On September 6th 2017, category 5 hurricane Irma passed over the Caribbean region with absolutely devastating effects. On St. Maarten alone, an estimated 95% of infrastructure was destroyed. And nature took a big hit as well. In addition to damages on land, the underwater environment was greatly affected by the currents and swells caused by the storm. Scientific research conducted in the Caribbean Sea, which is a critical aspect to protecting the underwater life, was also impacted. Shark conservation campaign Save Our Sharks focuses on the protection of sharks in the Dutch Caribbean and is therefore committed to raising funds on the crowdfunding platform 1%Club, which is needed to bring the shark conservation and scientific research efforts back to their previous status. The goal is to raise €8.000,- that can either contribute to restoring an important shark nursery area or replace lost acoustic receivers used to track tagged sharks. Save Our Sharks hopes to be able to address both issues.
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 stored for the storm, and most of the mangroves are severely damaged. Mangroves are important habitat for young sharks 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.”