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 local conditions for nesting bird populations

To maintain or improve local conditions for nesting bird populations

To maintain or improve local conditions for nesting bird populations

Camille Sanchez
Camille Sanchez

A student at the Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, Camille Sanchez has been working with the Réserve Naturelle since February 18 and will remain through mid-August. At the age of 28, she decided to study “Man & Biosphere” (MAB) as part of her master’s program in biodiversity management. In the spirit of UNESCO’s MAB program, this training requires knowledge of interactions between human activities and ecological systems, for a more sustainable management of natural resources. Her mission in Saint Martin consists of studying the populations of shorebirds that feed on the salt ponds, adding a sociological take to this scientific study.

Èchasse d’Amérique Black-necked stilt © Julien Chalifour
Èchasse d’Amérique Black-necked stilt © Julien Chalifour

According to a study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, amateur bird watchers brought 36 billion dollars to the American economy in 2006, and 20% of Americans identify as bird watchers. At the same time, the Kuşcenneti National Park in Turkey— a Ramsar site like Saint Martin—attracts amateur bird watchers from around the world. Thus represents direct and indirect revenue of more than $1million per year. Guided visits have become a major activity, with no less than 127 businesses offering visits around the globe. Knowing that the avifauna counted on the ponds of Saint Martin comprises more than 85 species of birds, this abundance and this richness have naturally encouraged the Réserve Naturelle and the Conservatoire du Littoral to promote the conservation of these species and their habitats, by way of development adapted at for public access at each site. The idea, in the absence of a tourism strategy other beach-oriented in Saint Martin, is to propose the development of eco-tourism based on bird watching, for which Saint Martin has perhaps the best potential for all of the Caribbean. For this to develop, it is necessary in parallel to expand the protection of coastal zones by developing them for properly for human activities. In the post-Irma context, at which time everyone agrees it is necessary to rethink our model for the development of coastal areas in Saint Martin, other than for their heritage value, the increase of eco-tourism in Saint Martin could be the answer. The Réserve estimates that a budget of 1.6 million euros is needed for the renewal of the salt ponds.

The salt ponds of Saint Martin, an important buffer zone between the shore and the sea, are too often still thought of as unhealthy places. Their negative image, combined with development issues facilitating their destruction, is partially the reason for their disastrous evolution. The overall coastal zones in Saint Martin were impacted by the violence of the winds brought by hurricane Irma. The mangroves are practically destroyed, the vegetation along the shores disappeared, ripped up by the strong gusts. The impact on the biodiversity for marine and terrestrial fauna is difficult to quantify, but it is certain that the disappearance of these habitats and ecosystems will have a lasting impact in the short, middle, and long term on the global stock and production of animal and vegetable biodiversity. Actions taken for the renewal of the biodiversity for coastal zones will allow to minimize such impacts and to lessen the effect on the biodiversity in a general manner in the future.
Suzanne Gonnier
Suzanne Gonnier

Suzanne Gonnier, a 22 year-old student at the National Superior School for Landscape (ENSP), worked as an intern at the Réserve Naturelle in June and July 2018. A future landscape architect, she decided to come to the Réserve Naturelle to work with a leader in island management with the idea of starting her career in an environmentally protected area. Her task was to present a rehabilitation project for the Salines d’Orient, hit rather hard by Irma. The current thinking is to reconcile regeneration and conservation of the eco-systems with use by the public. Gonnier focused on the tidal reservoir, a favorite spot for nesting birds, and her recommendations comprise reconfiguring the canals in this area as well as stabilizing the banks with the planting of mangroves from the nursery created in collaboration with students from the middle school in French Quarter, as part of the Educative Marine Park program for Galion Bay. These improvements will help isolate the nesting and resting zones for the avifauna, which previously could be disturbed by terrestrial predators. These new gathering places could also allow for the development of activities such as bird watching. This work adds to the thought already given to the rehabilitation and management of this site, which is protected as part of the Réserve Naturelle Nationale with Ramsar and SPAW labels, for the richness of the eco-systems it houses.

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