When Hurricane Irma ploughed through the Caribbean at the beginning of September she left chaos and destruction in her wake, not just for islanders but also for nature.
The Dutch Elasmobranch Society, DCNA’s shark conservation partners in the Netherlands, is committed to supporting the Nature Foundation’s clean up efforts and want to raise €8.000.00 to restore Mullet Pond, an important shark nursery area and to replace lost acoustic receivers used to track tagged sharks.
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Irma, a category 5 hurricane which swept through the Caribbean at the beginning of September devastated the region. On St. Maarten alone, an estimated 95% of infrastructure was destroyed. Nature took a big hit as well both above and below water the effects can be seen everywhere. The storm dumped debris and pollutants in the ocean and currents and swells destroyed corals and mangroves and swept away research equipment vital to conducting research to protect the underwater life.
Restoring Mullet Pond mangroves
The first assessments post hurricane Irma by the local Save Our Sharks partner, the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation, found major devastations of the St. Maarten marine ecosystems. The findings included damaged coral reefs, uprooted seagrass beds and mangroves, and sunken boats leaking fuels adding to the high level of pollution from debris caused by the storm. Mullet Pond, a protected area containing 70% of the last remaining mangroves on St. Maarten, was found littered with large debris, sunken boats and even houseboats that were illegally anchored there for the storm. The largest part of the mangroves is severely damaged. Mangroves are important habitat for young sharks and other fish providing shelter until they are large enough to move to the open coral reef habitat.
Replacing scientific research set-ups
The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation spent the previous years conducting research on the status of shark populations around the island. They placed acoustic receivers allowing scientists to track tagged sharks and learning about their migration patterns and habitat use. This information is vital to improve policy and legislation for shark conservation. All the receivers recording the sharks’ movement can no longer be retrieved as they either washed away or buried deep under the ocean floor. This brings a halt to the current research and many valuable data will be lost if they cannot be replaced.
The costs for cleaning up Mullet Pond and purchasing new acoustic receivers is estimated to exceed €15.000,-. Save Our Sharks hopes to raise at least €8.000,- with a crowdfunding campaign. With this money, the cleanup of Mullet Pond and the marine ecosystem restoration efforts could commence.
Tadzio Bervoets, manager of the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation and Save Our Sharks project leader: “The humanitarian consequences of Irma are obvious. And its effects on land are very visible. The underwater damage, however, is not as clear to most. Restoring this environment is equally important. St. Maarten is known for its sharks and the associated dive tourism is an important source of income. With Save Our Sharks, we have had some great accomplishments and we really elevated the level of shark protection. It is a great shame that these efforts are now jeopardized. While everybody is working hard on land, we are working hard towards restoring the damages underwater and preparing the environment for better times. We can use all the help we can get.”