Author: Mark Yokoyama

Fruits of the Land

Sea grapes have been a tasty treat for generations of St. Martiners.

The first foods on St. Martin were here long before the first people. Many different native fruits were already part of the landscape when the first people came. Before the first people, these fruits were food for native birds and other animals. We can thank the birds for eating these fruits and then spreading the seeds from island to island.

Sea grape and coco plum are often found near the sea, and still grow wild near many of our beaches. Guava and guavaberry do well in valleys with rich soil and plenty of water. Soursop and sugar apple were once found in almost every yard.

Today, some native fruits, like the water lemon, are rarely seen. The water lemon is a close relative of the passion fruit. Both plants are vines with beautiful flowers. The fruit of the water lemon is oval-shaped, and soft and fuzzy on the outside. Inside, the fruit looks like a passion fruit, with edible seeds in sweet, juicy pulp. Though delicious, they are not widely grown.

The water lemon is delicious, but not widely known.

Sea Grapes are still loved for their shade and beauty, but now much of their fruit goes uneaten. Over the years, many new, non-native fruits like mango, banana and kinnip became local favorites after they were brought to St. Martin from other parts of the world.

Other native fruits still have a strong place in local diet and culture. Guavaberry is a favorite flavor for rum, jam and tarts eaten at Christmas time. Soursop trees are still found beside many houses. Their fruit are enjoyed as juice, smoothies or sorbet and their leaves are used as a bush tea.

When we enjoy native fruits — especially from trees growing in the wild — we can imagine what it was like for the first people who arrived here. They’re a true taste of paradise and a rich part of our natural heritage.

What are your favorite local fruits? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Learn, Help and Share at Amuseum Naturalis on International Museum Day

Amuseum Naturalis is an all-volunteer museum, and you can join in on Saturday from 3-5pm.

International Museum Day is Saturday, May 18th, and all are invited to participate at Amuseum Naturalis. Visit the Amuseum 9am to noon for free to celebrate and learn about the island’s nature and heritage. Join in as a volunteer from 3-5pm to help make the Amuseum better. Come share your knowledge and talent, or just enjoy, at the free Cultural Happy Hour from 5-8pm.

“Have you been to a museum lately?” asks Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. She can think of two good reasons why you should go: “I think everyone can learn something new at Amuseum Naturalis, even people who know the island very well. We’re also a community museum. We record and share information from the community so this culture and heritage isn’t lost.”

Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum of nature and heritage located at The Old House in French Quarter. It features over two dozen exhibits covering many local topics, from animals to architecture and poetry to bush tea. The Amuseum has attracted over 5,000 guests since it opened at its current location in July 2018.

The Amuseum is created entirely by volunteers, and monthly volunteer days typically attract 25-50 people. Many of the volunteers enjoy the chance to make new friends while gardening, building or cleaning. The Amuseum has hosted several Cultural Happy Hours, featuring acoustic music, poetry readings and other performances. These events are a great chance to enjoy the grounds and gardens of The Old House, a place that feels very remote for busy St. Martin, especially on a full moon night.

Guests share songs around a campfire at one of the Amuseum’s previous Cultural Happy Hours. (Photo by Marc Petrelluzzi)

International Museum Day is celebrated by museums all over the world, on or around May 18th. The annual event’s goal is to raise awareness that “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” In 2018, more than 40,000 museums participated in the event, in some 158 countries.

“It’s really exciting to be part of International Museum Day,” said Amuseum co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “St. Martin has its own wildlife, culture, history and language. There is no big national museum here, but St. Martin needs and deserves museums as much as anywhere else in the world. On the plus side, anyone can help the museums we do have. Anyone can have a voice in how the story of St. Martin is being told.”

People can also take part in Museum Day activities at the St. Maarten Museum on Front Street in Philipsburg. It will be open from 9am to noon, and they will celebrate with the 2019 International Museum Day theme: Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition. There will be games for the children and informative presentations.

Amuseum Naturalis is open from 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday and admission is free. The Museum Day volunteering will be from 3-5pm on Saturday, May 18th and the free Cultural Happy Hour will follow from 5-8pm. The Amuseum is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. More information and a map is available at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

Beyond a Drought

It’s not your imagination, St. Martin is very dry right now.

Why is it so dry right now on St. Martin? The answer is pretty pretty complex, and a bit scary, too.

For starters, spring is the dry season. This time of year, the island is usually as dry as it gets. That’s why people go camping on Easter and why you should never schedule an outdoor event in November. Usually, November is the wettest month and things get drier until April. Starting in May, rain gradually increases through the fall.

But it also seems drier than usual, and it is. St. Martin was rated “severely dry” for the first part of 2019 and the forecast for the coming months is drier than usual. It isn’t necessarily unusual to have a dry year, this often comes in phases with bigger weather cycles like El Niño and La Niña.

Today’s dry weather isn’t just about rainfall. Higher temperatures are also making a difference. Higher temperatures increase evaporation, from the ground and from plants. Many plants adapted to the local climate lose their leaves to conserve water in dry times. Plants less suited to the climate may just die. Either way, St. Martin looks quite brown and barren.

Dry pond bed exposed at Chevrise Pond.

There are reasons to believe that things are getting drier around here. New studies found that the Caribbean drought of 2013-2016 was the worst on record. Climate models also predict less rainfall in the northeast Caribbean in the future.

Things could be worse. Although they are still used, the island no longer depends on cisterns and wells for water. Agriculture is also a tiny part of the economy now. This is in part because so many livestock died in the droughts of 1974-77 and 1986-87. With a tourism economy and a desalination plant, drought may be an eyesore and a fire risk, but it isn’t a threat to survival.

At least, not completely. For wildlife and native vegetation, a shift to a drier climate may become deadly. Especially when wild spaces are already pushed to the limit. A dry future may also spell doom for cultural traditions connected to plants and livestock.

Do you remember a drought from back in the day and how St. Martiners dealt with it? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

New Signs and New Stories at Amuseum Naturalis

Signs that highlight farming history are mounted on planters.

In the last few months, Amuseum Naturalis has added over 60 educational signs and panels. The new signs tell a wide variety of stories about the island’s nature and heritage. The bilingual signage was created and installed by the Les Fruits de Mer association, with funding from France’s Fonds pour le Développement de la Vie Associative.

“Amuseum Naturalis has been telling St. Martin’s most fascinating nature stories since we started,” explained co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “By tripling the number of displays, we’re able to dig deeper into nature and explore many other areas. You can learn about the animals that live only on St. Martin, but also about the roots of traditional agriculture and how St. Martiners designed their buildings to beat the tropical heat.”

The signage includes panels for an exhibit featuring the poetry of acclaimed St. Martin author Lasana M. Sekou.

Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum located at The Old House in French Quarter. It has been open less than a year, but has already attracted over 5,000 visitors. Over 2,000 students have visited the Amuseum with school classes or youth groups. The Amuseum is created and operated entirely by volunteers.

“We’re thrilled to showcase more facets of local heritage,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Many kids who come to the Amuseum don’t know about the African roots of Caribbean bush medicine, the history behind St. Martin’s stone walls or why the flamboyant tree is so important on the island. The additional exhibits and our great volunteers help local youth connect with their heritage.”

The new displays are located all around the Amuseum grounds.

With the latest signage in place, the Amuseum is already looking towards the future. The association is currently developing signage to highlight the lives and works of St. Martiners with their Citizens of Change project, funded by the Be the Change Foundation. They also welcome topic suggestions from the community and are eager to work with local experts to develop displays on new topics.

Smaller signs tell the stories of individual plant species.

People interested in volunteering opportunities at the Amuseum can contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com. Amuseum Naturalis is open from 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday, and admission is free. It is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. More information is available at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

Rice and Peas

The combination of rice and peas or beans is loved all over the Caribbean and has many variations. What are the roots of rice and peas on St. Martin, and why is this dish so popular?

In St. Martin and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean, the Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan) is typically used in this dish. It was brought to the Caribbean from Africa, and grows well in our climate. It can survive the dry season and produces lots of food with little care. They are still grown in backyards all over the island.

Rice also has a long history in the Caribbean. African Rice (Oryza glaberrima) was domesticated in Africa and was brought to the Caribbean by enslaved Africans. But it was not widely grown on St. Martin or nearby small islands. Here, available land and labor were focused on sugarcane, and rice was imported from Africa. Rice was one of few dry provisions able to survive the trip across the Atlantic.

Rice and peas from Yvette’s Restaurant in French Quarter.

During the 20th century, rice consumption in the region tripled. Perhaps this is because fewer people grew traditional ground provisions like cassava and sweet potatoes. Immigration to St. Martin brought new recipes featuring red beans, black beans and black eyed peas. Yet on this multicultural island, rice and peas is a traditional recipe that still satisfies.

What’s your recipe for rice and peas? What other dishes are most important to the culinary cultural heritage of St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Dream Team of Volunteers Shares Local Heritage at Endemic Animal Festival

A fantastic team of 45 volunteers hosted the festival.

A great team of 45 volunteers came together on Sunday to host the Endemic Animal Festival. The event is a showcase for the animals that live only on St. Martin. This year, the festival used the theme Survivors to celebrate many different aspects of local heritage and culture.

“In six years of hosting this event, this was our most amazing team of volunteers yet,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “People of all ages and backgrounds worked together to share the things that make this island so special. Thanks to this team, we were able to offer more fun activities and interact more with the kids and families that came out to the festival.”

Guests get up close with animals that live only on St. Martin.

The Endemic Animal Discovery Station has been a feature of the event since the beginning. Guests learn about the critters that live here and nowhere else, and why St. Martin’s nature is so special and unique. Art and craft activities are also a mainstay of the event. This year, guests enjoyed painting bird feeders made from upcycled plastic bottles.

Plastic water bottles were transformed into colorful bird feeders.
BirdSleuth Caribbean activities combined fun and learning.

Many exhibits and activities used the Suvivors theme to share other parts of local heritage. At the Story Survival station, guests recorded oral histories about life on St. Martin. A special exhibit of poems, from the recent Lasana M. Sekou book Hurricane Protocol, explored trauma, loss and survival. At the Plantilles Station, guests received seedlings of native trees that can boost survival of native animals. They also took home plants used in bush medicine, which is the island’s oldest healing tradition.

Guests took home native trees and other plants.

“The festival weaves local nature and culture together in new ways each year,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “This island is beautiful and fascinating. It is a joy to share that wonder with young St. Martiners. It’s also a chance for us to learn new things from the guests who come. Listening, recording and sharing are all part of the magic.”

The Hurricane Protocol exhibit gave guests a new way to read and hear the poems of Lasana M. Sekou.

The Endemic Animal Festival was created by the Les Fruits de Mer association. This year’s event was held at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter. The Hurricane Protocol and 5,000 Years of Eco exhibits are still on display during museum hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to noon. The 2019 festival was made possible by the support of Gold Sponsor Delta Petroleum and sponsors 97150, BirdsCaribbean, Buzz, IZI Light, L’Auberge Gourmande, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, L’Esperance Hotel, St. Martin’s Sweetness and Tri-Sport.

Survivors

Nature on St. Martin is precious. It’s precious because it’s unique. It’s precious because it lives on through drought and hurricane. It’s precious because it protects us from floods and landslides. It’s precious because it is the natural heritage of everyone on the island. It’s precious because there isn’t so much of it left. It’s precious because it still holds treasures yet to be discovered.

Nothing represents this better than the animals that live only on St. Martin. These species are true St. Martiners, and true survivors. They arrived on the island by chance in the distant past, and they made this island their home.

This lizard’s ancestors crossed a sea.

Each one of these species has a different story, and all of them are lost to time. The ancestors of our Bearded Anole likely arrived on St. Martin before modern humans even existed. Perhaps they held tightly to the limbs of a giant tree that was torn from the ground and washed to sea by a hurricane. They were storm survivors.

Carried by the currents, they crossed the sea, from their home island to ours. They were lucky enough to arrive on St. Martin before dying of hunger or thirst. They were seafaring survivors.

Suddenly, they were in a new place. The landscape was not the same as their old home. The forest was not the same. The insects they eat were not the same. The lizards they compete with for food were not the same. The birds that eat them were not the same. Most of these things were similar, but the Bearded Anole ancestors had spent millions of years becoming perfect for their old home. Here, everything was different.

Like other local species, the Bearded Anole had to adapt to survive dry times.

What’s a lizard to do in a situation like this? Adapt. Or perish. The ancestors of the Bearded Anole adapted and they survived. They transformed into something new. They become something unique in all the world. They perfected themselves for this place. They were St. Martin survivors.

The story of these amazing animals should be known. Because they are amazing. Because they should be protected. Because they are a metaphor for everyone and everything that has adapted to St. Martin rather than trying to change St. Martin. Because they are unique in all the world and they are St. Martin’s.

Today this lizard must adapt itself to the ways humans are changing the island.

You can discover the Bearded Anole and other animals found only on St. Martin at the Endemic Animal Festival. The free festival is Sunday, April 28th from 9am-noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House on the hill above Galion beach in French Quarter. There will be fun activities and fascinating exhibits about these special animals and much more. For more information visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com or find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook.

Free Festival Celebrates Local Animals and More This Sunday

Guests can decorate and bring home a bird feeder.

The Les Fruits de Mer association welcomes everyone to the 6th annual Endemic Animal Festival this Sunday, April 28th from 9am to noon. The free festival will be held at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter. The event celebrates the animals that live only on St. Martin, with special exhibits and fun activities.

The Spotted Woodslave is one of the animals found only on St. Martin.

“Our theme this year is Survivors,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “Our endemic animals are the ultimate survivors. By adapting to survive on St. Martin, they became unique species that are found nowhere else on earth.”

The free Endemic Animal Festival is this Sunday, April 28th from 9am-noon at Amuseum Naturalis.

The festival’s Endemic Animal Discovery Station will feature many of the special critters that live only on St. Martin. They are a key part of the heritage of the island. If they were lost here, they would disappear from the world. Kids and adults can also learn about birds that live only in our region with fun games and activities from the BirdSleuth Caribbean program.

BirdSleuth Caribbean activities are a fun way to learn about birds on St. Martin.

The festival will also use the theme Survivors to explore local heritage in other ways. A special exhibit of poems from the new book Hurricane Protocol by renowned writer Lasana M. Sekou tells stories of survival in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Visitors will get a preview of Soualibra, a new research library that collects and shares knowledge about St. Martin. A special exhibit will highlight 5,000 years of eco-friendly traditions on St. Martin.

Les Fruits de Mer volunteers have been busy growing native trees and other plants to give away at the event.

“At this festival, guests can help St. Martin’s survival,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “You can decorate a bird feeder made from a re-used plastic bottle, and take it home to feed birds in your backyard. You can also take home free seedlings of native trees and other plants. You’ll learn about some of the threats we all face here, but also take steps to make the island stronger.”

The Endemic Animal Festival is great for all ages, especially kids. Festival guests will also be able to enjoy all the regular exhibits at Amuseum Naturalis, which is located on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. The 2019 festival is completely free thanks to the generous support of Gold Sponsor Delta Petroleum and sponsors 97150, BirdsCaribbean, Buzz, IZI Light, L’Auberge Gourmande, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, L’Esperance Hotel, St. Martin’s Sweetness and Tri-Sport.

Thank You 2019 EAF Sponsors!

Sponsorship is what makes the Endemic Animal Festival possible. We are able to create and share great exhibits and activities with the public for free, thanks to the local businesses that contribute to this event. We hope you support them!

2019 Gold Sponsor

Delta Petroleum
Founded in 1985, Delta serves the Caribbean with superior performance diesel, gasoline and LPG meeting U.S. and European standards. Delta is a proud and growing member of the communities from the Virgin Islands to Martinique. Delta Petroleum has sponsored Les Fruits de Mer events since 2013.
http://deltapetroleum.com


2019 Sponsors

97150
97150 is St. Martin’s most popular bi-weekly newspaper in French. Get all the latest news, find out about upcoming events and much more! Available for free every Tuesday and Friday all over the island and online, too!
97150


BirdsCaribbean
BirdsCaribbean is a vibrant international network of members and partners committed to conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats. They raise awareness, promote sound science, and empower local partners to build a region where people appreciate, conserve and benefit from thriving bird populations and ecosystems. They are a non-profit (501 (c) 3) membership organization. More than 100,000 people participate in their programmes each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region.
http://www.birdscaribbean.org


Buzz
If you need the latest in tech and electronics, head to Buzz. You’ll find computers, phones, entertainment, cameras and more. They are an official Apple reseller and they have two convenient locations: Buzz in Hope Estate and the Ti Buzz boutique in Howell Center.
https://buzzsxm.fr


IZI Light
Do you need to brighten your home or business for security or convenience? IZI Light offers innovative solar lighting solutions from streetlights to landscape lighting. Solar lighting is easily installed with no wiring needed, and a variety of long-lasting LED lights are available.
IZI Light


L’Auberge Gourmande
Auberge Gourmande, in the center of restaurant row in Grand Case, serves fine French cuisine in an intimate dining room in one of the oldest Créole houses on the island. Lovingly remodeled in subtle browns and yellows, the wood and stone of the old house harken back to a time of slower pleasures. Enjoy an evening on their terrace or step inside to find your favorite alcove.
L’Auberge Gourmande


LagooniesLagoonies Bistro and Bar
Lagoonies Bistro and Bar serves food that is crazy good for breakfast, lunch and dinner and hosts some of the hottest live music on the island several nights a week. Located at Lagoon Marina in Cole Bay, they are easily accessible by land or sea.
Lagoonies Bistro and Bar


L’Esperance Hotel
Conveniently located in Cay Hill with easy access to both Philipsburg and Simpson Bay, L’Esperance Hotel features 22 spacious and luxurious one and two bedroom suites appointed in tropical rattan. Features include our beautiful pool with a sun deck, air-conditioning, cable TV, direct dial telephones, in-room safes, full kitchens, private balconies, and free Wifi.
http://www.lesperancehotel.com


St. Martin’s Sweetness
St. Martin’s Sweetness is a home grown company on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten that produces and sells high-end baked traditional St. Martin pastries, juices, confectioneries, foods and goods to retail and wholesale customers. We sell premade as well as made-to-order products using local and Caribbean ingredients. St. Martin’s Sweetness makes every day sweet with products ranging from coconut tarts and sugar cakes to tamarind juices and stewed gooseberry jam.


Tri-Sport-Logo-webTri-Sport
Tri-Sport is the go-to shop for the active community of St. Maarten/St. Martin and the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Saba, Statia, and St. Barths. They run ecologically-friendly tours that get people out and moving – kayaking, bicycling, hiking, boogie boarding, and snorkeling. Tri-Sport’s retail shops carry all the necessities for triathlons with an emphasis on bicycles.
http://trisportsxm.com

Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival Takes Aim at Plastic Pollution

Save birds by fighting plastic pollution in the Caribbean.

Every spring, groups on islands all over the Caribbean celebrate the birds that live only in the region. These events are all part of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, organized by BirdsCaribbean. This year, the theme of the festival is Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution.

“Plastic pollution is a global problem, and it hurts the Caribbean in many ways,” explained festival coordinator Sheylda Diaz Mendez. “Our islands are home to over 170 birds found nowhere else in the world. They depend on clean wild spaces to live.”

On St. Martin, the Les Fruits de Mer association hosts the Endemic Animal Festival on Sunday, April 28th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis. The free festival will feature the animals that live only on St. Martin. Other parts of local nature and heritage will also be explored using the theme Survivors.

Learn to love the amazing animals that live only on St. Martin.

“The animals and plants that live only on St. Martin are survivors,” explained Les Fruits de Mer president Jenn Yerkes. “The people that lived here throughout history and prehistory are survivors, too. And for us to survive in the future, we need to take care of our island and our planet. Plastic pollution is one of the big problems we need to solve.”

Endemic Animal Festival guests can decorate a bird feeder made out of a plastic water bottle. They can also see how 5,000 years of recycling traditions on St. Martin might hold the key to a more eco-friendly future. The free event also includes fun bird activities, a poetry exhibit and much more.

St. Martin’s Endemic Animal Festival will be April 28th from 9am-noon at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter.

Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival events are held between Earth Day on April 22nd and International Biodiversity Day on May 22nd. The Endemic Animal Festival on St. Martin is Sunday, April 28th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis. To learn more about this free event, visit lesfruitsdemer.com or find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook.

Caribbean Cool

Traditional Caribbean houses were designed to stay cool in the tropical heat. There was no air conditioning, so builders used wind, shade and stone to make houses cool. The location of a home, the direction it faced and what was built around it could all make a difference. There were also many design elements that kept houses cool and you can see them right here.

A thick foundation can absorb heat and cool the home.

The Old House was built with a massive stone foundation, this keeps the floor dry and protected in storms or floods. It also keeps the house cool. The foundation acts as a thermal mass, absorbing the heat from the house.

High ceilings give hot air space to rise, leaving it cooler below. Openings between rooms allow air to flow all around the house in any direction. The kitchen was not part of the house, so the heat from cooking fires was not near the living space.

High ceilings and openings between rooms help hot air escape.

The Old House is designed with windows and doors across from each other, so wind can blow through the house. This design can have ten times the air flow compared to a window on only one side. The windows are at human height so people can enjoy the cooling breeze.

Windows were made with louvers—slats of wood that can be tilted. These allowed air to pass, while still providing shade. Residents could change the angle of the louvers to direct the incoming breeze where they wanted it.

Louvers let wind pass through while providing shade.

Many of these heat beating strategies were developed over time, right here in the Caribbean. Today we see these features as part of the unique style of Caribbean architecture. But many of these design decisions were made for very specific reasons.

Over time, we have developed new building materials and techniques. We also have electric fans and air conditioning. But relearning some old school Caribbean design tricks can still help us today. Modern designers are looking at how we can use these methods to keep homes comfy while using less energy. Perhaps the Caribbean home of the future will start to look a bit like the homes of the past.

What parts of your home design help keep it cool? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Amuseum Naturalis to Launch Research Library and Poetry Exhibit

The Hurricane Protocol exhibit will launch at the Endemic Animal Festival.

The Les Fruits de Mer association will be showcasing two new projects at Amuseum Naturalis this month. One is Soualibra, a free research library focused on St. Martin. The other is an exhibit of poems from Hurricane Protocol, the latest book by acclaimed St. Martin author Lasana M. Sekou.

“We’re excited to launch two projects related to the written word and St. Martin,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “The Hurricane Protocol exhibit will be a new way to experience the work of this renowned St. Martin poet.”

The poems in Hurricane Protocol were written during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. They explore the impact of the destruction on individuals, families and communities. Selections will be presented in a large format outdoor installation, the first museum exhibit for Sekou and the first poetry exhibit at Amuseum Naturalis.

Soualibra is a free research library focused on St. Martin.

Soualibra is a research library collecting books and other materials from and about St. Martin. The library catalog, including links to digital resources, is at http://soualibra.com. The physical library is at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter. It contains over 100 books about nature, history, culture and literature. Soualibra’s wishlist contains many more. Susanne van Mierlo is Soualibra’s head librarian.

“When the libraries on the island closed after Hurricane Irma, it was a wake-up call,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “We can’t offer the range of services of a public library, but a resource focused just on St. Martin that is open to the public is something we think will have lasting value. Only a tiny fraction of this information is available online.”

Susanne van Mierlo is Soualibra’s head librarian.

The launch of the Hurricane Protocol exhibit and a special preview of Soualibra will take place at the Endemic Animal Festival at Amuseum Naturalis. The festival is a free public event for all ages that celebrates the unique wildlife and natural heritage of St. Martin. The 2019 event will take place at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter on Sunday, April 28th from 9am to noon. This year’s event is made possible by Gold Sponsor Delta Petroleum and sponsors 97150, BirdsCaribbean, Buzz, IZI Light, L’Auberge Gourmande, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, L’Esperance Hotel, St. Martin’s Sweetness and Tri-Sport.

5,000 Years of Eco

Glass bottles were often reused, this demijohn was protected by wicker basketwork.

The idea of being eco-friendly is spreading on St. Martin. We can see images from around the world of birds, sea turtles, and even whales that died after eating plastics. We find litter on our own beaches, and the eternal fire of the Philipsburg dump is a constant reminder that we are making more waste than we can handle.

Progress seems slow at times. Recycling on a small island is a little harder, because those materials usually have to go somewhere else to be recycled. It also takes time to build awareness. Promotion of recycling and other eco practices took decades to become established in Europe and North America.

On the other hand, St. Martin has a deep history of reusing and recycling. In fact, it stretches all the way back to prehistory. Visit an archaeological site and you can see the evidence. Conch shells were made into a variety of tools: axes, scrapers, awls and more. This may be first example of reusing a “single-use food container” on St. Martin.

A conch shell tool made by Amerindians on St. Martin.

During the colonial era, St. Martin was a remote outpost. Goods arrived slowly by boat and nothing went to waste. Metalwork was done by hand-powered forge so St. Martiners could make their own nails and horseshoes. Old or broken items could be melted down to make new things.

A forge blower for backyard metalworking.

In the early 20th century, there were few jobs on the island. Some St. Martiners living today remember wearing dresses made from cloth flour sacks. In an interview, Delphine David explained that her mother “used to take the flour bag, wash it good, put it in the sun and let the sun draw out the marks…she would take that bag and measure us and crochet right around, tie our waist with a string and that would be our outfit.”

There was recycling in the kitchen, with graters made by hammering holes in a tin can. On the docks even today you can see fish scalers made from bottle caps nailed into a wooden handle. Perhaps the most elegant examples of Caribbean recycling is the steel pan drum. It transforms waste into art.

A new handle extends the life of this rake.

Waste on St. Martin is a modern problem, and will require many solutions. We need to generate less trash and adopt alternatives to plastic. We need to process our waste better. In some ways these are new skills and habits. Some of the ideas and expertise may come from outside. But when it comes to reusing and recycling, there are deep traditions on St. Martin that we can tap into. This creativity and ingenuity is a part of local culture we can all celebrate and embrace.

What is your favorite historical or recent example of reusing or recycling on St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Metal hinges often outlasted wooden shutters and were reused.
This old hinge, along with a wire, was used to ground an electrical line.

Thank You Endemic Animal Festival Sponsors!

We are incredibly lucky to have the support of some great local businesses. Their contributions allow us to do amazing things and keep the Endemic Animal Festival free so everyone can enjoy it!

2019 Gold Sponsor

Delta Petroleum
Founded in 1985, Delta serves the Caribbean with superior performance diesel, gasoline and LPG meeting U.S. and European standards. Delta is a proud and growing member of the communities from the Virgin Islands to Martinique. Delta Petroleum has sponsored Les Fruits de Mer events since 2013.
http://deltapetroleum.com


2019 Sponsors

97150
97150 is St. Martin’s most popular bi-weekly newspaper in French. Get all the latest news, find out about upcoming events and much more! Available for free every Tuesday and Friday all over the island and online, too!
97150


BirdsCaribbean
BirdsCaribbean is a vibrant international network of members and partners committed to conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats. They raise awareness, promote sound science, and empower local partners to build a region where people appreciate, conserve and benefit from thriving bird populations and ecosystems. They are a non-profit (501 (c) 3) membership organization. More than 100,000 people participate in their programmes each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region.
http://www.birdscaribbean.org


Buzz
If you need the latest in tech and electronics, head to Buzz. You’ll find computers, phones, entertainment, cameras and more. They are an official Apple reseller and they have two convenient locations: Buzz in Hope Estate and the Ti Buzz boutique in Howell Center.
https://buzzsxm.fr


IZI Light
Do you need to brighten your home or business for security or convenience? IZI Light offers innovative solar lighting solutions from streetlights to landscape lighting. Solar lighting is easily installed with no wiring needed, and a variety of long-lasting LED lights are available.
IZI Light


L’Auberge Gourmande
Auberge Gourmande, in the center of restaurant row in Grand Case, serves fine French cuisine in an intimate dining room in one of the oldest Créole houses on the island. Lovingly remodeled in subtle browns and yellows, the wood and stone of the old house harken back to a time of slower pleasures. Enjoy an evening on their terrace or step inside to find your favorite alcove.
L’Auberge Gourmande


LagooniesLagoonies Bistro and Bar
Lagoonies Bistro and Bar serves food that is crazy good for breakfast, lunch and dinner and hosts some of the hottest live music on the island several nights a week. Located at Lagoon Marina in Cole Bay, they are easily accessible by land or sea.
Lagoonies Bistro and Bar


L’Esperance Hotel
Conveniently located in Cay Hill with easy access to both Philipsburg and Simpson Bay, L’Esperance Hotel features 22 spacious and luxurious one and two bedroom suites appointed in tropical rattan. Features include our beautiful pool with a sun deck, air-conditioning, cable TV, direct dial telephones, in-room safes, full kitchens, private balconies, and free Wifi.
http://www.lesperancehotel.com


St. Martin’s Sweetness
St. Martin’s Sweetness is a home grown company on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten that produces and sells high-end baked traditional St. Martin pastries, juices, confectioneries, foods and goods to retail and wholesale customers. We sell premade as well as made-to-order products using local and Caribbean ingredients. St. Martin’s Sweetness makes every day sweet with products ranging from coconut tarts and sugar cakes to tamarind juices and stewed gooseberry jam.


Tri-Sport-Logo-webTri-Sport
Tri-Sport is the go-to shop for the active community of St. Maarten/St. Martin and the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Saba, Statia, and St. Barths. They run ecologically-friendly tours that get people out and moving – kayaking, bicycling, hiking, boogie boarding, and snorkeling. Tri-Sport’s retail shops carry all the necessities for triathlons with an emphasis on bicycles.
http://trisportsxm.com


Endemic Animal Festival Gets Big Boost from Delta Petroleum

The Les Fruits de Mer association is hard at work on the annual Endemic Animal Festival, coming up on Sunday, April 28th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis. This year’s theme is Survivors. The festival will feature more activities and special exhibits than ever, but it will still be free to the public thanks to a Gold Sponsorship from Delta Petroleum and sponsorships from nine other local business.

“The Endemic Animal Festival celebrates the animals that live only on St. Martin,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “These species are true survivors who have adapted to this island. We’ll also explore survival in other ways: how plants survive drought, how people survived on St. Martin in the past and how we all can help St. Martin survive in the future.”

The festival will feature native plant giveways, a bottle recycling art activity, and fun games about local birds. Special exhibits will include an outdoor poetry installation and a display highlighting 5,000 years of reusing and recycling on St. Martin. There will also be a station where guests can see some of the amazing animals that live only here.

This year’s festivities are bigger than ever, but it won’t cost a penny to enjoy them. Long-time sponsor Delta Petroleum became a Gold Sponsor this year so everyone can attend. Sponsorship funds will keep the festival free and also provide buses to the event for youth groups.

“We love supporting our community through this festival,” said Delta Petroleum General Manager Christian Papaliolios. “Local nature and heritage are things that everyone on the island should have a chance to learn about and treasure. You can’t put a price on them.”

Les Fruits de Mer’s annual Endemic Animal Festival is a free public event for all ages that celebrates the unique wildlife and natural heritage of St. Martin. The 2019 event will take place at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter on Sunday, April 28th from 9am to noon. This year’s event is made possible by Gold Sponsor Delta Petroleum and sponsors 97150, BirdsCaribbean, Buzz, IZI Light, L’Auberge Gourmande, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, L’Esperance Hotel and Tri-Sport.

Delta Petroleum is the Gold Sponsor of the 2019 Endemic Animal Festival.

The Skinks of Tintamarre

Skinks are small, shiny lizards. With their sleek bodies and small legs they look like they want to be snakes, and maybe could be in a million years or so. For most of history, the skinks of the eastern Caribbean were all lumped into one species.

Herpetologists—scientists who study reptiles and amphibians—knew that these skinks were probably different from island to island. Even in 1862, the famous scientist E.D. Cope mentioned that American skinks were “in a state of some confusion.” But it took 150 years for someone to take a closer look. In 2012, a groundbreaking paper by Blair Hedges and Caitlin Conn described 24 new skink species from Caribbean islands.

The St. Martin Skink, Spondylurus martinae, was one of these new species. It was described from museum specimens, including ones collected by Dr. Hendrik van Rijgersma in the 1860s. Sadly, it had not been seen for a long time. The mongoose in was introduced 1888 and may have eaten them to extinction.

A few years ago, skinks were seen on Tintamarre, living in the stone walls left over from D.C. van Romondt’s farming days there in the early 20th century. Were they St. Martin Skinks? Could they be the last survivors of a species that was wiped out on St. Martin?

Stone walls, the final refuge of the skinks of Tintamarre.

In fact, further research revealed that they were actually a very similar species, the Anguilla Bank Skink, Spondylurus powelli. This is the species that also lives on Anguilla and St. Barts. This wasn’t a complete surprise. Tintamarre is closest to St. Martin, but the ground lizards there are the variety found on Anguilla and St. Barts, not the variety on St. Martin.

Discoveries like this show that the evolutionary history on St. Martin is very complicated. We share many species with Anguilla and St. Barts because our islands were connected during the last ice age. Yet there are also species found only on St. Martin. Finding out why could tell us more about how evolution works in general.

So close, yet so far! St. Martin seen from Tintamarre.

And what about our St. Martin Skinks? It seems that the last specimen was collected in Little Bay around 1963. Perhaps they have died out since then. Perhaps, like on Tintamarre, a few have survived unseen. Keep your eyes open for them!

Have you ever seen a skink on St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Learn more about the skinks of Tintamarre at Caribbean Herpetology.

Les Fruits de Mer Design World’s First Octomaran for Marine Research

An interior schematic of the octomaran Calamari.

Move over, boring old catamarans—make way for the octomaran! The Les Fruits de Mer association is finalizing its design for the world’s first eight-hull sailing ship. The ship, to be named the Calamari, will serve as a traveling laboratory for ocean research.

“How much more stable is the octomaran compared to a single-hull ship? Obviously, eight times more stable,” explained conceptual designer Mark Yokoyama. “There are also significant safety benefits. The Calamari will be partially unsinkable. Our computer modeling shows at least one hull remains afloat in every possible scenario. In a real-world disaster, a substantial portion of the passengers are likely to survive.”

The Calamari is the first octomaran ever designed. Each hull will have its own sleeping quarters, laboratory space and kitchen. The research team will be able to conduct up to eight experiments at the same time. They will also be able to cook up to eight different kinds of food simultaneously.

A maritime artist’s rendering of the Calamari at sea.

“The Calamari will be a platform for conducting research that has never been attempted,” declared Les Fruits de Mer expedition chief Jenn Yerkes. “We’ll also be able to feed a crew with any combination of dietary restrictions and food allergies imaginable. It will truly be a new age of exploration.”

Its groundbreaking design will give the Calamari eight times the typical buoyancy, making it suitable for extremely shallow areas as well as the profound depths of the big blue. “We’ll be able to deploy teams of extreme shallow snorkelers as easily as deep-sea divers. We’re thrilled to develop this truly unique craft to discover and share the natural heritage of St. Martin’s seas!”

Once the design is finalized, construction will begin at shipyards in Halifax, Newark, Sheffield, Mumbai, Nagasaki, St. Petersburg, Stroobos and Saint-Nazaire. The components will be assembled on St. Martin.

In addition to the Calamari, the association has already created initial designs for a nine-hull octomaran to be called the Octoplus.

Vanishing Stories

Here we are, in the age of the internet. The world’s knowledge is just a click away, in theory. But where are the stories of St. Martiners?

St. Martin is a people as much as it is a place. This island was home to people who created and preserved its culture, who helped their community every day and built the foundations of what is here today. These people were known and loved by all.

Many great St. Martiners live on in the memories of friends and family. They are remembered in the stories that are told about them. But how long will those stories survive?

Thankfully, the lives and achievements of some St. Martiners have been recorded in books and newspaper articles. But this information is not necessarily easy for all to access. When St. Martin students go online to research the history of their home, will they find cultural icons from the past? Will they learn their stories? Will they see their faces?

There are many people to celebrate: Juliette Mingau, Gaston Boasman, Laurelle “Yaya” Richards, Calypso Barbara, Cees van Dolderen, Yvette Hyman, José Lake, Sr, Inez Eliza Baly-Lewis, Cynric Griffith, Melford Hazel, Roland Bryson, Emilio Wilson, Neville Chester York and the list goes on. Some of these names may be familiar to most. Others may be icons in just part of the island. But few have a proper biography that records their life and works.

St. Martin is proud of its people. There are statues of St. Martiners all over the island. Streets and buildings are named after St. Martiners. But far too often, the stories of these people are out of reach. As time moves on, their stories are vanishing bit by bit from local memory. As photo albums are lost or destroyed, their faces disappear, too.

Do you know the story of a great St. Martiner? Do you have photos of local icons who have passed? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A Tree of Many Uses

A calabash tree stands between to homes in a vintage Caribbean photo.

The calabash tree has many uses, and is much loved in the Caribbean. We see them near homes in grainy old black and white photos. You can spot them on the roadside today, a tangle of green branches like leaf-covered whips.

The fruit of the calabash has a hard skin that makes a sturdy and lightweight bowl or cup when it is dried. They were also used as vessels to carry water. Throw some hard seeds inside and you can make them into musical shakers. Designs carved into the wet skin of a fresh fruit are preserved in the dried shell, and many calabash objects feature intricate designs.

The calabash flower is pollinated by bats.

The pulp of the fruit is not particularly appetizing, but in some places foods or drinks are made with very young fruit, pulp or seeds. In Curacao, the seeds are used to make a candy called carabobo. Preparations of the fruit are also used as remedies for cough, asthma and other conditions.

Although the calabash tree is not very tall or straight, the hard wood was used for tool handles, saddles and some furniture. In times of drought, calabash branches were cut down so livestock could eat the leaves.

The calabash tree is also a part of many cultures. In one folk tale, the trickster Anancy gathers all the common sense in the world into a calabash. (Spoiler alert: the calabash falls and the common sense scatters, which is why we all have a little of it today.) Some believe calabash trees shelter spirits, and in some parts of the Caribbean they were planted near graves.

The calabash fruit.

Some of the uses and cultural connections to the Caribbean calabash tree can be traced back to the calabash vine or bottle gourd in Africa. Although the tree and the vine are not related to each other, their fruits are used in many of the same ways. African traditions—transformed and adapted to the New World—are central part of Caribbean culture. The calabash tree is a great example of how these traditions adapt and persevere.

How do you use the calabash tree? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Bird feeders made from calabash.

Make a Museum and Plant Native Seeds on Saturday

Over 300 plants were given out at the Amuseum’s free plant stand in the past few weeks.

Local association Les Fruits de Mer invites everyone on St. Martin to help make a museum together at the Amuseum Naturalis March volunteer day. Volunteers of all ages can lend a hand this Saturday, March 23rd from 9am-noon and then enjoy lunch together right after.

“All are welcome, and anyone can help,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’ll be working on the museum and gardens, and starting new seedlings to give away at our free plant stand. It’s always a lot of fun and a great chance to meet other people who love local heritage, plants and wildlife.”

Amuseum Naturalis is St. Martin’s free museum of nature and heritage.

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is a free museum of St. Martin’s nature and heritage, located at the historic Old House in French Quarter. Phase One of the Amuseum has been open since July 2018. It includes an exhibit hall, a botanic walk, several stunning viewpoints and gardens for bush tea and traditional crops. 

In 2018, over 200 volunteers spent over 4,000 hours working on the Amuseum.

“If you love plants, you’ll definitely want to come on Saturday,” said Amuseum curator Mark Yokoyama. “We gave away over 300 plants in the last few weeks, so we’ll be working to rebuild our stock of native trees and plants, and other plants traditionally grown on St. Martin. Be sure to save us the seeds from the next soursop or sugar apple you eat. We can also reuse your plastic yogurt containers as pots for seedlings.”

Amuseum Naturalis is an all-volunteer project. Over the last year, more than 200 volunteers spent over 4,000 hours working on the Amuseum. Since opening, the Amuseum has welcomed over 3,000 visitors, including over 1,500 local students.

Plastic yogurt containers make great pots for seedlings.

The March volunteer event is 9am-noon on Saturday, March 23rd at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, on the hill above Le Galion beach. The public is also invited to visit the Amuseum during regular opening hours, Tuesday to Saturday 9am to noon. Admission is always free, and free school and youth group visits are also offered. For more information, visit http://amuseumnaturalis.com or find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook.

Slogans

Every slogan tells a story of sorts. The story is always incomplete—a phrase can’t sum up an island—but it has some meaning. Slogans tell us something about how we understand St. Martin, how we misunderstand it, how it is and how we want it to be.

The Friendly Island has been an enduring slogan for St. Martin, but it is far from the only one. In some ways, the English translation of Amerindian Soualiga sounds like a slogan: The Land of Salt. But it is probably not one that would bring tourists running.

The Beach Island of the Caribbean.

A 1970 postmark from Philipsburg proclaims this The Beach Island of the Caribbean. Although almost all Caribbean islands have beaches, St. Martin is blessed with many beautiful beaches for its size. The white sand is also a contrast to some of the more recent volcanic islands to the south.

A graphic in a 1981 issue of The Clarion stated We’re glad!—not mad—We are living in St. Maarten. In some ways the phrasing suggests that perhaps we are mad, but we are doing our best to hide it. Perhaps this highlights a difference between the perspective of residents and the ideal projected towards tourists.

Glad, not mad!

Some older slogans emphasized the colonial heritage of the island. Twice the Vacation, Twice the Fun and Two for the Price of One both suggest the dual-identity of the island. It’s Dutch, it’s French, it’s Caribbean is more explicit. Even when the island’s Caribbean identity is acknowledged, it is almost as an afterthought.

The Friendly Island may be a bit vague. Almost any island could brand itself as friendly. Many other islands have developed more specific identities: Unspoiled Queen, Historical Gem, Spice Island and Nature Island. St. Martin really couldn’t claim any of these titles.

On the other hand, The Friendly Island does speak to the open and cosmopolitan nature of St. Martin. It is a place where people from countless cultures live together. It is a place that invited the world to visit.

Aside from the island’s touristic identity, other slogans tell us something about the island. Semper pro Grediens—always progressing—is the motto of Sint Maarten. It is accurate, in that the country is always in motion. Some may disagree about which progress is good or bad. On the masthead of the Windward Islands Opinion from 1959, we see the message LABOUR CONQUERS ALL THINGS. This may be a prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled, but around the world, voices that share this sentiment are louder than they have been in decades.

Labour conquers all things.

What is your favorite St. Martin slogan? What does it mean to you? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

How did the woodslave get its spots?

In St. Martin, you can find animals that live nowhere else in the world. It’s one of the things that makes St. Martin special and it is a great reason to protect local nature. If these animals disappear here, they will be gone from the planet.

The Spotted Woodslave, a gecko found only on St. Martin

The Spotted Woodslave is one of these animals. It is a kind of gecko, but probably not the one you see most often. This gecko can be huge and it mostly lives on big trees like old tamarinds and mangoes. True to its name, it is light with black spots.

The Spotted Woodslave is usually found on large trees.

The Spotted Woodslave has only been a species since 2011. Before then, it was thought to be the Turnip-tailed Gecko, a similar species that is found in most of the Caribbean and beyond. The main difference between the two is that the Spotted Woodslave has spots. On average, there are also differences in the number of scales around the mouth and on the toes of the two species.

Small details, like the number of scales around the mouth, make this gecko unique.

It may seem surprising that a new species can be “discovered” these days, but it isn’t rare in the Caribbean. Small islands like St. Martin haven’t been studied as much as many places. Many “new” species are known, but not yet named. People on St. Martin have known about the Spotted Woodslave for generations. Scientists have thought for years that the Turnip-tailed Geckos on different islands might be different species. It just took time for someone to do the research and record the differences.

There are many new species being described in the Caribbean today. In addition to comparing the physical characteristics of specimens, we can also compare the genetics of animals from island to island. In the coming years, we will probably find other new species that have been hiding in plain sight this whole time.

Split toe pads give this lizard a distinctive look.

But how did our woodslave get its spots? That’s a tough question. The Turnip-tailed Gecko lives on many islands, but St. Martin is the only place where it evolved spots. The authors who described the new species did not have any suggestions. If spots help it hide from predators or sneak up on prey, why didn’t geckos evolve spots on other nearby islands?

Do you know any stories about St. Martin’s geckos? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

What’s in Your Perfect Kitchen Garden?

The kitchen garden is a Caribbean tradition. As the name implies, they are usually right next to the home. Gardens or farms a bit further from home are often called provision grounds. Kitchen gardens are often small, but they can include a wild variety of different plants.

Stingy Thyme

St. Martin is densely populated, so some kitchen gardens are as small as a few potted herbs on a balcony. Walk down a street and you can see bits and pieces of kitchen gardens all over. Sugar apple, soursop and papaya trees stand guard in front yards. A maiden apple vine winds its way around a front porch. A line of pigeon pea bushes runs along a fence. Bananas are growing in the wettest corner of a yard and a single clump of sugarcane rises up beside a wall. Along the even busiest streets you’re likely to spot doliprane and vervain.

Sugar Apple

Kitchen gardens are ancient. Plants and techniques come from African and Amerindian traditions that are thousands of years old. European and Asian plants have been incorporated, too. The result can be chaotic, but the diversity of plants makes kitchen gardens rich and strong. Pigeon peas and beans provide nitrogen to their neighbors, papayas and bananas offer shade.

Kitchen gardens have roots in the colonial era, when enslaved persons would tend their own gardens before and after long days of labor. They were key to survival for free St. Martiners during the long years when the island had little economic activity. Today, with a tourism economy and endless imports, the kitchen garden is not as necessary as it once was.

Will the kitchen garden disappear from St. Martin? It seems unlikely. No matter how busy we get, the promise of a fresh-picked sugar apple and the smell of herbs are still irresistible. The growing power of the Caribbean sun is too strong to waste. Time spent with hands in soil will always be one of the best ways to get a moment of zen in a world that is too busy.

What is in your perfect kitchen garden? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Spinach Vine

Citizens of Change Project Celebrates St. Martiners Who Made a Difference

Citizens of Change is a project celebrating ordinary people who made a difference on St. Martin.

Citizens of Change is a new project to celebrate St. Martiners who have made a difference on the island. The public is invited to nominate people they would like to recognize. The stories of their work will be featured in an exhibit at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, and also online. The Les Fruits de Mer association and Be the Change Foundation are partners in this project.

“Amuseum Naturalis is a place to share all the stories of St. Martin,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Citizens of Change is an opportunity to share the stories of everyday people who made a difference. It’s also a chance for the community to tell us what they want to see in the Amuseum.”

People are encouraged to nominate anyone, living or dead, who made a difference on St. Martin. Nominations for teachers, writers, artists, builders, farmers, craftsmen, cooks, parents and storytellers are encouraged. By “citizen” we refer to ordinary members of the community, rather than political leaders. Nominees may be of any nationality.

Nominations can be made by email to info@lesfruitsdemer.com, on the Les Fruits de Mer Facebook page, or in person at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House. Nominations should include the name of the person nominated and a description of their contribution to the island. 

“The success and survival of St. Martin has always depended on ordinary people making a difference,” said Be the Change Foundation Director Melanie Choisy. “Our organization is dedicated to the kind of giving, sharing and volunteering that is part of St. Martin culture. We’re excited to support a project that celebrates this spirit and the people who embody it.”

The Citizens of Change project is the Be the Change featured project for March. Donations made to the foundation this month will fund the creation of this exhibit. Donations can be made online at https://bethechangesxm.com

Get Free Native Plants for Your Backyard at Amuseum Naturalis

Get free native plants at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter.

Anyone looking to add some green to their yard or neighborhood can get free plants at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter. The free plant stand is located just in front of the Amuseum, and is stocked with an assortment of native plants and trees. The plants are provided by the Les Fruits de Mer association.

“Native plants are great for native animals, and after the destruction of Hurricane Irma, we still need to replace plants that were lost,” said Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “St. Martin is the most densely-populated island in the Caribbean, so there is not a lot of open space. Adding native plants around our homes can help make up for a lack of wild spaces.”

Native plants help local birds and other native animals.

Les Fruits de Mer’s native plants nursery is one of several plant projects at Amuseum Naturalis. Promoting native plants helps local species and hopefully reduces demand for imported plants, which may arrive with unwanted pests. The project is funded by donations and a grant from BirdsCaribbean’s Hurricane Relief Fund. This fund has provided support for birds and nature on islands impacted by the hurricanes of 2017.

Other plant projects at Amuseum Naturalis include a native plant trail, a bush tea and bush medicine garden, and plantings of traditional food crops. Amuseum visitors are invited to learn all about plants and plant use on St. Martin. They are also welcome to share knowledge about plants and how they are used. The association will also give away seedlings of heritage plants used in bush teas.

“Please come by and pick up some free plants,” invited Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “You can also visit the Amuseum for free while you are there! And please continue to share what you know about local plants and how they are used, so this knowledge can be passed on to future generations.”

The free plant stand was built from reclaimed materials by Waste2Work.

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is a free museum sharing all that is special about St. Martin. It is open 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday, and is located at The Old House on the hill above Le Galion beach in French Quarter. The free plant stand is in front of the Amuseum and accessible at all times.

Recent Arrivals

Life on an island is special. For million of years being a St. Martiner was an exclusive club. It was a place for the animals and plants that somehow made the journey here. It was a home for the ones who survived storm and drought.

This changed when the first Amerindian people set foot on St. Martin’s shore. People could choose where they went and what they brought. Into the elite club of native species, they brought useful plants and animals. Hitchhikers caught a ride on Amerindian canoes as well.

The Giant African Land Snail seems to have arrived after Hurricane Luis.

The pace of new introductions has only gotten faster over time. Rats arrived on European ships. Mongoose were brought from India to Jamaica and from Jamaica to St. Martin. Frogs and lizards have hopped down from Miami.

Today, new species mostly arrive with cargo, especially plants. Dozens of different insect species can arrive in a single container of plants. During the recovery process, an increase in cargo tends to boost the number of new species introduced.

Many remember the appearance of the Giant African Land Snail soon after Hurricane Luis. The colorful Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth may have also arrived after Luis. Surely many less noticeable species could have come during this period.

Did the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth arrive with Hurricane Luis?

In many cases, these species would have arrived anyway. The Giant African Land Snail has been invading new areas steadily with or without the help of hurricanes. The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth is native to the region, but may have been rare or absent from the island before Luis. The popularity of Oleander bushes would seem to guarantee its eventual arrival here.

It is usually impossible to pinpoint the arrival of a new species. Most arrive unnoticed. It can take years before populations get large enough to draw attention. However, many St. Martiners know their native plants and animals and are quick to notice new arrivals.

The Mourning Gecko was first seen on St. Martin just a few years ago. It looks similar other geckos already living here.

Observations by regular people have documented many species that arrived before Irma. These include the Colombian Four-eyed Frog, Mourning Gecko and Greenhouse Frog. Knowing what was here already can help us understand the impact of Irma on local wildlife. Did the hurricane help spread introduced species that were already here? Did it slow down their colonization? It also gives us a better idea which new species may have arrived as a result of Irma and the rebuilding process.

Have you seen any new plants or animals on St. Martin lately? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Rodents of Unusual Size

Could people be forced to leave St. Martin due to rising sea levels and worsening storms? As islanders, climate it is a real threat. Think of all the low-lying areas that could be submerged: Simpson Bay, Sandy Ground, Philipsburg, Grand Case, Orient Bay and many more. But if humans do lose our ability to live on St. Martin due to rising seas, we won’t be the first to suffer that fate.

St. Martin’s relationship with the sea has changed over millions of years. For a time, the island was totally underwater. The coral reefs that grew then became the limestone of the Lowlands and Billy Folly.

An approximation of ice age super St. Martin, with modern Anguilla, St. Martin and St. Barts for comparison.

There were also times when the sea was much lower. During ice ages, water is locked in glaciers, and the sea level drops. And when the sea level drops, St. Martin gets big. If the sea drops 100 meters, St. Martin is about the size of Trinidad. It connects to Anguilla and St. Barts and well beyond.

Prehistoric super St. Martin was huge—big enough to support rodents of unusual size. The Blunt-toothed Giant Hutia is one of the most astounding St. Martiners of all time. We only know it from fossils, but those fossils suggest it could have weighed over 200 kilograms. This makes it one of the largest rodents of all time.

Giants often evolve on islands, like the giant tortoises in the Galapagos. St. Martin’s giant hutia probably arrived on the island as a much smaller hutia. On St. Martin, it didn’t have predators to hide from, so it didn’t have to stay small. There also weren’t any big grazing animals to compete with, so the hutia could get big and eat all the leaves.

An artist’s conception of St. Martin’s giant hutia. (Painting by Dan Bruce, photo by Craig Chesek, American Museum of Natural History)

Hutia fossils from St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Barts actually show a surprising range in sizes. Some scientists believe it may have changed size depending on the sea level. When the sea level was lowest and the island the biggest it was at its biggest, 200 kilos. During periods when the island was smaller, it may have shrunk down to 50 kilos.

One estimate shows that this might be possible over 80 generations. On a shrinking island, the smallest of each generation survive and the hutia adapts to fit the space it has. But this process takes time. If the sea rises faster than it can change size, the hutia would be too big to survive in the space available.

We don’t know for sure what happened to St. Martin’s giant hutia, but we can guess. A bit more than 10,000 years ago, the island went from Trinidad-sized super St. Martin to three islands each less than 2% that size. If it couldn’t shrink fast enough, it wouldn’t have enough land to survive. Rising seas would have inundated it to extinction. That sad fate is implied by the giant hutia’s scientific name: Amblyrhiza inundata.

It is amazing to imagine giant hutias roaming St. Martin, like capybaras the size of black bears. It is perhaps just as amazing to imagine ice age super St. Martin. Look out to Anguilla or St. Barts and imagine land between and beyond as far as the eye can see.

What do you see when you look out over St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.