September 16th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

Our most exciting historical excursion in Sanary-sur-Mer was the Frédérick Dumas Museum, which featured diving and snorkeling equipment from the very beginnings of modern diving and snorkeling. As you can see from the photos, most of the equipment was handmade, including leather diving fins, wooden underwater camera housings and a depth meter made by a pipe. There was even a “Bends-o-Matic” decompression meter.

It was a fantastic voyage through the history of diving and snorkeling. Of course, there were many items in the museum that had been used by Cousteau, Dumas and other early innovators of undersea exploration.

September 16th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

For a quick diversion during our visit to Sanary-Sur-Mer, we took a voyage on the Nautilus, a handmade merry-go-round submarine. The merry-go-round operator explained that his family had been building merry-go-rounds by hand for generations, back to when they were powered by a real horse.

March 1st, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

There are few cases when manmade construction actually preserves habitat, but on occasion it does happen. On a recent visit to Fort Amsterdam, I had the pleasure of seeing brown pelicans building their nests on the nearby cliffs. Although it’s impossible to know for sure, it definitely seems likely that if there were no ruins of Fort Amsterdam, the area would have been developed for tourism and the pelicans wouldn’t be nesting there. A win-win for history and natural history on the island.

January 28th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

We attended the Nature Foundation’s Rockstars for Nature grand finale in January, presenting the Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of St. Martin, and several interactive wildlife games for the visitors to play. The games included a search for cryptic critters (Find the Animal), identifying animals from extreme close-ups (What is it? and Whose Eye Am I?) and several other games. The event was loads of fun and it was great see people having fun while learning about the wildlife of the island.

November 14th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Uncommon Caribbean is a site that’s dedicated to unusual and undiscovered Caribbean gems, and I recently had a guest post there about the ruins of La Belle Creole. Check it out to find out more about this unusual ruin. I’ve also heard that they’re building a new nightclub in the area, which may be the start of bigger changes, so anyone interested in the old Belle Creole might want to sneak in there fast.

Below are some photos of the area including ones that weren’t featured in the guest post. You can also check out this post about a previous visit.

October 10th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

My friend Valerie has been organizing some hikes along the coast of the island, with the goal of hiking the entire shoreline. The most recent hikes have been to Cay Bay and Little Bay/Fort Amsterdam.

At Cay Bay, we start with the unmistakable signs of “progress” in the form of new development in the previously “empty” area. They did create a few manmade ponds as part of the landscaping, where we saw a few birds, including a kingfisher. The rest of the walk along the rocky coastline towards Little Bay was much more enjoyable, particularly the colorful rock formations. Since I know little about geology, I guess it is about time to go visit Dr. Jay Haviser to get a little schooling on these things.

Little Bay and Fort Amsterdam made for an easy, but enjoyable little hike. I had never had a chance to visit the actual site of the Fort, of which relatively little remains. The two buildings seen in the photo were built well after the original fort, but the wall where the canons are is presumably older. The views from the peninsula were great, which is probably why they built the fort there. We were able to see St. Barths, St. Kitts, Statia and Saba.

August 25th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

When the rains come to St. Martin, overflow channels are opened up from the various ponds. In Grand Case, a fishing village back in the day, this turns into open season on tarpon and other fish that take the opportunity to head out to sea or into the airport pond. Below are a few shots of some folks who dug a channel through some accumulated sand and were fishing with a cast net. Most of the fish caught were tarpon, although there were a couple smaller species. Attracting some tourists, they encouraged folks to take photos while holding some of the fish.

In some ways, it was hard to know what to think. On the one hand, it was nice to see a traditional fishing practice that was probably about the same decades ago. Catching a few fish while it is seasonally opportune seems like a classic example of a sustainable practice. On the other hand, seeing and smelling the pollution in the water made me wonder about the practicality and safety of fishing this way today. This isn’t water I would even want to stand in.

Once again, it’s hard to spend a day on this island without thinking about development and the problems it has caused. Development can be positive, for sure, and there’s no going back to the salt picking days. However, when it isn’t done responsibly, you end up with a pond full of sewage. Much ill to the island has been justified in the name of jobs, but I think this is often misleading.

In reality, the state of the local environment and the well-being of everyday St. Martiners are highly linked. A clean island contributes to the health and quality of life of residents, while problems caused by pollution and environmental degradation disproportionately affect the poor and working class. The cost of responsible development is not necessarily a loss of jobs as much as decreased profits for investors. After all, implementing proper sewage systems and other environmental programs requires labor, and the destruction of the island reduces its value as a tourist destination. It’s impossible to turn back the clock on development, and I don’t think many people living here would choose to go back to the St. Martin of 50 or 100 years ago. I think it is possible to hope for a future where sustainable development can coexist with the natural environment and the cultural traditions that St. Martiners choose to maintain.

July 31st, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Victor Schoelcher was a French abolitionist who wrote the decree that abolished slavery in French colonies in 1948. His birthday (July 21st) is celebrated in the French West Indies, including Saint Martin. In Grand Case, the festivities included a sailboat race in Grand Case Bay, bands, dancers and singers in the parking lot near the cultural center and a fireworks display.

Schoelcher also attempted to abolish the death penalty in France and was an expert on the French Caribbean, writing on a variety of subjects.

July 22nd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

If there is one festival that is more unique and captivating than the annual Arrowroot Jollification, it is surely I Love my Ram Day. The 11th annual event was completed on July 10th after being rained out the previous weekend. It is a celebration of animal husbandry on the island, and the competition is broken out by breed – Creole, Nubian and Boer – as well as a special “young generation” category for young goats.

Although goats are certainly damaging to the local environment, this competition highlights how important they are to the local culture, providing a thread linking today’s Saint Martin to the agricultural roots of the island as it was before it developed a large tourism industry. On the one hand, it is nice to see some hillsides that have become significantly reforested over the last fifty years as the interest in livestock has waned, on the other hand, it would definitely be a shame to see that part of the island’s culture disappear entirely.

Anyhow, back to the show. Goats were paraded down the road into Colombier in various states of willingness. They were taken on stage and judged on their size, cleanliness and demeanor. Many points were lost by goats relieving themselves on stage. Goat stew and curry were eaten in large amounts. Everyone who attended the previous week was grateful for the sunshine. Goats won trophies. One goat won a cell phone. A local tradition was celebrated and a great time was had by all.

June 7th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

The 9th annual St. Martin Book Fair was last weekend, and we were lucky enough to have a table at some of the events for The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of Saint Martin. The book fair was very fun and it was wonderful to see all the people creating, promoting and enjoying St. Martin culture. Highlights included a speech and poetry reading by Nobel prize winner Derek Walcott and the launch of the new cookbook From Yvette’s Kitchen to Your Table. My personal favorite experiences from the book fair were having our table swarmed by kids who wanted to know all about the animals on the island and getting to know Yvette’s daughter Jewel as we finished up the last of the wine after everyone else left the closing ceremony.