeting of the Saint Barth IFRECOR committee © ATE
La première réunion du comité IFRECOR de Saint-Barth The first meeting of the Saint Barth IFRECOR committee © ATE

Formerly included in the local committee for IFRECOR (French Initiative For Coral Reefs) in Guadeloupe, Saint Barth has had its own local committee since October 2018. This group met for the first time on April 12, 2019 in Gustavia, under the aegis of the Territorial Environmental Agency (ATE). Julien Chalifour, director of the scientific division of Réserve Naturelle of Saint Martin, participated in this first meeting, at which time the ATE and the Collectivité of Saint Barth formalized their partnership with IFRECOR and the French Agency for Biodiversity (AFB), while bringing together all those concerned on the island, in order to establish study groups in conjunction with scientific experts. At the end of these technical workshops, the challenges of preservation of the coral reef and marine plant beds were identified as the main issues and given priority, in order to determine the best actions to get started and ensure their conservation.

Corail cerveau - Brain coral
Corail cerveau - Brain coral

IFRECOR—French Initiative For Coral Reefs— selected Saint Martin as the location for its twelfth national committee meeting, June 3-7, 2019, and asked the Réserve Naturelle to handle the onsite organization. Approximately 35 people are expected to attend, from France and overseas locations. A few local personalities will be invited to participate at the official opening, to be held at the CCISM on Monday, June 3. International and regional updates on the state of the coral reefs are on the agenda, as well as new topics suggested by committees in the Antilles. Working in smaller groups, the next few days will be dedicated to problems concerning the conservation of the coral reefs. The effects of climate change in tropical zones and the resulting impact on development of littoral areas will be presented, as will MERCI, the method to avoid, reduce, and compensate for such impact on natural sites. The ultimate goal is to define technical recommendations to avoid further degradation to our lifestyle and our natural environment.

In conjunction with this meeting, the Réserve Naturelle will be holding a contest for the most beautiful photo of the coral reefs and wetlands including the mangroves of Saint Martin. Prizes will be presented during the event.

Every year, between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of suntan lotion end up in the world’s oceans. This represents—along with global warming—one of the principal causes of coral bleaching. These chemical, toxic products, intended to protect our skin from UV rays, are like poison for the coral, as they modify its DNA and cause new shoots to die without the opportunity to develop. Information is getting out, so that consumers are asking for new kinds of sunscreens that are 100% organic and respect the environment. The Réserve Naturelle encourages swimmers to use these new products and will soon sign a sponsoring agreement with Alphanova. Located in Hyères (France), this company has developed suntan lotions that respect the environment, and they approached the Réserve in Saint Martin, offering to donate 1% of their worldwide sales of such products. In exchange, the Réserve is committed to the restoration of the coral in its marine zones, primarily by planting cuttings, and to direct diving and other tourist activities to certain areas, in order to give a rest to those sites that have too many visitors. Staff members from Alphanova will participate in these projects and the company will provide their suntan lotion and anti-UV clothing to the Réserve. At the same time, the Réserve will raise awareness with diving clubs, asking them to forbid chemical sunscreens at dive sites.

In Hawaii, where more than half of the coral suffered bleaching between 2014 and 2015, the local government enacted a law that prohibits the sale of sunscreens that are toxic for coral, applicable as of 2021.

PLB, a publisher in Guadeloupe” has republished the collection, “La vie du récif” (Life Of A Reef), a boxed set containing three books: one on fish; one on coral; and one on creatures of the reef. Very popular with divers and underwater naturalists, these guides allow for the identification of species seen in the ocean and were designed for all who are passionate about marine life. They were updated for the occasion, and all of the managers of protected marine zones were asked to participate. Detailed information about the Réserve Naturelle of Saint Martin is included, as well as various aspects about the island such as underwater diving practices. The Réserve also happily shared its expertise on growth from coral cuttings and the creation of artificial habitats.

© 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).
© Julien Chalifour
© Julien Chalifour

As has happened every year since 2007, the annual scientific study of reefs and plant beds took place in March 2018.

The goal is to document the evolution of the ocean floor. As usual, a representative of the nature reserve in Petite Terre and another from the Territorial Environmental Agency in Saint Barth were present, in order to help the team from Saint Martin collect underwater data at such sites as Rocher Créole, Pinel and Tintamare, as well as other sites outside of the Réserve, including Fish Pot in the Anguilla Channel. This underwater milieu seems to be less impacted than the island itself, although the coral in certain zones was damaged. However, if the physical impact seems to have been limited on the reefs and plant beds, the major shifting of sediments after Irma continues to harm them. As does untreated wastewater that is allowed to run into the sea!

Lancement de BioHab2 - BioHab2 launched
Lancement de BioHab2 - BioHab2 launched

BioHab2 LaunchedIn our prior edition we announced that after Irma, only 20 cinderblocks were left out of the 300 used by the Réserve to build nine “BioHab” artificial habitat structures within the perimeter of the reserve.
Even so, the project has not been abandoned and the Réserve has implemented BioHab 2, with the financial support of the French Agency for Biodiversity and the Veolia Foundation, but this time comprising two sites within the Réserve. The staff of the Réserve has created more than a dozen artificial habitats. As technical solutions already proven are once again being used, a new goal this time is to use recycled materials.
The purpose of these artificial habitats is to provide a milieu with a lot of hiding places, intended to be colonized by the many different species that had rapidly appropriated them in the first version of BioHab.

As a result, some of the debris from Irma have been repurposed and contribute to the reconstruction of our underwater biodiversity.

The planning phases of BioHab2, from conception to implantation, were the task of Guillaume Montagne, who was in training at the Réserve for four months, April-August 2018, under the tutelage of Julien Chalifour. Already holding his DTSM Intechmer and DEUST degrees, this 23 year-old student —who is also a professional drone pilot— is currently is his last year of study for a professional degree in the management of persons and property/ natural risks and the management of urban spaces at the University of Calais (ULCO).

Guillaume Montagne

? Top