La Réserve naturelle de Saint-Martin est une aire marine protégée de 30km2 située au nord-est de l’île de Saint-Martin. Créé en 1998, cet espace préserve les cinq principaux écosystèmes de l’île : récifs coralliens, mangroves, herbiers de phanérogames, étangs et forêt sèche littorale. La Réserve gère également les 14 étangs du Conservatoire du littoral et ses 11 km de rivages terrestres naturels.

To maintain or improve the ecological health of the salt ponds

To maintain or improve the ecological health of the salt ponds

To maintain or improve the ecological health of the salt ponds

Déversement d’eaux usées dans l’étang de Grand-Case – Dumping of wastewater in Grand Case pond
Déversement d’eaux usées dans l’étang de Grand-Case – Dumping of wastewater in Grand Case pond

On May 1, the local branch of the Conservatoire du Littoral will meet with a civil service volunteer who will work on a two-year recovery project for the salt ponds in Saint Martin. A management committee will be formed to run the project, which will confront all of the current problems with the ponds: flooding, dumping of wastewater, debris... The goals are to recreate the original perimeters of the ponds, and most importantly validate the property boundaries with the land registry, before restoring the shores, as well as rebuilding the bird observatories and the wooden walkways destroyed by Irma, within a period of three years. The project also calls for a study of the water quality.

As residents were complaining about loud noise and debris between the main road and the Etang de Chevrise, agents from the Réserve Nnaturelle went to see what the problem was. There they could see that a mechanical shovel had dug between three and four meters deep, close to the funeral parlor, and a large volume of earth and rubble had been used to fill in below the pond, but not where the water is, and that area belongs to the Conservatoire du Littoral and is managed by the Réserve. Yet the nature of the material, especially in case of heavy rain, represents a real threat of creating silt in the pond, and the Réserve remains vigilant in its surveillance of this worksite. Additional expertise will determine if such encroachment by depositing such materials on land already classified under a biotope protection order is possible, and see what to do about it.

L’étang de Chevrise - Chevrise Pond © Conservatoire du littoral
L’étang de Chevrise - Chevrise Pond © Conservatoire du littoral

1,314 tons of debris! That’s the number reported by the Conservatoire du Littoral on October 1, or three months after the start of a major clean-up campaign at all of the Conservatoire’s sites, with a special focus on the salt ponds. Metal—primarily from roofs—represents a third of this debris, with the other two thirds comprising large objects. L & A Transport, the company that won the contract awarded by Conservatoire, removed the largest items—roofs, containers—in July and August. A team of about 10 people attacked this gigantesque task, with the help of large machinery.

L’étang de la Savane - Savane Pond © Conservatoire du littoral
L’étang de la Savane - Savane Pond © Conservatoire du littoral

This clean-up operation has since continued with the six agents of the association ACED and Aude Berger, tasked by Conservatoire for the coordination of the clearing of the sites since July 1. The collection of debris, both large and small, is sorted before taken to the trash center at the eco-site, where they are treated. Three car bodies, a good-sized boat, and a jet ski were removed thanks to this effort, as well as numerous personal objects, such as clothing, stuffed animals, and a large number of car parts. The Conservatoire appreciates the work done by ACED, especially in the ponds, where is it not easy to remove debris from the silt and pull it onto the shore, either by hand or on a kayak. At the Etang de Grand-Case, which is badly polluted, the agents worked between 5am and 7am, before air traffic began for the day. In July, they has help from 20 Belgian scouts and 100 scouts from France, supervised by the agents from the Réserve Naturelle, as well as by such associations as What de 9 and Clean Saint-Martin, and several local residents. The result today is that almost all of the ponds are clean, or will be by mid-December.

L’équipe de l’ACED - The ACED Team © Conservatoire du littoral
L’équipe de l’ACED - The ACED Team © Conservatoire du littoral

It is now time to think about replanting the mangroves, which requires an agreement between ACED, the Conservatoire du Littoral and the Réserve Naturelle. After the cleanup and management by the Conservatoire, the Réserve Naturelle will take over. The ACED agents will dedicate the first six months of 2019 to the creative of a mangrove nursery, and the planting of trees in the impacted areas. Before this next step, they will benefit from theoretical and practical training led by Aude Berger and Anne-Marie Bouillé, who will teach them about the ecology of wetlands, the ecosystems of the mangroves and the ponds, as well as the role of environmental professions, especially that of a coastal warden. It took 141,000 euros to complete the clean-up of the Conservatoire’s sites, With the monies coming from the French Agency for Biodiversity, the Collectivité from government funds, and the Conservatoire du Littoral.

The taking of aerial photographs with the help of a drone preceded this vast ecological restoration project, in particular above the salt ponds in order to indentify the damage to the mangroves, verify the state of the outlets, and pinpoint the debris in the most inaccessible areas. After that step, ecologist Mélanie Haerteman and Anne-Marie Bouillé, head of the Conservatoire in Saint Martin, did a study of the ponds: hydrologic measures (temperature, oxygenation, salinity, currents), and checked the health of the flora and fauna, as well as mapping the debris. A list of recommendations was created, with priorities for each site, actions to avoid and those to promote.
In order to complete the funding request that was presented to the French Agency for Biodiversity last year, some ecological engineering work will be done in the next few weeks at he Etang de la Barrière, with the creation of channels to increase the flow of water at part of the site, as well as the clearing of the hydraulic connections between the Salines d’Orient and the Etang aux Poissons.
The total cost of this project (aerial photos, ecological study, clean-up and ecological engineering): 89,663 euros (80% AFB and 20% Conserva
Des élèves enthousiastes - Enthusiastic pupils © Christophe Joe
Des élèves enthousiastes - Enthusiastic pupils © Christophe Joe

Created in 2012 in the Marquises from the imagination of elementary school students, the concept of an “educative marine area” (AME) has been developed successfully across the French islands. In Saint Martin, three classes manage their marine area and were awarded the “educative marine area” label on June 4, 2018. This label, awarded by the French Agency for Biodiversity (AFB), recognizes the creation of an ecological project that invites students to think about the management and protection of natural marine heritage. These “junior rangers” become interested in a sector of their natural heritage and invest themselves in its protection and management. For example, a CM1 class at the Clair Saint-Maximim School alternates classroom study and field visits at Galion, under the watchful eye of their guide, Vincent Oliva, who is in charge of environmental education for the Réserve Naturelle. At the same time, two sixth grade classes at the Collège Mont des Accords have taken an interest in the littoral at Galisbay, with Amandine Vaslet, from the association “My School, My Whale.” The idea for all of these students is to define priorities for the protection of biodiversity at the site for which they are responsible, and apply their scholastic program to real-world examples, such as the replanting of the mangroves. The twinning of these classes is planned.

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