Aruba, St. Eustatius Join Sint Maarten Nature Foundation in Conducting Shark Research Training

As part of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance Save our Sharks Project marine conservation practitioners from St. Eustatius and Aruba joined with the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation in learning scientific research techniques related to shark conservation and research. Representatives from the St. Eustatius National Parks Office and the Aruba Arikok National Park spent a week with the Nature Foundation learning shark research methods, including shark tagging techniques, DNA sampling, biological measurements and the handling of the species. “We had an excellent week training together and learning from each other on the best ways to collect scientific data from various species of shark,” commented Sint Maarten Nature Foundation Manager and Save our Sharks Project leader Tadzio Bervoets. “Aruba and St. Eustatius are in the process of setting up their own shark research and conservation programs, so we thought it would be great for Aruba and St. Eustatius to come here to learn from the things we are doing on St. Maarten. At the same time we also learned from our colleagues and were able to add to our own data collection efforts here. Additionally, it is only through sound, properly gathered and strong information that we can continue to advocate for the protection of sharks locally and regionally,” continued Bervoets.

Both Aruba and St. Eustatius will be applying the techniques learned in St. Maarten in their own locations; “Caribbean Shark Conservation requires a regional effort, and this week was a step in the right direction,” commented Giancarlo Nunes, Research and Conservation Manager at the Arikok National Park in Aruba. “The team from St. Eustatius is very grateful for the opportunity to participate in shark research training. It was a good week with great learning experiences and we are eager to get started in St. Eustatius putting this all in practice,” commented Jessica Berkel, St. Eustatius Marine Park Manager.

The DCNA Save Our Sharks Project, funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, has placed the focus on the conservation of sharks and rays in both the Caribbean and European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The project has used science, education and community outreach and lobbying to establish shark sanctuaries, initiate science programs, and educate the public on the importance of sharks in the wider Caribbean. Initial data from satellite tags deployed on Saba and St. Maarten have shown that there is significant regional movement of the species in the wider Caribbean; “We need to have more research initiatives such as our project here and in Saba and the coming projects in St. Eustatius and Aruba so that we can get a better idea on the status of the species, their migratory patterns and their local distribution in the wider Caribbean. Sharks are critical to the health of the Caribbean Sea but are also one of the most threatened Large Marine Species on the planet,” concluded Bervoets.

Nature Foundation Visits Several Elementary Schools for St Maarten Shark Week

Last week, during St Maarten Shark Week, Nature Foundation staff visited several Elementary schools to educate children about sharks and their importance to both the natural and human environment. The Foundation visited the following five schools; Sister Regina, Leonald Connor, Learning Unlimited, Oranje School and the Ruby Labega School. The Shark Crew from the Nature Foundation taught about 600 students everything about sharks. The students learned about the different shark species, the importance of sharks for our reefs and tourism, depletion of sharks and why they need our help.

The kids were very enthusiastic about sharks and the marine life, they learned that you shouldn’t be afraid for sharks; sharks are in no way dangerous for humans. Humans kill about 100 million sharks every year, if we continue many shark species will go extinct. Oceans without sharks will have unpredictable and presumably negative impacts for marine life, fisheries and our island, as we depend on our oceans. The school visits were part of the DCNA ‘Save our Shark’ project funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.

 

Sint Maarten Nature Foundation Relaunches Save our Sharks Shark Conservation Project

Cole Bay— The St Maarten Nature Foundation has restarted its shark conservation program as part of the DCNA Save Our Sharks project funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. The research is aimed at better understanding the life characteristics of sharks in St Maarten waters including population structure, abundance and migration.

The Foundation has had to suspend its shark research program due to the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. With the relaunching of the Save our Shark Project for Sint Maarten the Nature Foundation aims to continue to conduct scientific research and monitoring into the shark population and changing perceptions about sharks through education and outreach programs.

“Because of books, movies and news reports sharks have gotten a bad reputation as mindless killers. This is very far from the truth. Although accidents do happen so do they with dogs for example, which kill about 100 times more people than sharks do a year. We have been working hard in terms of education, outreach and also science in this case to show the population that sharks are not mindless killers and are very important to the health of our oceans,” commented Tadzio Bervoets of the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation.

Sharks play a very important role in the oceans, on the reefs and taking care of healthy fish stocks. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean, also on St Maarten. In that role, they keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem. Sharks are also very important to the tourism sector with many divers traveling to Sint Maarten in order to dive with sharks.

The Foundation will also host its Third Annual Sint Maarten Shark week starting on June 8th, with various activities being organized centered on educating the public on the important role sharks play in the ocean environment. The public can keep up to date on shark week activities through the Nature Foundation Facebook page.

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Photocaption: shark being tagged in local waters

Sint Maarten Nature Foundation, with the Support of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, Structurally Cleans Beaches.

The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation, through the support of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance DCNA, has been able to structurally put a program in place to clean the beaches over the past week. Despite several beach-clean-ups being held and due to large amount of trash and hurricane debris still being found on the beaches the Foundation decided to request DCNA for relief funds to structurally clean beaches. “While we were doing our assessments on the ground post-hurricane Irma and Maria, and after the follow-up assessments which were conducted especially leading into the restarting of the Tourism Season we decided that the beaches were still not at a level of cleanliness they should be. We therefore appealed to the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance who made funding available for us to rent equipment and pay the manpower necessary to structurally clean the beaches. We have started at Mullet Bay Beach and will be working our way down to Dawn beach in the next few days,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation Manager.

For the past two months the Nature Foundation has placed a lot of focus on cleaning both the beaches above as underwater, making the areas safe for swimming. “There are some areas that are still a concern. The area in front of Karakter Beach Bar where there has been a wreck for some years is still dangerous for swimming. However we buoyed the area off as to warn simmers from swimming there. We have also been working with young people from our district in Cole Bay and from Dive Operators paying them a stipend so that they can also have an income while they assist us in getting the beaches clean. So far we have removed five dump trucks worth of trash from Mullet Bay and five dump trucks from Simpson Bay and we will continue to clean methodically,” continued Bervoets.

The Foundation also met with a group of Tour Operators on Monday were discussions were held on readying the beaches for the arrival of the cruise ship passengers and with the various Government entities about the status of beaches; our beaches are our primary natural resource and as such we need to ensure that they are healthy from both an environmental and economic point of view. We also are urging people to keep their property clean and properly dispose of garbage,” concluded Bervoets.

Nature Foundation staff and Volunteers clean various beaches around the island.

Nature Foundation Visits Schools for Shark Week

Recently, during St Maarten Nature Foundation Shark Week, Nature Foundation staff visited several Elementary schools to educate the kids about sharks, shark conservation and the Caribbean Ecosystem. The Foundation visited six schools; the St. Maarten Montessori School, the Dr Martin Luther King School, the Sr. Borgia School, the Sr Magda School, the Sr Marie Laurence School and the Caribbean International Academy. Through the shark outreach and education program staff presented to roughly 600 students about the importance of sharks and the conservation challenges they face. Students learned about the different shark species, the importance of sharks to reefs and tourism, depletion of sharks and why the species need to be protected. The children were very enthusiastic about sharks and marine life and learned that people shouldn’t be afraid for sharks and that they are in no way dangerous for humans. Humans kill about 100 million sharks every year and if this trend continues many shark species will go extinct. Oceans without sharks will have unpredictable and presumably negative impacts for marine life, fisheries and our island, as we depend on our oceans. The school visits were part of the DCNA ‘Save our Shark’ project funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance does first shark-tagging exercise

PHILIPSBURG–Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) caught and tagged a total of 22 sharks in October as part of a region-wide “Save our Sharks” project.

Little is currently known about the status of shark populations in Dutch Caribbean waters, and tagging studies are a pivotal first step in determining which sharks are present, where they can be found, and most importantly, how best to improve management and protection of these important apex predators, it was stated in a press release.

On board the Caribbean Explorer II, which set sail from St. Maarten, were shark scientists and conservationists from Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), Nature Foundation St. Maarten (NFSXM), Florida International University (FIU) and Sharks4Kids. The aim of the expedition was to learn as much as possible about shark abundance and diversity on the Saba Bank. Over the course of the six-day expedition, the team caught 22 sharks.

Sixteen of the sharks were Caribbean Reef Sharks, which were fitted with Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags, a kind of bar coding, which can be used to identify sharks and track their movements. The other six sharks were Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo Cuvier) and four of these received their own custom fitted satellite tracking device. Tiger Sharks spend quite a lot of time on the surface, which allows satellite tracking devices to be used to track their movements with pin-point accuracy, the release said.

The tagging expedition was organised as part of the Dutch Postcode Lottery funded “Save our Sharks” project, which aims to change the way we think about sharks, and to create safe havens for them by working with fishermen, local communities and scientists.

PIT tags were inserted under the sharks’ skin just below the dorsal fin. PIT acts essentially as a lifetime barcode allowing scientists to track their movements. Veterinarians also use this type of tag to microchip pets, such as cats and dogs.

Satellite tags were from Wildlife Computers Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting (SPOT) tags, which were attached to the first dorsal fin of the sharks. These tags transmit to satellites, which allow the animals to be tracked through the ARGOS system for up to four years. The tags use radio transmissions, so they must be exposed to air in order to transmit. Each time the dorsal fin breaks the surface, a geo location is given with an accuracy estimation of a few hundred meters.

Caribbean Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus Perezi) are throughout the tropical waters of the Western Atlantic and Caribbean and as far south as Brazil. The best place to see them in the Dutch Caribbean is around Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, where they cruise around the outer edge of coral reefs, pinnacles and near drop-offs. Young sharks prefer shallow coastal waters, such as lagoons, sea grass beds and shallow reefs. Caribbean reef sharks are really not aggressive, except if they are threatened and are typically curious, especially when they see divers, the release said.

Tiger Sharks are one of the largest sharks, with a bulky body, powerful jaws and razor- sharp teeth, strong enough to rip open the shell of a sea turtle. They are one of the oceans’ most powerful predators. Tiger sharks’ diet includes everything from jellyfish and sea snakes to stingrays and seals and their habit of snapping up human garbage has earned them the unfortunate nickname “wastebaskets” of the sea.

Tiger sharks are found all around the world in temperate and tropical waters and typically move into the Caribbean Sea in the winter. Tiger sharks have been sighted so often on the Saba Bank that they have been adopted as the Saba Bank mascot.

Sadly, like Caribbean Reef Shark, Tiger Sharks are classified on the IUCN Red List as “Near Threatened.” Their fins are in high demand in Asia for shark fin soup.

In the Dutch Caribbean, sharks are protected within the “Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary” and conservation groups are working with local fishermen to reduce catch and by-catch of sharks, and to establish a region-wide shark sighting network to learn more about where they live and how we can best protect them.

Nature Foundation starts shark-tagging programme

PHILIPSBURG–St. Maarten Nature Foundation has initiated its shark-tagging programme as part of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) Save Our Sharks project, funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. This research is intended to better understand the life characteristics of sharks in St. Maarten’s waters, including population structure, abundance and migration.

Jillian Morris and Duncan Brake of Sharks4kids assisted the Nature Foundation with building gear, catching, handling and tagging the sharks. The team successfully caught, tagged and released eight sharks in St. Maarten in the last few weeks.

The Nature Foundation tagged four Caribbean Reef sharks and four tiger sharks, with lengths varying from four to seven feet. All sharks were measured, equipped with an identification tag and a DNA sample was taken without removing the shark from the water. All sharks were released in good health and may be identified on other locations in the near future.

In October, the Nature Foundation, in collaboration with Saba Conservation Foundation, is to continue the shark-tagging project in the waters of St. Maarten and on the Saba Bank.

“Because of books, movies and news reports sharks have gotten a bad reputation as mindless killers. This is very far from the truth. Although accidents do happen, so they do with dogs, for example, which kill about 100 times more people than sharks do per year. We have been working hard in terms of education, outreach and also science, in this case, to show the population that sharks are not mindless killers and are very important to the health of our oceans,” commented Nature Foundation’s Tadzio Bervoets.

Sharks play a very important role in the oceans, on the reefs and taking care of healthy fish stocks. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of the ocean. In that role, they keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem. Sharks are also very important to the tourism sector with many divers traveling to St. Maarten to dive with sharks.

Hillsides

The topography of St. Maarten is mountainous with lush, green hillsides that slope upward to heights well above 200 meters. The highest peak is Weymouth Hill (382 meters or 1,255 feet) followed by Sentry Hill (341 meters or 1,119 feet) and St. Peters Hill (316 meters or 1,037 feet).

This centrally located ring of hills in the shape of a horseshoe forms a Cul de Sac in the valley below. Along the St. Peters – Sentry Hill ridge is the primary seasonal rainforest with a variety of flora and fauna. There are different species of mosses, lichens, fungi and flowering plants such as bromeliads and orchids. Butterflies, moths, dragonflies and hummingbirds are just some of the animals found in the forest.

Sentry Hill also boasts impressive geological features, large rock formations that form the peak of the hill with crevices and caves that serve as nesting areas for bats and geckos. Sentry Hill offers a magnificent bird’s eye view of Philipsburg in the east and westerly Cole Bay and environs.

hillsides in st maarten
St Maarten hillsides; Image by DCNA / SHAPE: Christian König