SIMPSONBAY, Sint Maarten — On the 6th of September powerful category 5+ hurricane ‘Irma’ did not spare the underwater world with her large waves and strong underwater motion and surge. Scientific in-water Marine Research conducted the Nature Foundation including the Coral Nursery, Conch and Seagrass Research and the Acoustic Receivers are totally damaged or completely lost.
The Coral Nursery was part of a three year RESCQ project (Restoration of Ecosystem Services and Coral Reef Quality) funded by the European Union Best 2.0 Program in order to restore Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (A. cervicornis) coral reef zones by growing coral fragments in a nursery and transplanting corals at selected restoration sites. Nine coral ladders were located at the dive site ‘The Bridge’ filled with coral fragments. Out of the 255 fragments growing in the nursery only two little fragments have been found back. The strong currents and surge probably pushed the coral ladders down or tore them apart, leaving them covered under sand and sediment. More than one year of intensive research efforts has been totally lost.
Recently the Nature Foundation started a juvenile Queen Conch growth experiment on native and invasive seagrass beds in order to determine nutrition differences for conch growth. The project was a collaboration with Ecological Professionals, Wageningen University and the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute and funded by Statia Terminals, NuStar Energy L.P. and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ). Research structures, temperature and light loggers and tagged conch are destroyed and disappeared from the research locations at the Dry-dock and Barrel mooring in Simpson Bay. Large amounts of mainly invasive seagrass and many juvenile conch have been stripped off, disappeared or killed due to the hurricane.
Eight acoustic receivers were located in St Maarten waters in order to detect the movement pattern of sharks. For this study the Nature Foundation was collaborating with leading scientist Dr. Erwin Winter from Wageningen Marine Research and the Save our Sharks project funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Since the hurricane no acoustic receiver or its structures have been found back so far and all receivers are definitely lost.
Although the Nature Foundation has escaped large-scale damage to their infrastructure with the Office, Marine Park Patrol Vessel and Warehouse receiving minimal damage, the Research Projects are non-existent since the passing of Irma.
The Foundation is looking into major funding options in order to rebuild the marine research set-ups and restart reef and marine monitoring efforts. Especially the Coral Nursery is very much needed, as corals on the reef have been damaged and destroyed by direct and indirect impacts of the massive hurricane. Topper’s Restaurant has generously opened a Go Fund Me page in order to help the Nature Foundation rebuild their Coral Nursery; www.gofundme.com/rebuild-st-maartens-coral-nursery