On Thursday, July 27th, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at St. Maarten's Philipsburg Jubilee Library, Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) will be hosting a community meeting to discuss the results of the first phase of a study to assess the economic value of our remaining wetlands. The meeting also aims to get feedback from the public about how things used to be, how the changes have affected life on St. Maarten and what people think is important about our remaining wetlands.
The wetlands of St. Maarten take the shape of ponds, lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs. Development in the last few decades has resulted in an extreme loss of our wetland areas and a decrease in the size of those that remain. But what does that mean for us? Surely removing mangroves and filling in ponds and lagoons to create more land for development is good for our economy? Simply put, it is not that simple.
Our environment, and especially our wetlands, provide us with a number of benefits which contribute to our daily quality of life. By destroying these environments, we are doing away with those natural benefits which will eventually lead to large costs on our economy in the form of natural disaster damage and health care services, to name just two.
Attend this meeting to discuss the economic importance of our wetlands, the changes which they have undergone and how we can work to protect them in the future. This meeting is open admission to the general public and basic refreshments will be provided. The Philipsburg Jubilee Library has generously donated the use of their hall for this meeting.
This project, “Economic Valuation of St. Maarten's Remaining Wetlands - Phase I”, is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Prince Bernhard Cultural Funds Caribbean. For more information, contact EPIC.
Have you ever wondered what that big white bird is called? Or are you looking for something fun and educational to keep the kids busy during the summer holidays? Look no further than the first ever Kayak Scavenger Hunt sponsored by Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) St. Maarten!
The event will be hosted on Saturday, July 22nd, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Starting on Kimsha Beach with a small breakfast and refreshments, participants will be geared up and given a kayaking tutorial before taking off towards the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Teams will be provided with a list of plants and animals to locate as they kayak.
When the group reaches the final destination past the Causeway bridge, we will raft up to discuss our findings as we enjoy a cold drink before heading back to Kimsha Beach at a relaxed pace. The team with the most complete list and the best photos will win a prize!
The price for the event is $25 per adult and $15 for children under 16 years. This includes equipment rental, technical support, and refreshments. The funds will help EPIC to continue to provide education and conservation activities related to the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Small children need to be accompanied by a responsible adult and must bring their own life jacket. Participants don’t need to participate in the scavenger hunt and can just paddle along for fun!
Sign up NOW for this unique event, as space is limited. To sign up, please send an email to: email@example.com or call +1 (721) 524-4420. Online registration is also available. See you on Saturday, July 22nd, at Kimsha Beach in Simpson Bay (in front of Buccaneer Beach Bar)!
EPIC has been working alongside farming families in Boukan Chat, Haiti since 2011. As many of you know, the first Black-capped Petrel nest ever located was found in this village and the forests in and around the area are critical to the species. EPIC and its partners have been working hard to conserve the petrel in this area through research on the bird, youth environmental education in schools, and working directly with farmers in the village to increase incomes through the implementation of sustainable farming practices.
To farmers who work along the edges of the forest, the petrel is a well-known animal. However, to most families, the species is only a topic of folklore and many have not encountered the bird due to its secretive habits. We felt it was important to bring the bird to the people, to join together the image of the petrel and the life-sustaining forest in images that people in Boukan Chat would encounter on a daily basis.
Last Fall, EPIC and its partners from SoulCraft Allstars reached out to friends and family and made a request for both a tree nursery and funds to paint murals of petrels and their habitat in the village. This active network stepped forward and in less than a week raised the funds for both projects. We approached the families in Boukan Chat we worked with in 2016 to build community cisterns and asked if we could paint the murals on the community cisterns; those families happily agreed.
Now we just needed an artist! In stepped Jose Luis Castillo. Jose Luis has been working alongside EPIC in Haiti since 2011 as a petrel researcher and has found dozens of petrel nests in and around Boukan Chat. We knew Jose Luis had painted murals as a job in his home village of Pedernales, Dominican Republic, but when we saw his large mural at a local hotel that depicted the wildlife of the Bahoruco Mountains, we knew we had the right guy for the job.
Jose Luis came to Boukan Chat this Spring and on one of the most commonly used cisterns in the village, painted a wonderful large mural depicting flying Black-capped Petrels, nesting petrels, and the critical forest habitat. In this way, we brought the petrel to the people, sharing the beauty and majesty of the bird and forests as treasures to protect and take pride in.
EPIC has started the first phase of a study to assess the economic value of St. Maarten’s remaining wetlands. Prior to the rapid urbanization of recent decades, St. Maarten possessed at least 19 healthy ponds, of which only five remain today: Salt Pond, Fresh Pond, Little Bay Pond, Red Pond and Mullet Pond. In addition, the island has one of the largest wetlands in the West Indies, Simpson Bay Lagoon.
When the Great Salt Pond was used to harvest salt, it’s value as an economic asset was very clear. However, in recent times, wetlands such as these ponds are seen more as an area that should be developed for immediate economic gains. Yet wetland conservation offers significant economic benefits. As development and pollution continue to threaten our remaining wetlands, EPIC aims to make clear the significant role which healthy wetlands contribute not just to our environment, but also to our economy.
Wetlands are special ecosystems where land is partially or fully covered in water, making it a “wetland”. Wetlands are among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world, providing us with vital services such as climate control, water purification, and storm protection. Not to mention the more tangible services such as fishing, agriculture, and recreation. These are just a few of the ways in which wetlands improve our daily lives.
Without healthy wetland habitats, we would either forgo these benefits or create (often costly) infrastructure to replace them. A powerful example of the economic benefit of wetlands comes from New York. Studies revealed that they could avoid spending USD$3-8 billion on new waste water treatment plants by investing USD$1.5 billion in the purchase of land around the reservoirs upstate. These preserved lands will purify the water supply free of charge.
In 2010, the Nature Foundation found that St. Maarten’s coral reefs contribute US$58 million a year to the country’s economy through tourism and fisheries. This ultimately lead to the creation of the Man of War Shoal Marine Park which now protects these important natural and economic resources. In a similar fashion, this study ultimately aims to shed a light onto the overlooked value of our remaining wetlands.
The first phase of this project, led by Kippy Gilders, will last a total of three months. At the end of July, a community meeting will be held for the public to learn more about this study and the importance of wetlands as well as share their knowledge, concerns, and experience on the topic.
This project, “Economic Valuation of St Maarten's Remaining Wetlands - Phase I”, is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Prince Bernhard Cultural Funds Caribbean.
On the 1st of June, EPIC and the Sint Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) celebrated the Green Key Award for the achievements of Holland House Beach Hotel and Princess Heights Luxury Boutique Condo Hotel.
The event, hosted at Holland House, was a celebration of sustainability on St. Maarten and conveyed the importance of preserving the tourism economy in a sustainable way. Green Key is an internationally recognized eco-label awarded to tourism and leisure establishments which meet high environmental standards.
“The Green Key program is not just a set of guidelines to follow, it is a comprehensive program that ensures a reduction of waste and energy, which not only benefits the environment but it is beneficial to the cost of our business as well. It educates our staff, it educates our management and it drives a spirit into your organization. Going green for us it’s a rewarded investment and [one] that we attempt to keep up “said Paul Boetekees, General Manager of Holland House.
Princess Heights is the ground-breaking establishment which became the island’s first Green Key Hotel. Mr. Arnaldo Phelipa, General Manager of Princess Heights, congratulated Holland House for their achievements and urged other businesses to move towards a greener and more sustainable business attitude for the benefits of the community, the environment and the business itself.
In light of recent events regarding the Paris Climate Accord, it is ever more important to recognize those corporations and citizens leading the way toward improving and protecting our environment. The island nation is solely dependent on the environment for its livelihood and all efforts must be made to reduce waste, improve environmental education and increase sustainability.
The event was well attended by many trade and tourism businesses as well as EPIC representatives Laura Bijnsdorp, Elisa Oldani and Kippy Gilders and SHTA Board Members Lorraine Talmi, Ricardo Perez and Paul Henriquez.
The partnership between the Sint Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) and the local non-profit foundation Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) was strengthened by the signing of the collaborative agreement to promote sustainable tourism through the Blue Flag and Green Key eco-label awards.
The event was held at Holland House Beach Hotel in Philipsburg, the newest Green Key awarded site for Sint Maarten, in anticipation of the official Green Key Award ceremony and sustainability expo which acknowledges the exceptional efforts of the awardees, being in the forefront of sustainable tourism for the hotel industry.
The event, to be held in May, will also award Princess Heights Luxury Boutique Condo Hotel for its third consecutive year as a Green Key Hotel.
Both parties were excited to finalize the long-awaited agreement which highlights the dedication, support and advocacy for the Green Key and Blue Flag programs amongst tourism businesses in St. Maarten.
The Collaboration agreement was signed by Mr. Rueben J. Thompson, EPIC Executive Board Treasurer and Paul J. Henriquez, SHTA Executive Board and was witnessed by Fleur Hermanides, Executive Board member of EPIC and project manager of SXM DOET and Wyb Meijer, SHTA Executive Director.
“EPIC has been working for many years to further develop sustainable tourism for Sint Maarten and SHTA has been a key partner in that effort. We appreciate the vision and concern of SHTA in committing to promoting best practices among its members and their customers. To really stand out from the crowd, St. Maarten can offer not just the standard Caribbean sun, sand, and sea, but an environmentally-responsible experience that guests can feel proud to support, further building their ties to the island," noted the President of EPIC, Natalia Collier.
The SHTA Board Member Paul Henriquez commented “This collaboration represents the effort of the SHTA to support and promote sustainability amongst its members and to work with EPIC towards making the environment of St. Maarten a better place for the community”.
Environmental Protection in the Caribbean is the National Operator for the international Green Key award for accommodations and restaurants and international Blue Flag award for marinas, boats and beaches, which is managed globally by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
Any business interested in learning more about applying for the award programs can visit www.epicislands.org or contact EPIC’s Eco-label Coordinator, Ms. Elisa Oldani on (721) 554-0742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hurricane Matthew, an immense Atlantic Hurricane, barreled into Haiti with its full fury in October 2016. Winds of 150 miles per hour coupled with feet of rain wreaked havoc on the impoverished island nation, knocking buildings over, flooding farms, and leaving a path of destruction as it moved over the county.
The small village of Boukan Chat, where EPIC has been working on Black-capped Petrel conservation for the last four years, took a direct hit from a large mass of rain as the storm passed over the island. The associated flooding from the storm caused massive mud slides and high winds caused the destruction and loss of many roofs. Thankfully, no lives were lost in the village but destruction to property and farms was widespread. Almost 100% of the annual crops in the village were destroyed during the storm.
EPIC and its partners Plant with Purpose and Grupo Jaragua have been working with farmers in Boukan Chat to create farm structures which protects soil during storms. Many areas farmers had placed these soil retention systems were spared during the storm. In fact, a fair number of farmers using the soil retention bars successfully harvested crops and were able to provide for their families. This example of successful conservation farming reduces financial pressure on communities living near colonies of the endangered Black-capped Petrel, a secretive seabird which returns to its mountain burrow nest at night. Our goal is for people and petrels to thrive while living side by side, conserving essential forest nesting habitat which also prevents erosion on nearby farms.
EPIC just returned from Boukan Chat where we continued our work with farmers to protect petrel habitat. We look forward to working with additional farmers, increasing the use of soil retention systems on farms, and improving the odds for protecting petrel populations.
Additionally, we met with teachers with whom we work to educate the youth of the community. We created a blueprint EPIC’s educators will follow over the next year to continue teaching the primary school aged children about land conservation topics. A local artist created stunning murals on water cisterns, cisterns sponsored by our supporters, showing the beauty and majesty of the rarely seen petrel.
Furthermore, while in Boukan Chat, we carried out radar surveys to monitor petrel population trends and located petrel nests in the community that we will follow throughout the nesting season. The Save the Devil film team followed our work, capturing the continuing story of petrel and land conservation issues and efforts.
This season marks the seventh year EPIC has been working to conserve Black-capped Petrels on Hispaniola. Working alongside conservation partners, education experts, and villagers, we have made a substantial impact towards conserving Black-capped Petrels. The future of petrels in the Caribbean looks hopeful and we’ll continue working towards a brighter future for the wildlife and people of this region.
Help EPIC reach it's fundraising goal by the deadline of May 1, 2017. It's easy, donate online!
Sewage is gross, right? We don't want it in the ocean, right? Well, Slurpy is here to help! This sewage pumpout boat comes when boaters call because their sewage tank is full and they need to get rid of the waste. Once Slurpy's tank is full, she heads back to pump her tank out into a larger, safe and secure land-based tank. This waste is then taken by a septic truck to a wastewater treatment facility to get cleaned up.
It's a process, but one we think is much needed, considering how much pollution is going into the Simpson Bay Lagoon. There is a lot of land-based sewage too, but at least we are doing what we can to address boat-based sewage. Boaters in the Lagoon want this service, too, otherwise they have to wait for the bridge to open to go out to sea or just dump it where they are (yuck). Our survey of boaters showed that 86% would use the service and customers are lining up to take advantage of this much-needed service.
Sewage pollution causes a bad odor, transmits diseases, creates mats of algae, and reduces oxygen in the water for fish and other sea creatures. We already see some of these problems in the Lagoon, but it doesn't have to be this way.
With donations from the community, we were able to buy Slurpy, which was really exciting. The thing is, now we need to make sure she is running well. We recently had to upgrade her batteries and then there's insurance, which may not sound that interesting but we were so glad to have it when Hurricane Gonzalo knocked out Slurpy a couple years ago.
As our customer base continues to grow, Slurpy will become self-sustaining. But for now, we really need your support to make sure she keep doing her job, keeping pollution out of the Lagoon. Thank you for caring!
The Green Key jury of Sint Maarten, convened by Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), has determined that two hotels have met the stringent environmental and safety criteria required to receive this prestigious award. This is the third consecutive year that Princess Heights Luxury Boutique Condo Hotel has achieved the Green Key while Holland House Beach Hotel on Front Street in Philipsburg has received its first Green Key award. They are part of an elite group of 2,500 Green Key establishments in 53 countries.
The Green Key Program is a leading standard for excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operations within the tourism industry. The quality of the program is maintained via thorough documentation and periodic audits. It is recognized by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
“Considering our significant overall growth, it became even more important to focus on sustainability and to reduce our environmental footprint. The Green Key program helped us to identify areas of concern and has proposed great solutions which led to improved efficiency of the hotel, thereby creating a win-win situation” Paul Boetekees, Director of Holland House, explained.
There are four principles which together form the basis of the Green Key program. The first principle is education, to educate not only the staff of the hotel but also the guests and local community. Secondly, the program is constantly on the lookout for the latest innovations in order to reduce the overall environmental footprint. Lastly, the Green Key adds value to the site and offers a promotional advantage when establishments show their engagement with the environment and sustainability issues.
Princess Heights Hotel Assistant General Manager Arnaldo Phelipa said, “It is always gratifying to be certified by Green Key another year after our great efforts during the year to meet their environmental standards. We are honored to have become pioneers of hotel green practices on St. Maarten. After three consecutive years of compliance we have strived to be a responsible and sustainable business and encourage other properties to join these eco friendly practices. I would like to thank our passionate and engaged team for the work they do every day. It is our company philosophy that being environmentally and socially responsible is sound business practice. Congratulations to the Holland House Beach Hotel on receiving this prestigious award ".
Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) is the national operator of the Green Key Program and, along with the local Green Key jury, manages the certification of hotels such as Princess Heights and Holland House. The program is run internationally by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). FEE is a global foundation based in Denmark from which they operate a total of five programs. All of these programs are geared towards building a sustainable future through education.
“We are excited to see the Green Key Program growing on Sint Maarten. Corporate Social Responsibility is essential to a healthy community and environment and the Green Key award is an exceptional tool for demonstrating this concern” noted EPIC President Natalia Collier.
Kippy Gilders is the newest intern for the foundation Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) and will coordinate a three-month Wetland Outreach Campaign. She has been a sailor her whole life and, from June 2013 to July 2015, circumnavigated the globe. Having grown up on St. Maarten and being environmentally active throughout the years, she went on to complete a Master’s degree in Environment and Resource Management at the VU Amsterdam. With high season in full swing, this internship is the perfect opportunity to put her environmental knowledge and sustainable boating experience to use as our waters are bustling with tourists and marine traffic.
Tell us about yourself
Since the age of two I grew up on St. Maarten attending the MAC and St. Dominic High School. My parents met while my mom was living and working in South Africa. My father was sailing around the Indian Ocean at the time and they decided to sail away together. They got married in Seychelles and sailed as far as Thailand before going back across the Indian Ocean to Mayotte, where I was born. They continued around Africa, along the coast of South America and up the Caribbean chain. When we came across St. Maarten we decided to settle down. Until I was nine years old we lived on our boat in the lagoon before eventually moving to land and throughout the years I continued to sail and participate in regattas on the island.
I completed my Bachelor of Science at the University College Utrecht (UCU) with majors in Life and Environmental Sciences. While back on the island I came across the incredible opportunity to circumnavigate the globe with Ready. Set. Sail!. As this had always been on my bucket list I decided to take a break from academics and commit myself fully to this endeavor. With just two years scheduled to sail around the world, I was aware that approximately half of this time would be spent at sea with little or no connection to the rest of the world. When we were on land we did our best to organize clothing and food donation drives, beach cleanups and participate in reef research. After this life- changing experience I was very excited to move to Amsterdam to complete a Master’s degree.
What did you study for your Master’s degree?
I studied Environment and Resource Management at the VU Amsterdam. This programme is very internationally oriented and open to students from all disciplines. This creates a fascinating multidisciplinary atmosphere to train the next generation of environmental decision-makers to find solutions for societal problems related to natural resource depletion and environmental change. Essentially, this degree outlines how to consider all aspects when designing a management scheme - a sustainable future is one where the economy, society and environment are equally important.
What topic was your thesis on?
I was accepted to complete my thesis research in Micronesia through The Nature Conservancy. Small island communities in this part of the world are highly threatened by the impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise as many of the islands are only a few meters above sea level. Therefore, these communities must either adapt to their changing environment or migrate to higher grounds. The research for my my thesis evaluated how the community could harness the environment to adapt to climate change.
For example, rather than investing money into constructing seawalls to reduce the effects of sea level rise the community could invest their time to plant and restore mangroves along the coast. Constructing a seawall would require an initial investment, maintenance, eventual replacement, and often makes the situation much worse if not properly executed. However, healthy mangroves would prevent coastal erosion, reduce storm waves, and replenish fisheries along with a multitude of other benefits. Methods such as mangrove restoration are referred to as ecosystem-based adaptation and are gaining popularity due to the significant amount of co-benefits to the environment and society.
How did you come across this intern position?
With the last few years being a whirlwind of sailing and studying, I decided to return home to St. Maarten after my Master’s degree. I would like to do what I can for this island before looking for work internationally so when I heard about this position I was very interested because it combines my two greatest passions - sailing and the environment. This campaign, running from January to March 2017, is funded through the Be the Change Foundation (http://bethechangesxm.com) and mobilized by the EPIC Foundation.
Why should we care about wetlands like the Lagoon?
Sustainable practices are necessary as the lagoon is essentially a closed ecosystem. With limited recharge from the open sea, whatever is placed in our lagoon is likely to stay there and build up over the years. With the rapid development of the island, we have concentrated large numbers of people around our wetlands without providing proper infrastructure like sewage lines to keep waste out of the water. Therefore, businesses and homeowners should be aware that their wastewater flows into our ponds and lagoons.
I believe that people who live on boats are some of the more environmentally conscious as they can directly observe the repercussion of their actions and a single boat on its own has very little impact on the environment. However, a group of boats such as a fleet of regatta competitors or a full marina will have a much more dramatic effect and should be particularly conscious of their actions. Thus, it is especially important to promote sustainable practices this time of the year when our waters see the most marine traffic.
In short, how can we be more environmentally friendly?
Businesses and homeowners should have proper functioning septic systems or other disposal methods which should be pumped out when full. In a similar fashion to houses, most boats also have tanks to contain wastewater and perhaps the most significant way for boats in the Lagoon to be more environmentally friendly is by using Slurpy, the sewage pumpout boat. This service is provided by the EPIC Foundation through The Business Point after a survey in 2008 demonstrated that there was a demand for such a facility. In areas where boat communities are dense and there is a lot of urban development, high concentrations of sewage causes algae growth. This algae growth and decay consumes oxygen and causes the death of marine life, leaving algae as the dominant life form. Certain corners of the Lagoon (i.e. Cole Bay corner) already exhibit these conditions.
How will you be spreading the word of environmentally friendly practices?
For the most part I’ll be assessing and raising awareness for Slurpy the pumpout boat by conducting a short survey and being present at cruising and racing venues around the island. I will also be promoting the Blue Flag for Boat Owners campaign. This allows individual boat owners to participate in the Blue Flag programme by signing a pledge stating that they comply with the Blue Flag for Boat Owner's Environmental Code of Conduct. This has a number of commitments such as “Not throwing litter into the sea or along the coast”, “Not releasing toilet water into fresh waters, coastal waters and sensitive areas” and “Using the most environmentally friendly products that are available and work efficiently”. Lastly, I will be organizing events to raise funds in support of conservation and education related to the Simpson Bay Lagoon and reaching out to businesses and citizens to increase awareness of practices which help to protect our precious remaining wetlands.
Establishments who are interested in partnering with EPIC to become more environmentally conscious and boat owners who want to commit to the Blue Flag pledge can contact Kippy at: email@example.com. To schedule an appointment with Slurpy call on VHF Channel 10, phone on +1 (721) 544-315, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information surf to www.epicislands.org.
|Environmental Protection in the Caribbean||