News

Nature Foundation Again Expresses Concern on the Unsustainable Use of Sint Maarten’s Beaches. Residents Being Restricted from Using Certain Beach Sections

The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation has again expressed concern regarding the way beaches, beach access and beach recreation have been managed in the country. The Foundation has had to respond several times to issues affecting beaches on the island ranging from beach construction, heavy equipment and other vehicles driving and parking on the beaches, structures such as fences and buildings being built, significant amount of trash being left on beaches, and beach access being restricted.

“Over the past few months we have again been continuously faced with having to respond to issues occurring on the beaches. We would like to remind both the public and decision makers that beaches are our most important natural resource and all must be done to protect and sustainably develop this resource. Unsustainable activities such as beach construction, driving on beaches and littering on beaches not only has significant environmental effects but also affects the economy and the image of Sint Maarten as we are trying to rebuild, ” stated Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets.

Bervoets continued by stating that the protection, conservation and proper management of beaches should be established in law, “The Nature Foundation would like to again call on Parliament to come with concrete legislation on how beaches should be managed and protected in terms of their ecological and economic importance. There is, or was, a Beach Policy in place but for all intents and purposes this policy is non-functioning or not being taken into consideration. Poor trash pick-up, parking and driving on beaches, the unrestrained placement of beach chairs, and beach construction are fundamental issues hampering the sustainable use of one of our greatest natural assets and is hampering our recovery post hurricane Irma,” concluded Bervoets. Lately, the Nature Foundation has been fielding significant complaints about businesses not allowing residents to place personal affects at locations they deem as ‘theirs’ to place beach chairs and umbrellas.

The Nature Foundation is again calling for the structured management of the country’s beaches, protecting and managing the resource sustainably in order to increase and support the recovery of Sint Maarten.

beach chairs on a beach
Mullet Bay beach
food stand on beach
Food stand on beach at Mullet bay

Two Dutch Caribbean Tagged Tiger Sharks Follow Similar Migration Patterns in the Caribbean

captured shark on a hook

Two years ago the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) organized the first of its kind shark tagging expedition to the Saba Bank and St Maarten as part of the Dutch Postcode Lottery funded “Save our Sharks” project. Eight shark researchers with a support crew and two camera teams captured and tagged tiger sharks on St Maarten and the Saba Bank using an expedition ship. During the expedition, scientists and conservationists from the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), Nature Foundation St. Maarten (NFSXM), Florida International University (FIU) and Sharks4Kids equipped five tiger sharks with satellite tags in order to track their movements and presence to determine how best to manage and protect these important apex predators.

plot of a tagged shark
The track of Tiger shark Quinty through the Caribbean

Wildlife Computer SPOT (Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting) satellite tags were attached to the first dorsal fin of large tiger sharks. These tags transmit to satellites, which allow the sharks to be tracked through the ARGOS satellite system for up to 4 years. The tag uses radio transmissions, so the satellite unit must be exposed to air in order to transmit. Each time the dorsal fin breaks the surface a geo location provides an approximate location with an accuracy of up to 250 meters.

Up to now, two tiger sharks with satellite tags named ‘Sea fairy’ and ‘Quinty’ have provided the research team with some interesting preliminary results. The sharks indicate a similar migration track following the Aves ridge, a ridge in the Eastern Caribbean Sea of about 500 km in length probably of volcanic arc origin.

“The preliminary data we have been receiving is starting to show some interesting results in terms of the migratory patterns of tiger sharks in the Eastern Caribbean Sea. Not only is this data important but it is also critical for the transboundary management of a marine species critical to the health of our Caribbean Sea. Sharks are apex predators and as such keep the ocean food chain healthy, a food chain which in turn supports regional fisheries for example. With recent shark finning and fishing activities occurring in the wider Caribbean including incidents in Curacao, Dominica and Aruba it behoves nation states in the Caribbean to establish a Wider Caribbean Managemant Plan for the species,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Project Manager for the Dutch Caribbean Alliance Save our Shark Project.

Shark Quinty was tagged under the supervision of Dr. Mike Heithaus on the Saba Bank. This 3.43 meter female tiger shark provided regular location updates. Quinty left the Saba Bank following the Aves ridge down south and subsequently swam all the way to Trinidad and Tobago, a territory known for its shark finning activities. The last received location of Quinty was close to Barbados about a year ago.

Another Shark dubbed Sea fairy was the first shark which was equipped with a satellite tag in this region and surfaced very frequently, providing researchers with a wealth of location and movement information. Sea fairy was a 2.40 meter female tiger shark at the moment it was tagged in the waters of St Maarten. She stayed the first months around St Maarten while doing forays to Anguilla, St Barths, Saba and the Saba Bank. In May 2017 Sea fairy migrated south following the Aves ridge in a similar movement pattern as tiger shark Quinty. After spending two months at the Aves ridge Sea Fairy explored the open Caribbean Sea and headed to Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. The last location received for Sea Fairy was close to Puerto Rico also about a year ago.

“Sea fairy’s movement patterns can indicate a nursing area for tiger sharks around St Maarten, spending their juvenile years in sand and seagrass habitat before migrating around the Caribbean when large enough in size and maturity. It is interesting to see that both actively tracked sharks are showing similar migration routes following the Aves ridge, which may supply the sharks with an abundant food source” stated Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

“In the coming year, we will expand our shark movement study and will install another satellite tag on a tiger shark on St Maarten and two more sharks will be equipped with a satellite tag on Aruba. This research will improve our understanding of the life characteristics of sharks and will provide knowledge about the population structure, abundance and migration of sharks in the Caribbean” explained Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

Sharks are often portrayed as being dangerous killing machines, however the facts show the opposite. Occasionally shark bites do happen, however no unprovoked attack has been ever recorded on St. Maarten. It is more likely that one gets killed by a coconut falling on ones head than by a shark. The species are actually the victims of human impacts such as poaching, finning, overfishing and irresponsible coastal development pressure. Worldwide over 100 million sharks are killed per year resulting in half of all shark species being threatened or endangered with extinction.

captured shark on a hook
A tiger shark being tagged in St Maarten waters (photo credit: Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern)

Caribbean-wide Plant a Million Coral Initiative Launched on Sint Maarten

November 6th, 2018 Cole Bay, Sint Maarten – Intelligent reefs powered by nature have been installed at three sites in St. Maarten in a continuing effort to restore marine bio-diversity habitats devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Scientists, filmmakers, photographers, creatives, and leaders from the eco-tourism industry assisted the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation with its mission to restore the island’s coral reefs significantly impacted by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 by installing IntelliReefs, a substrate that assembles like lego to foster the growth and development of coral offspring able to survive extreme weather and changes in water chemistry.  This initiative launches the Plant a Million Coral campaign that will see one million corals planted throughout the Caribbean Basin by 2025.

One of the first organisms to be impacted by climate change in a visibly drastic way is coral. It is the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to the health of our oceans, and since the 1970’s  and ’80’s, Caribbean coral reefs have been significantly impacted by climate change, overfishing and unrestrained coastal development. Their health is in dramatic decline, and this test project is a way to reverse this alarming trend.

“Most of us don’t see how dramatic this is; bright, colorful ecosystems teeming with life that are disappearing at a rapid rate,” says Dr David Vaughan, a world-renowned coral reef scientist and one of the pioneers of coral reef restoration techniques. “If we could all see it, we would realize how critical it is that we take action now.”

St. Maarten has lost 80% of its coral due to the impacts of hurricanes, bleaching and disease.  The remaining corals are now less resistant to both human and natural threats. The ecosystem needs assistance to regain its resiliency. “The good news out of all of this is that we can take action, and we are,” says Dr Vaughan.

Dr Vaughan is the President and Founder of Plant A Million Corals and a marine scientist directly responsible for developing “micro-fragmentation” technology and implementation of coral “refusion” techniques. He has grown and outplanted over 40,000 corals, has 40,000 ready to go and over 100,000 in process for 2019. The depth of his coral restoration expertise cannot be overstated. Dr Vaughan is a leading expert on coral restoration and will be overseeing the scientific aspect of the project on St. Maarten.

IntelliReefs, developed by the Reef Life Restoration, were deployed at three sites last week: The Bridge, the Manowar Shoal Marine Protected Area and just off the landing of the Pelican Peak Zipline in Point Blanche, currently under construction by Sea to Sky Ventures. Along with Dr David Vaughan and Reef Life Restoration, Plant a Million Coral has significant support from Sea to Sky Ventures, the Pelican Peak developers, as well as international support from SeaLegacy, an ocean conservation organisation founded by National Geographic Photographers Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen. SeaLegacy is a distinguished group of world-renowned photographers and filmmakers with a combined audience of more than 6.3 million people.

The economy of St. Maarten relies heavily on tourism, and this restoration project is important not only to the ecosystem but the ability for St. Maarten to rebuild and be resilient to future threats. “When we were approached about the possibility of both launching Plant a Million Coral on St. Maarten and using a new, innovative tool to potentially enhance our coral reef ecosystem using IntelliReefs, we jumped at the opportunity,” says Tadzio Bervoets, Managing Director of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation. “After having lost so many of our healthy coral since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have been struggling to support the ecosystem and in turn, ensure the various benefits that ecosystem gives to the community continues. Now, with the help of Sea to Sky Ventures, SeaLegacy, Reef Life Restoration, Dr Vaughan and the highly skilled volunteers from the Global Solutions Development dive team who did the installation, we stand an excellent chance of giving our coral reef ecosystem the boost it needs to fulfil the critical role it plays for our environment and our economy.”

IntelliReefs are marine biodiversity habitats made with Oceanite, a 70% mineral compound that assembles like architectural ‘LEGO’ units. Each unit can be outfitted with a combination of growth formulations, custom surface topography, and other species-specific features such as farmed coral attachment holes or spawning beds. IntelliReefs are not artificial reefs. They are an intelligent evolution inspired and powered by nature.

The team from the St Maarten Nature Foundation will be monitoring the performance of the IntelliReef system over the next year for their coral growth and habitat functionality. Dr Vaughan will be back on the island within the next few months to measure the development and coral growth of the system. “This is one small step for the reef, and one giant step for the ocean,” concluded the world-renown coral reef expert.

IR PaMC 2 (Ian Kellet)

Photo: Ian Kellett/SeaLegacy

A newly installed IntelliReef, powered by Oceanite, is designed by Reef Life Restoration to foster the growth and development of coral offspring able to survive extreme weather and changes in water chemistry.

Nature Foundation St Maarten Organizes Reduce and Reuse night at Buccaneers Beach Bar

poster

The Reduce and Reuse night organized by the Nature Foundation St Maarten will teach you about the harmful impacts of trash and single-use plastics on the environment and how you can reduce your own single-use plastic output.

The evening will be organized at Buccaneer Beach Bar on Sunday the 4th of November, the presentation will start at 8pm. Buccaneers and the Nature Foundation will have reusable and biodegradable product examples available to show possibilities to go green.

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. Single use plastic bags, straws, balloons, cups, cutlery and Styrofoam food containers 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.

“One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies. Time to do something about this and reduce single-use plastics! Come out on our Reduce and Reuse night, learn how to reduce single-use plastics and how to help protect St Maarten’s beautiful nature and environment. The first step to go green is to visit our Reduce and Reuse night’, stated Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern

Nature Foundation Facilitating Research on Post Irma Response and Recovery Processes

people clearing debris

Cole Bay – The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation has started a new research project under the lead of Master student Joey de Hamer, who is studying Development and Rural Innovation at the Wageningen University located in the Netherlands, concentrated on disaster studies and in particular disaster governance. His research is focused on disaster governance on St. Maarten in the wake of hurricane Irma, which devastated the island in September 2017.

De Hamer is researching how the island has responded to Irma and what this response has resulted in. Knowledge will be gathered about how St. Maarten has proceeded in the recovery process in the aftermath of Irma and to what extent this has led to the development of several situations affecting life on the island.

Both the response and recovery process will be researched and analyzed by planning several interviews with involved stakeholders. Therefore the Nature Foundation is encouraging involved stakeholders and interested persons to share their experiences and ideas on both the response and recovery processes in the aftermath of Irma.

If you would like to participate and talk to de Hamer about your experiences and opinions or if you know someone who would like to contribute, you can contact him via his e-mail – joey.dehamer@wur.nl – or via his phone number – (721) 581-5121 (no WhatsApp). All the gained research data will be treated confidential, names and locations will not be mentioned in the report and will not be retraceable.

 

Shark Finning video from Curacao surfaces on Internet

Cole Bay, 22 October 2018, A video showing a group of men heavily mutilating and finning a live shark was posted on Facebook. The recoding was allegedly made in the waters of Curacao and shows a group of 5 men, who have apparently caught a shark on a fishing line, repeatedly stabbing it in the head and slicing of the tail while the animal is still alive.

“The total lack of respect for marine life displayed by these men is shocking” says Tadzio Bervoets, dedicated shark conservationist and chair of the Shark Committee of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. “Sharks play an essential role in our oceans, as top predators they regulate the whole ecosystem. We should be thankful we have sharks in our waters as they keep our reefs healthy and full of fish. But here we see a helpless animal left to die a gruesome death while people cheer and laugh.”

Shark Finning, the slicing off, of a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea, is a cruel and wasteful practice that has been banned in most of the world’s fisheries. Curacao has signed on to international legislation banning finning in its waters several years ago (through ICCAT fisheries laws). Furthermore in 2016, during a Caribbean shark conservation meeting on Sint Maarten the government of Curacao vowed to pass legislation to create a shark sanctuary in their waters which protect sharks from human exploitation. However, to date, no such measures have been taken.

As large predators, sharks are key contributors to healthy marine ecosystems, adding to their biodiversity and durable functioning. The presence of diverse and abundant shark populations indicates the marine system is in a good ecological state. And moreover, the presence of large characteristic species forms a valuable commercial asset for Caribbean communities as an attraction for dive tourists. Shocking images and videos of shark fishing and finning on Curacao have been circulating on social media over the last couple of years, repeatedly causing a public outcry.

“In 2015, the DCNA launches the Save Our Sharks on all Dutch Caribbean islands and the Netherlands.” says Bervoets “The project worked towards protecting declining shark populations by improving knowledge about the sharks in our waters, get better protective legislation and educate people about the importance of shark conservation. Many positive results were obtained, including the declaration of several protected areas, and even regional protection of 9 species of sharks and rays. However, this video shows us a lot of work remains to be done in legislation and control but most of all in education. People need to understand sharks are worth so much more alive!”

reef shark
a Caribbean Reef Shark swimming in the Dutch Caribbean Waters

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’.