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 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

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.

Researchers Record Significant Damage to St. Maarten’s Terrestrial Flora and Fauna Due to the Impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Hurricanes Irma and Maria have done considerable damage to buildings and infrastructure, but also St. Maarten’s nature has suffered a dramatic blow, researchers Wendy Jesse and Rotem Zilber recently discovered.

Jesse and Zilber, associated with the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and collaborating with the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation, visited St. Martin in August 2018 to measure the effects of the 2017 Hurricane Season on the natural environments of St. Martin and the most prevalent lizard species that inhabit them. The researchers also focused on lizards, which are a species that take up a very important position in the local food chain due to their high abundance and the fact that they eat many insects and serve as a primary food source for many birds. Any change in lizard abundance will therefore likely be a sign of overall ecological imbalance. Jesse already collected biological data on St. Martin In 2015 and 2016. This expedition aimed to collect data to compare the current situation to the one previous to Irma.

Forested areas experienced reductions of canopy cover as much as 90% meaning that the forest floor is subjected to considerably higher temperatures then before. Also vegetation height was dramatically reduced. Most trees that were uprooted were relatively old, so full recovery of the forest will likely take several decades. The changed vegetation structure of the forest has significant consequences for the lizard species that inhabit them. Previously, forests were primarily inhabited by species that are sensitive to high temperatures, and the shade that forest cover provided made them a sanctuary for a lizard species that is unique to St Maarten: Anolis pogus or the Anguilla Bank bush anole. Although the name suggest otherwise, St. Maarten is the only island the species is currently found and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature assesses the status of the species as vulnerable to extinction. The environmental damage caused by Irma has significantly reduced the abundance of A. pogus in forests and climate change and future hurricanes might push this species to the brink of extinction, like has happened on other islands.

Jesse and Zilber also observed other signs of ecological imbalance. Vine-like plants with burning hairs and painful spines have optimally profited from the increased sunshine reaching the forest floor, entangling other plants and trees in their path. The researchers also encountered remarkably high densities of (fire) ants, which could be a direct effect of the decrease of insect-eating lizards in these areas. They plan to come back periodically to monitor the situation and recovery of the environment and the status of the many unique species on St. Martin.

research being conducted
Jesse and Zilber conducting research at Little Key in the Simpson Bay Lagoon

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***UPDATE***Sint Maarten Nature Foundation Continues to Respond to Diesel Fuel Spill in Simpson Bay Lagoon

The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation has been responding to an ongoing diesel Fuel Spill in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. On Sunday the Foundation was alerted to a large amount of fuel entering the Simpson Bay Lagoon from a channel in Cole Bay close to Kool Baai Villas. It was established that the fuel was diesel and that the source was somewhere in the area, perhaps from unregulated garages that can be found throughout the Cole Bay district.

After investigating with inspectors of the Maritime Affairs Department and inspectors from the Economic Affairs department the fuel originated at a business that was broken into early on Sunday. Thieves stole fuel that was stored in containers, breaking them open and leaving them leak into the environment.

“For the past 48 hours we have been dealing with this spill and we have been working with the authorities, including law enforcement and the various inspection units of Government as part of our response protocols. Unfortunately it appears as if theft caused the fuel to be dumped into the channel which eventually led into the Simpson Bay Lagoon. We have been trying to clean up as much as we can and have been making progress, but the amount was significant,” commented Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets.

Photocaption: Absorbent booms and pads placed by the Nature Foundation at the spill location.

Sint Maarten Nature Foundation Responds to Ongoing Diesel Fuel Spill in Simpson Bay Lagoon

The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation has been responding to an ongoing diesel fuel spill in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. On Sunday the Foundation was alerted to a large amount of fuel entering the Simpson Bay Lagoon from a channel in Cole Bay close to Kool Baai Villas. It was established that the fuel was diesel and that the source was somewhere in the area, perhaps from unregulated garages that can be found throughout the Cole Bay district.

“For the past 24 hours we have been dealing with this spill and we have contacted the authorities, including law enforcement and the various inspection units of Government as part of our response protocols. Unfortunately it appears as if the diesel was intentionally dumped into the channel which eventually led into the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Diesel evaporates after six hours or so but in the meantime significant damage has already been done to some mangrove areas and their associated wildlife. We have been trying to clean up as much as we can but unfortunately the amount is too large for just the Nature Foundation to respond to,” commented Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets.

oil spill st maarten
Oil Spill in Simpson Bay Lagoon
oil spill
oil spill in creek

Nature Foundation Conducts First Water Quality Assessments of Wetlands and Beaches Since Hurricane Irma. Has Serious Concerns Regarding Water Quality at Kim Sha Beach

taking water sample

The Nature Foundation carried out water quality tests at seven sites surrounding St. Maarten. These tests, which were conducted for the first time since the passage of Hurricane Irma, were carried out in order to determine the levels of pollutants and other factors affecting wetlands and beaches on St. Maarten.

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Tests were carried out in order to determine

  • Nitrates (which shows that the water is polluted),
  • Phosphates and Coliform Bacteria (which shows the presence of Sewage),
  • Nitrogen,
  • Dissolved Oxygen, and
  • the acidity of the water.

Tests were carried out on seven sites; Cole Bay Lagoon, Simpson Bay Lagoon, Mullet Pond, Kim Sha Beach, Great Bay Beach, Belair Pond, Fresh Pond, and the Great Salt Pond. The sites of Great Bay Beach and Kim Sha Beach were particularly chosen to test the swimming quality of the beaches.

Phosphate and Nitrates

It was determined that the sites Cole Bay Lagoon, Kim Sha Beach, Mullet Pond, and Great Bay had medium to high levels of both phosphates and nitrates in samples tested. Elevated levels of nitrates and phosphates show that there is a presence of various types of pollutants and sewage which can cause toxic algal blooms and mortality events (large scale dying of fish, turtle and crabs) in wetlands and coastal areas. The highest level was recorded in the Great Salt Pond and indicates the presence numerous pollutants and sewage in the tested water. Considering this, water quality levels will regularly be monitored by the Nature Foundation.

Nitrogen

It was further established that the sites Cole Bay Lagoon, Kim-Sha Beach, Mullet Pond, and Great Bay had low to medium levels of Nitrogen in samples tested. Elevated levels of Nitrogen, caused by pollutants, can cause massive fish die-offs in wetlands and coastal areas. The highest level was recorded in the Great Salt Pond at .6 ppm, which is a relatively high number and indicates the presence of elevated nitrogen levels. This can pose a threat to aquatic organisms and which may result in fish die-offs.

Oxygen

Almost all levels of oxygen recorded were at sufficient levels; however the lowest level was recorded in the Great Salt Pond and Belair Pond. These sites should be closely monitored for a further drop in oxygen levels which may result in fish kills and breeding of airborne insects (i.e. Midges).

Bacteria and Sewage

There is concern that four of the seven sites tested positive for the presence of coliform bacteria, an indicator for the presence of sewage as mentioned. Cole Bay Lagoon, the Great Salt Pond and the Fresh Pond all showed presence levels of coliform bacteria. Particularly worrying is the presence of coliform indicators at Kim Sha beach, which has been designated as a tourism focal point post Hurricane Irma. The Nature Foundation suggests lab-level testing to establish the level of coliform bacteria at particularly Kim Sha Beach. Great Bay Beach showed an absence of coliform bacteria indicators.

Despite the fact that many sites showed Medium readings, the Nature Foundation will follow up on a monthly basis to carefully monitor for changes in the respective levels.

taking water sample
Water quality samples being taken at Great Bay;
water sample result tube
Water quality sample from Kim Sha beach showing a positive result for Coliform Bacteria

 

The Bridge

The Bridge is a site near the Dutch entrance to the Simpson Bay lagoon that hosts several yacht wrecks as well as the remains of a old bridge. The remains of the bridge have been completely taken over by sea life and this is what makes the dive worthwhile! Chance to see stingrays, turtles, eels and tropicals.

As the bridge is not really that big by itself, a few diving school got together and scuttled several boats there as well. The combination makes for an oasis of life underwater.

As it happens, this is also the site of our coral nursery. we have relocated our ‘Acropora’ coral fragments from the damaged coral nursery to their new tree here.

acropora coral fragment
acropora coral fragment

Dive depth: 25-60 ft (7-18 m)

See also the site report by octopus diving. Find more cool dive sites at the Scuba Shop.

Nature Foundation Researching Pollution Related Algae Bloom in Simpson Bay Lagoon

The St. Maarten Nature Foundation has been monitoring an algal bloom within sections of the Simpson Bay Lagoon over the past few weeks. Boaters in the area have been complaining to the Nature Foundation of algae clogging the intakes of their vessel engines and a few isolated fish die-offs have been occuring due to the presence of the algae.

During two research dives in the Lagoon it was established that the probable identity of the algae is likely Ulveria oxysperma and Ulva Linza, both species are indicative of an increase in pollution levels and a decrease in water quality for the wider Simpson Bay Lagoon. Based on the probable identification of the species, water quality was tested in order to determine the possible cause of the algal bloom and a correlation to water quality.

“We are a bit concerned that we have seen an increase in algae in the Lagoon, which is related to a drop in water quality and in increase in pollution levels. Our preliminary results have shown that indeed there was a drop in water quality with an increase in temperature related to us entering the hottest part of the year. We are also trying to determine whether or not the current algae bloom is related to the effects of the hundreds of boats and other types of infrastructure being sunk or damaged after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. This is definitely possible considering the type of stress the Simpson Bay Lagoon has been undergoing as an ecosystem and we expected for some time now for the environment in the Lagoon to react to that huge environmental stress. For the time being, we will keep an eye on the situation and hopefully the bloom will dissipate in a few weeks,” commented Tadzio Bervoets of the Nature Foundation.

algae in water
algae floating underwater in Simpson Bay lagoon
algae in hand
Algae from Simpson Bay lagoon