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.

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

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

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