March 21st, 2013 by Marc AuMarc

Another year, another Tacousteau. Our 2013 event was, as always, a feast for the body (tacos) and the imagination (screenings of Cousteau documentaries). Many thanks to all the Les Fruits de Mer members old and new who joined us for the event, and special thanks to Steph and Olivia for hosting it this year!

September 8th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Did I say manta ray? I meant EXTREME SHALLOW manta ray. Anyhow, I first saw it from our balcony, where it was circling (presumably feeding) in the shallow water just off the beach. A small crowd, mostly kids, had already been watching it for some time. Although the visibility was really bad, it was still amazing to snorkel with it, or just stand in the water and watch it cruise around. It didn’t seem bothered by us and would swim right up to us.

After maybe half-an-hour, I figured I might as well put my camera in its underwater housing and give it a shot. Unfortunately, the visibility was super bad, so mostly I ended up with photos of ghost manta ray. After another half-hour or so, it went out into the bay. If it’s the same manta that was seen near the Grand Case Beach Club a few weeks ago, though, perhaps it will be back.

Perhaps the best part was how excited everyone was to see it and pretty much everyone went out into the water check it out. One girl, who was probably about five years old, told me that she had lived in St. Martin her whole life and had never seen one, except in Finding Nemo.

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.

March 22nd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

When I posted about the Melocactus survey, I neglected to include this set of photos of an abandoned house in on Babit Point near the survey area. Although abandoned structures are not uncommon on either side of the island, this one seemed particularly lonely, and was in stark contrast with the abundant recent developments just across the bay on the Dutch side of Oyster Pond.

March 6th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Here are a few photos of our trip to Marigot yesterday to watch the regatta. Having taken a nap on the pier while everyone watched the boats come in, there are no photos of sailboats.

March 5th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Harmony Nights happen on Tuesdays in Grand Case for about twelve weeks during the high season. Last Tuesday came at the end of the French side carnaval, so the dancers had flower-themed outfits, which was the theme of this year’s carnaval. Each week there is a different marching band, bands playing on the street and various stalls selling various stuff. The Rhythm Boys were playing near the cultural center, and I particularly liked the bass box that the bassist was playing.

February 16th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

St. Martin is a small island with a rich historical and natural heritage. It is also experiencing great pressures from increasing population and tourist development that threaten the local environment and sites of historical interest. Below are ten organizations that are dedicated to the preservation of Saint Martin and the exploration of its natural and historical treasures.

EPIC (Environmental Protection in the Caribbean) is a non-profit dedicated to promoting conservation in the Caribbean, particularly Saint Martin, through research and community-based projects. Much of their work focuses on cleaning up the Simpson Bay lagoon, protecting and expanding mangrove wetlands and research on sea birds.

Sint Maarten Pride Foundation is a local organization dedicated to environmental awareness and conservation on Sint Maarten. Their work includes beach and pond clean-ups as well as work to preserve historical landmarks.

Nature Foundation St. Maarten is a non-profit that manages the Dutch side marine parks and also promotes conservation of wetlands and terrestrial habitats on the island.

St. Maarten National Heritage Foundation is a non-profit that operates the museum in Philipsburg, and promotes the study and preservation of local history, culture and nature.

Musee de Saint Martin is the museum in Marigot is dedicated to the preservation of Saint Martin heritage. The Association Archéologique Hope Estate is based there, as is Heritage magazine.

Réserve Naturelle de Saint-Martin manages the French side nature reserve, including the large marine reserve and land-based reserves on the French side. They also conduct a variety of research including sea turtle nesting surveys.

St. Martin Trails is a hiking association that goes on hikes every Sunday to various parts of the island, with quarterly trips to hike on nearby islands.

Youth Link Foundation organizes activities of social, cultural, environmental and educational value for youth on Sint Maarten.

Sint Maarten Archeological Center is a non-profit promoting science and archaeology amongst youth while preserving the archaeological heritage of the island.

And, of course, Les Fruits de Mer is the world’s first extreme shallow snorkeling team, dedicated to exploring the shallowest waters of the world and sharing their wonders.

Who did I miss in this post? Let me know!

February 11th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

The day after the cleanup at Fresh Pond, I met with volunteers to plant trees near Little Bay Pond. A joint effort by the St. Maarten Pride Foundation, the Nature Foundation and EPIC, the event was well-attended, including many students. Volunteers planted a variety of trees between the pond and the roadside, as well as a number of red mangroves at the water line. Stones were collected to mark the newly-planted trees, and trash was collected from the area. We even saw a really nice rainbow!

With all the activity, it was also a good chance to see a few creatures, particularly when picking up rocks. Although I had to skip my SXM Trails hike to attend the planting, it was well worth it.

February 10th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

I recently participated in a clean-up of Fresh Pond that was organized by the Sint Maarten Pride Foundation, EPIC and Youth Link. The clean-up area centered around a bird watching hut built by EPIC which is currently home to a squatter. The amount of trash in the area was staggering, but we were able to do quite a bit of cleaning in the area. The incoming public health minister came by with his staff and didn’t hesitate to get into the muck to get the trash picked up.

There were also lots of spiders, which are apparently quite common around the ponds of the area because of the abundance of midges.

January 5th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

And now, a break from our regular programing to share a little holiday culture from Grand Case. First, a few local buildings, including the Christmas house.

Next, the annual Christmas parade, including the Snow Princess and Johnny as Santa.

And, what holiday season would be complete without the traditional Caribbean pirate party?