Beautiful Caribbean islands like Sint Maarten/Saint Martin face the same problems faced in larger countries where natural areas on land and along the coast are degraded from development activities, pollution, storms, and more. A valuable intervention is the act of “restoration” where biologists, volunteers, funders and landowners replant trees, nurture soils, remove pollutants and debris, restore historic flow ways and monitor the project’s impact. The goal is to allow nature to thrive. Habitat restoration such as planting mangroves and other trees means cleaner air and water, improved protection from storms, and an abundance of wildlife, including fish, corals, and birds. The community benefits from the ecological services provided by thriving natural areas such as access to healthy food sources (like fish), support of economic endeavors (like marine industries), and access to beautiful places for recreation and relaxation (like a day at the beach).
St. Maarten Habitat Restoration post-Hurricane Irma
In 2017, three sites served as the focal point for restoration actions including:
• Little Key is an islet in Simpson Bay Lagoon, a major wetland, where 290 Red Mangrove propagules were planted. These were monitored every two weeks by volunteers using a boat donated by St. Maarten Sails. The final survival rate was excellent at 84.5% at Little Key.
• Sentry Hill, a montane dry forest habitat, where volunteers removed non-native plants before planting approximately 309 seedlings of a variety of native species. Student scientists from the nearby St. Dominic High School were recruited to monitor the individually tagged plants at Sentry Hill once a week for eight weeks to ensure their survival. The final survival rate was excellent at 96.1%.
• Cay Bay, a coastal terrestrial scrub habitat, is an area where 125 seedlings of native species were planted. EPIC staff monitored and watered the Cay Bay plants once a week for eight weeks to ensure their survival. In this location, 13 plants were lost when goats who escaped through damaged fencing ate them. Yet there was still a successful final survival rate of 89.6%.
This project resulted in increased biodiversity at the restoration sites when compared with pre-restoration assessments and, as the new plants mature into large trees, an increased carbon sequestration. In addition, 1,253 participants had a personal experience with a restoration project and likely learned more about the nature on their home island. This project was completed in partnership with Rainforest Adventures and funded by BEST 2.0 Program of the IUCN, GlobalGiving, BirdsCaribbean Hurricane Relief Fund, Prince Bernhard Culture Fund, and donors to EPIC’s Irma Recovery Fund.
(Link to video of the same name on YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvlCGOdiACM&list=PLgS74Hs7pOseiDANeVrabtd_flra5hk06&index=10&t=6s and there’s also a publication associated w/it)
Mangrove Planting Projects
EPIC biologists and volunteers planted 300 mangrove tree seedlings on Little Key Island in the Simpson Bay Lagoon in December 2017 ;in 2020 most of the plastic supports for the seedlings were removed and the site is full of life. This project was funded by BEST 2.0.
In 2004, a total of 500 Red Mangrove trees were planted in the waters surrounding Grand Ilet in the Simpson Bay Lagoon by over 50 volunteers. With a 70% tree survival rate, the site is now a thriving mangrove forest. In addition, new seedlings were recorded growing among the red mangrove roots. This evidence of recruitment of new trees, potentially from the very trees which were planted, offers great hope for the long-term establishment and growth of a mangrove forest at this site.
Species recorded in the waters around the mangroves included Sea Cucumber, Mangrove Jellyfish, White Mullet, Mangrove Oyster, and Wilson’s Plover in addition to numerous fish egg sacks. This project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and supported by partners at Reserve Naturelle St. Martin, Les Fruits de Mer, Pride Foundation, Ocean Care, and Greenfingers, N.V.