MPC High School Students Learn about Impacts of Littering, how to Reduce Single-use Plastics and Clean-up Mullet Bay Beach

Last Friday the St Maarten Nature Foundation organized a beach clean-up with students of the Milton Peters College. Thirty students removed 186 pounds of trash from Mullet Bay Beach in just half an hour, by using the Trash Tracker method developed by Ocean Cleanup Organization 4Oceans by weighing all the collected trash and using reusable bags and gloves.

The students also learned about the harmful impacts of littering and trash on our environment, marine life and wildlife. Littering causes serious negative impacts on nature and our environment. As an island, our trash and garbage washes down to the beaches straight into our oceans. Birds, marine life and wildlife are often found dead with stomachs full of plastic. Research from 2015 shows that 48% of fish tested had plastic in their stomach, by 2050 it is expected to have more plastic in the ocean than fish!

The students learned how to prevent much unnecessary trash and to reduce their single-use plastic usage by using reusable products, such as a reusable water bottle, take your own shopping bag and us a spork, instead of single-use plastics. All students received a donated reusable water bottle from the Nature Foundation to substitute their plastic water bottles.

“We are proud on these students because of their hard work this day, achievements and willingness to help the environment of St Maarten. These students maybe the future generation to protect our natural environment and that is very much needed on St Maarten! We hope the students will proudly use their donated water bottle and prevent 365 plastic water bottles per year to enter our oceans by using the reusable one. By using reusable products instead of single-use plastics, we are protecting our environment for future generations and reduce our waste output, as we all know the dump is already overfilled. Nature is our Future; let’s keep our island clean and sustainable together” concluded Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

Nature Foundation Applauds Businesses Switching to Reusable and Biodegradable Alternatives to Single-use Plastics

toppers' crew

Recently the well-known bar and restaurant Topper’s switched to using only reusable and biodegradable products instead of environmentally damaging single-use plastics. Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern presented the Reduce and Reuse St Maarten project to Staff members of Topper’s, explaining them about the harmful effects of single-use plastics  on our environment, ourselves and on marine life and what can be done to reduce single-use plastic usage.

“At least 9 million tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year, 96% of all marine biodiversity is vulnerable to this plastic pollution. Half of all sea turtles mistake plastic for food and 90% of all seabirds ingest plastic. If current trends continue, a lot of marine life will die and there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Single use plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic cups, balloons, cutlery and Styrofoam food containers are some of the most environmentally damaging products on our island; these items do not biodegrade and stay in the ecosystem and oceans forever. They release a variety of chemicals during degradation, which have a negative impact on organisms, us and our ecosystems. New research even shows that plastic breakdown accelerates greenhouse gas production in the environment” explained Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

Nature Foundation applauds Topper’s Bar and Restaurant, and several other businesses which already switched to reusable and biodegradable alternatives instead of single-use plastics, such as Dinghy Dock Bar, Buccaneers Beach Bar, Lagoonies and Coconut Reef Tours, for the initiative to go green. These responsible businesses will contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable St Maarten for future generations.

Recently several businesses were requested by the Nature Foundation to switch to reusable and biodegradable alternatives instead of using single-use plastics. “We did not receive any response yet, however we hope that the invited businesses are thinking about the opportunity and will switch eventually to a more environmental friendly product. In the coming months more and more businesses, tour operators and organizations on St Maarten will be requested to make the switch as well and go green” continued Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

Anyone interested in receiving more information about the impact of single-use plastics and using reusable and biodegradable alternatives instead, can contact the Nature Foundation. Thanks to the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine and the Heineken Regatta for their generous donations towards the Reduce and Reuse St Maarten project.

toppers' crew
Staff of Toppers Bar with Nature Foundation Projects Officer Melanie Meijer zu Scholchtern

Nature Foundation Relocates Endangered Sea Turtle Nest From Great Bay Beach to Simpson Bay Due to Human Pressure

The St. Maarten Nature Foundation was alerted to a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting on Great Bay Beach early on Friday morning. Upon arrival at the location it was found that the turtle nested in an unsuitable location in the sand on Great Bay beach and it was decided to relocate the nest in order to protect the fragile eggs. Because the risk of beach umbrellas puncturing the eggs other tourism related activities the Foundation made the decision to move the nest to a more suitable location. Previously, nests were relocated to Guana Bay, but because of the high volume of sargassum seaweed it was decided to relocate the nest to Simpson Bay Beach instead. The nest was excavated and quickly removed to a quieter beach in order to avoid undue stress to the 150 eggs.

The Nature Foundation, as designated focal point for Sea Turtle Conservation according to the Inter American Sea Turtle Convention, the SPAW Protocol on Endangered Species and Country Representative for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network has received specialized training in Sea Turtle conservation, including in relocating turtle nests that are in danger due to human activities or natural events such as storm surge.

Sea turtle population numbers have plummeted to dangerously low numbers throughout the past century due to human impacts, bringing many species close to extinction and causing them to be listed as critically endangered. In order to reverse this trend, all sea turtle species are now protected by international laws and treaties as well as local laws. Based on ARTICLE 16 and 17 of the Nature Conservation Ordinance St. Maarten it is illegal to kill, wound, capture, pick-up, and have animals that belong to a protected animal species, to directly or indirectly disturb their environment resulting in a physical threat or damage to the fauna or to commit other acts which result in disturbance of the animal. It is also forbidden to upset an animal belonging to a protected species, to disturb damage or destroy its nest, lair, or breeding place, as well as to take the nest of such an animal. Also, it is forbidden to pick-up or to destroy the eggs of animals belonging to a protected species, which Sea Turtles are.

The St. Maarten Nature Foundation has been conducting sea turtle conservation on Sint Maarten since 1997.The foundation not only manages the sea turtle population but also protects their endangered habitat and nesting and foraging grounds in sea grass beds and nesting beaches during sea turtle nesting season.

Nature Foundation’s ‘Adopt a Shark St Maarten’ Program Continues Due to Great Success!

The St Maarten Nature Foundation launched the Adopt a Shark program during St Maarten Shark Week in June 2018, but due to the continued demand of adopting a shark the Foundation decided to extend the program up to the end of this year. “It is important that we work together to ensure the survival of our shark population, with the ‘Adopt a Shark’ program we are trying to engage the community in our efforts to protect sharks and give them the opportunity to be involved in a large scale scientific research project on St. Maarten. We certainly think this a great opportunity for kids and people interested in science to learn more about research, sharks and marine life on St. Maarten” stated Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

Different tags are being applied on adopted sharks; such PIT tags, FLOY tags and even high-tech acoustic tags have been deployed on certain sharks. A PIT tag is a microchip which gives us a unique live time barcode and a Floy tag is used to identify the shark by anyone who catches or sees the shark close-up. An acoustic tag sends out acoustic signals which are detected with acoustic receivers, thereby giving information on how much time the shark spends around a certain location, providing us valuable information about their movement patterns. DNA samples will provide information about the sharks its relationships and their length measurements provide the knowledge about the ages and growth of the sharks.

“By donating a contribution to the Nature Foundation you can adopt a St Maarten shark, you will receive a certificate of adoption and can decide on the name of the shark. As soon as the shark is tagged updates and pictures about the shark will be sent to you. With the support of ‘Adopting a Shark’ we can continue our shark research and tagging activities, we will learn more about the sharks in our waters, providing us the knowledge to better protect them” explained Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

Worldwide sharks are the most misunderstood species on the planet as they are repeatedly displayed as villains and being dangerous; however they are actually the victims of humans poaching, finning, overfishing and coastal development activities. Worldwide over 100 million sharks are killed per year; as a result half of all shark species are threatened or endangered. Sharks, as top predators, play a crucial role in maintaining balance and health within our aquatic ecosystem. Besides, they are important for tourism; many divers would like to see sharks, which makes a shark worth more alive ($200,000) than dead ($50).

The’ Adopt a Shark St Maarten’ Program is part of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance ‘Save our Sharks’ project funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. Interested persons can send an email to naturefoundationprojects@gmail.com.

shark caught on a line
professional freediver Guillaume Jorakhae with adopted and tagged tiger shark ‘Yvje’.

Sint Maarten Nature Foundation Urges St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation to Find Alternatives to Balloon Jump-ups and Parades for Carnival 50

The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation is urging the SCDF to find sustainable alternatives to using balloons during two events for next year’s celebration of fifty years of carnival. The Nature Foundation has sent a letter to the SCDF on Monday, October 1st asking the organization to consider sustainable alternatives, also during events at the Carnival Village, to reduce single use plastics.

During last year’s carnival the Foundation recorded a significant increase in plastic litter and debris. “We are urging the SCDF to not only make the celebration for 50 years of carnival fun and exciting, but also sustainable and with minimal impact to our environment,” commented Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets. The Foundation is especially concerned about the use of balloons and other single use plastics during the carnival season; “Balloons may look nice, but they have a number of environmental concerns associated with them. What goes up must come down. Balloons are hazards when they enter the environment. All released balloons, whether they are released intentionally or not, return to Earth as ugly litter – including those marketed as “biodegradable latex”. Balloons kill countless animals and are especially harmful to endangered sea turtle and bird species. Balloons return to the land and sea where they can be mistaken for food and eaten by animals. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish and birds have been reported with balloons in their stomachs and ribbons and strings leading to entanglement and death.

There are two types of balloons in general use – latex and Mylar. Although latex balloons are considered bio-degradable, this will take anywhere from 6 months to 4 years to decompose and they can wreak a lot of havoc before they do. In one experiment researchers observed that balloons floating in seawater deteriorated much slower, and even after 12 months, still retained their elasticity. “During beach cleanups balloons are found often entangling wildlife, we therefore urge the SCDF to consider alternatives to an outdated practice,” continued Bervoets.

Instead of balloons the Nature Foundation proposes alternates that can be used during the scheduled Golden Balloon Around Town Jump Up on the 5th of April and the Survivors Children Balloon Jump Up on the 7th of April. Alternatives to balloons include flags, banners, streamers, dancing inflatables, kites, garden spinners and tissue paper pompoms.

“Many people, including the staff at the Nature Foundation, look forward to celebrating fifty years of carnival. But that celebration should not come at a cost to our natural environment and the various animals which will be killed by balloons and other single use plastics. Therefore we are urging the SCDF to do the right thing and look for alternatives,” concluded Bervoets.

Photocaption: Balloons causing significant Environmental damage

Irresponsible ‘Soak A fete’ visitors create massive amounts of littering at Kim Sha Beach; Buccaneer Beach Bar, CC1, Meadowlands and DTF events cleanup other business’s trash

The Nature Foundation St Maarten was informed about a massive amount of littering which took place at the ‘Soak A fete’ last Sunday night despite the repeated remarks of the organization to visitors of the event to dispose their trash responsibly. Buccaneer Beach Bar, CC1, Meadowlands and DTF events did a great job cleaning up the entire beach, the Kimsha parking lot and several roads surrounding the beach. Nature Foundation applauds the initiative of the event to not provide any straws and only use biodegradable cups and hopefully other events will follow this initiative. However, unfortunately during cleaning up after the event mostly plastic cups and plastic straws were found, presumably taken by visitors from surrounding businesses.

“A ban on single-use plastics is very much needed in St Maarten and all businesses should move to reusable and biodegradable alternatives instead. People need to dispose their trash responsibly, which means in a trash bin and not on the beach, in the environment or on public roads. The event crew did an amazing job cleaning up the surroundings; unfortunately wind and rain probably already caused a significant amount of these plastic straws and cups to end up in our ocean and environment. Therefore we are asking all residents and tourists to dispose their trash properly and all businesses to move to reusable and biodegradable alternatives instead of single-use plastics” stated Nature Foundation Projects Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

St Maarten uses a remarkably high amount of single-use plastics every day, as plastic bags are given for free for every purchased item and plastic straws with any drink. Also takeout food in Styrofoam is standard and very popular, which also includes the use of plastic cutlery. The Nature Foundation calculated that Dutch St Maarten alone uses more than 1.4 billion plastic straws a year; straws are used for a few minutes and last forever in the local environment. These single-use plastics are some of the most environmentally damaging products on the island. These items do not biodegrade and stay in the ecosystem and oceans forever, causing impacts to the environment, animals and humans. Plastic releases harmful chemicals when it breaks down into smaller pieces that are ingested by marine life and eventually humans, new research even shows greenhouse gas production when plastic breaks down.

“To fight pollution and littering on our island, which is undoubtedly necessary, I already proposed the introduction of a cup return fee for several events on St Maarten. Which means you will purchase your cup at the start of the event and upon return of the cup you will receive your cup-fee back by the organization. Adding an important value to our trash, encouraging visitors of the event to reuse products and properly dispose your trash. People picking up cups from others can make some extra dollars for their next drink” explained Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

The Foundation is asking businesses and event organizations to contact the Nature Foundation if they would like to receive tips and tricks to reduce single-use plastics and look into other responsible alternatives.

Nature Foundation Applauds Legal Decision to Not Allow Parking on Great Bay Beach  Despite Ongoing Trend of Increase in Parking on Kim Sha Beach

The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation is applauding the court decision last week in which the court found that parking on Great Bay Beach close to the Walter Plantz Square as illegal. Despite the ruling the Foundation is continuing to observe residents and tourist alike both parking and driving on beaches on the island, in particular on Simpson Bay Beach at the area popularly known as Kim Sha. “We are very happy about the ruling regarding the illegality of parking on the beach in Great Bay, and we believe it sets an excellent precedent in protecting and conserving what is our most important Natural Resource,” commented Tadzio Bervoets of the Nature Foundation.

While the Foundation applauds the ruling it is also highlighting the ongoing practice of parking and driving on beaches, in particular the part of Simpson Bay Beach popularly known as Kim Sha; “while we applaud the court ruling we would like to highlight that parking and driving on Kim Sha beach, which has been designated a tourist hot-spot, is still ongoing. We have noticed heavy equipment, cars, busses, trucks and ATVs all parking on and driving on the beaches. A car dealership also recently posted an advert of their cars parked on the beach’”, continued Bervoets.

Research has shown that driving and parking on beaches makes the beach more susceptible to overwash during storms and hurricanes. Parking and driving on beaches also causes erosion, negative health effects in beach users and impacts to beach flora and fauna. “Our beaches are faced with so many issues including water quality, pollution and now this. We really need to enforce the beach policy and have it written in legislation how our beaches should be protected,” concluded Bervoets.

truck on beach
Truck parked on Kim Sha Beach on Monday morning

Record amount of Trash collected during Nature Foundation’s and Corona’s International Coastal Cleanup Day!

The Nature Foundation St Maarten partnered with Corona to clean up Mullet Bay Beach for International Coastal Clean-up day. About 100 volunteers showed up last Saturday evening to collect a record amount of 1280 pounds of trash! The Trash Tracker method developed by Ocean Cleanup Organization 4ocean has been used to weigh all the collected trash. Corona thanked all participants with a cold beer, prices and goodies were won by the largest trash collectors; the French ladies group ‘Police’, family ‘Sweetman’ and ‘JCI St. Maarten’.

4ocean
Int’l Cleanup Day 2018 kick-off

“The highest amount of trash has been collected since we started the Trash Tracker method beginning this year. We did not expect such a large turnout, the weighing station was much occupied and some people therefore skipped weighing their collected trash, definitely even more trash has been collected than weighted. At least 9 million tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year, a rate that has increased 100 times in the past 40 years. If current trends continue there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. On Saturday we prevented more than 1000 pounds of trash to enter our oceans, all little bits are helping in the fight against ocean pollution” stated Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

Volunteers from CC1, Rotary club, Rotaract, Les Fruits de Mer, JCI St Maarten and Nature Foundation St Maarten were all active trash collectors during the International Coastal Cleanup event. St Maarten is a beautiful island that attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. The Nature Foundation and Corona want to keep it that way. The community’s help in cleaning up and reducing plastic waste will go a long way in ensuring the preservation of the beauty Sint Maarten is known for.

cleanup volunteers
Int’l Cleanup Day 2018

“Everyone deserves to have a beer on a clean beach at sunset. As we are all part of the pollution problem, we can be part of the solution which means we are also capable of changing things for good – it starts with a simple beach cleanup and hopefully will be part of our everyday concerns. This is why the success of this event matters a lot” expressed Jade Ladal, Trade Marketing Coordinator for Corona St. Maarten.

The International Coastal Cleanup Event was part of the Reduce & Reuse St Maarten’ project, through this project the Foundation fights plastic pollution and is teaching and encouraging residents, children and businesses to reduce their plastic waste output and clean-up the environment. Part of the project is to lobby for a Single-use plastic ban, as awareness on its own will not reduce the massive amounts of waste created and left behind on beaches and in the environment. In order to protect our environment for the generations to come, to reduce our landfill and to changes St Maarten’s image of a garbage island into an eco-friendly destination, a ban on single-use plastics is needed.

volunteers on the beach
Int’l Cleanup Day 2018

Hurricane Irma Wreck JabJabs Lives on as Artificial Reef Habitat

Former popular floating bar JabJabs has received a new lease on life as an artificial reef. JabJabs, which was a popular floating bar housed on the 85-foot steel sailing ship SV Nightingale, was sunk during Hurricane Irma and subsequently salvaged after being submerged for three months in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. After the vessel was successfully salvaged the process was initiated to sink the ship as artificial reef habitat.

boat wreck at the surface
Jabjab before being sunk

“Since hurricane Irma we have been interested in obtaining suitable vessels to create an artificial reef habitat, so we were very excited when we were contacted by NAGICO Insurances about them being willing to donate the vessel to the Nature Foundation for this purpose. It was however very difficult to get the necessary permits to make this happen,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation Manager.

The request for the sinking of the vessel was submitted to the Maritime Affairs Department and the Cabinet of Minister Stuart Johnson and “after a lengthy process we received permission from the Maritime Affairs Department and Minister Johnson to sink the vessel as an artificial reef habitat,” continued Bervoets.

“We are very pleased to see this project become a reality after so many months,” Lisa Brown Marketing Manager said. “The marine wildlife is an important part of our ecosystem in the Caribbean and we hope that by creating these artificial reefs, areas destroyed by natural disasters and other factors can be rehabilitated and at the same time contribute positively to the most significant pillar of our St. Maarten economy; tourism. NAGICO is extremely proud to be part of this project.”

The ship was thoroughly cleaned by the Nature Foundation staff, the young participants of the Kidz at Sea Program, Jorakhae Freediving School, staff of IGY Isle de Sol, Aquatic Solutions, Seacure Marine, and Aquamania dive center. The Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard was at the location during the sinking of the vessel. Also taking part in the process, and playing a crucial role in stripping the vessel and ensuring that all environmental contaminants were removed, were the previous owners of the vessel Stefan and Daniel Veraguas and Kristen Mcallister.

people standing on partially submerged wreck
Final drink on JabJab by the crew

Ships made out of steel are often sunk as artificial reef habitat. Sunken ships, which have been stripped and cleaned, provide surface for coral and algae to grow on and attract numerous fish species. The area will also serve as an eco-tourism attraction, serving as a dive site for divers visiting the island.

“We are very satisfied with all those who volunteered to make this project possible. It was a bit nerve wracking considering that we had a pressing time constraint with weather associated with Tropical Storm Isaac approaching, but through cooperation and very hard work by all those involved we made it a success. We would like to sink more suitable, steel Irma wrecks after they have been thoroughly cleaned and are appealing to the government to facilitate this process which would provide a solution to the issue of wrecks still being in the Simpson Bay Lagoon while at the same time creating suitable habitat for marine organisms and eco-tourism opportunities,” continued Bervoets.

The vessel was sunk approximately two kilometers outside of Simpson Bay on ‘The Bridge’ dive site in fifty feet of water. During follow-up dives after the sinking juvenile fish species were already found populating the area.

Sint Maarten Nature Foundation Records Coral Bleaching During Annual Coral Reef Surveys

bleached coral

During its annual Coral Reef Monitoring activities the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation has recorded incidents of coral bleaching both inside and outside of the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area. The Foundation started it’s monitoring dives on Tuesday and discovered numerous coral colonies showing signs of coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching occurs when coral polyps expel algae that live inside their tissues. Normally, coral polyps live in an endosymbiotic relationship with this algae crucial for the health of the coral and the reef. The algae provides up to 90% of the coral’s energy. Bleached corals continue to live but begin to starve after bleaching. Some corals recover.

Above-average sea water temperatures caused by global warming is the leading cause of coral bleaching. However the Foundation does not rule out increased coastal pollution and the impacts of Hurricane Irma and Maria a year ago as contributing to the bleaching; “We have been recording coral bleaching unfortunately. This has us worried since our corals have already suffered quite a bit because of last year’s hurricanes. The Nature Foundation has a coral bleaching response plan and we will monitor the situation and decide whether or not to put the plan into effect. Coral reefs provide approximately 50 million dollars to our economy, and the continued stress on the ecosystem is giving us some concern,” commented Nature Foundation’s Tadzio Bervoets.

The corals that form the great reef ecosystems of tropical seas depend upon a symbiotic relationship with algae-like single-celled flagellate protozoa called zooxanthellae that live within their tissues and give the coral its coloration. The zooxanthellae provide the coral with nutrients through photosynthesis, a crucial factor in the clear and nutrient-poor tropical waters. In exchange, the coral provide the zooxanthellae with the carbon dioxide and ammonium needed for photosynthesis. Negative environmental conditions thwart the coral’s ability to provide for the zooxanthellae’s needs. To ensure short-term survival, the coral-polyp then expels the zooxanthellae. This leads to a lighter or completely white appearance, hence the term “bleached”. As the zooxanthellae provide up to 90% of the coral’s energy needs through products of photosynthesis, after expelling, the coral may begin to starve.

Coral can survive short-term disturbances, but if the conditions that lead to the expulsion of the zooxanthellae persist, the coral’s chances of survival diminish. In order to recover from bleaching, the zooxanthellae have to re-enter the tissues of the coral polyps and restart photosynthesis to sustain the coral as a whole and the ecosystem that depends on it. If the coral polyps die of starvation after bleaching, they will decay. The hard coral species will then leave behind their calcium carbonate skeletons, which will be taken over by algae, effectively blocking coral re-growth. Eventually, the coral skeletons will erode, causing the reef structure to collapse.