On the 6th of September powerful category five storm Hurricane Irma struck Sint Maarten with 185 MPH winds, causing widespread damage to the island and its infrastructure. The storm also caused significant damage to the island’s nature and environment. Beaches were also significantly damaged and water quality was strongly diminished, therefore the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation conducted initial beach assessments to determine the level of impact. Beach assessments were carried out from the 3rd to the 8th of October 2017 and will continue for some time.
St Maarten beaches were mainly patrolled for damage assessments and possible sharp objects at the shoreline. If the visibility was sufficient the water was also surveyed up to three meters in depth to check for hurricane debris. In general beaches experienced significant erosion due to the storm surge; large rock formations are now exposed on many beaches. Beach erosion has a significant negative impact on sea turtle nesting habitat and all sea turtle nests are undoubtedly destroyed.
Many beaches are still covered with hurricane debris including zinc plates, wood and boat parts. Wave action and currents are still causing hurricane debris to wash up ashore. Large clean-up campaigns will need to be organized for all beaches, but especially for Simpson Bay Beach and Great Bay Beach, in order to remove hurricane debris such as zinc, wood and building material. Assistance of the Dutch Marines including heavy equipment for transporting the debris has been requested by the Nature Foundation. Also volunteers are welcome to help and as soon as dates are set the public will be informed.
So far the following beaches are considered safe to swim: Mullet Bay Beach, Cupe Coy Beach, Maho Beach and in front of the Westin Hotel on Dawn Beach. However, beach visitors need to be cautious for sharp objects and exposed rock formations in the water and on the beach. Wave action, surge and current can still be strong in the water, therefore it is recommended to have advanced swimming skills. The Nature Foundation advises to wear protective footwear or water shoes when visiting the beach or going in the water, hurricane debris is still washing up ashore and could be potentially harmful.
Photocredit: Laura Bijnsdorp