Category: News

Amuseum Naturalis Celebrates a Year at The Old House

Amuseum Naturalis is hosting a happy hour on Saturday to celebrate one year of operations at The Old House.

The public is invited to stop by Amuseum Naturalis for an end-of-season happy hour from 4-6pm this Saturday, July 20th. The Amuseum will be celebrating one year at The Old House in French Quarter and the end of the season. After Saturday, the Amuseum will be closed until October.

“It’s hard to believe we launched Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House just a year ago,” said Jenn Yerkes, President of Les Fruits de Mer, the association behind the Amuseum. “So many people helped transform the place into a museum, and we’ve had so many great experiences with visitors, school groups and summer camps. We look forward to finishing this fantastic year with a fun happy hour!”

Amuseum Naturalis opened at The Old House on July 22, 2018. Since then, the Amuseum has had over 6,000 visitors. Over 2,000 kids visited with schools, youth groups and summer camps. 

Amuseum Naturalis has welcomed over 6,000 visitors to The Old House over the last year.

Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum of the nature, history and culture of St. Martin and the Caribbean, created by the Les Fruits de Mer association. It is located at the historic Old House in French Quarter on the hill above Le Galion. It is an all-volunteer project, and over 300 people have spent over 5,000 hours to create and operate the Amuseum.

Over 300 people have volunteered to help build Amuseum Naturalis.

Amuseum Naturalis will be open from 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday until July 20th, and admission is free. It is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. It will re-open in October. More information is available at http://amuseumnaturalis.com. Join the happy hour on Facebook.

Cast of Characters

In a little brown notebook full of 18th century medical cures and other valuable information, many people are mentioned. Some are patients, some are doctors. Some are notable figures in St. Martin history, others we may never know.

Some remind us that there was a patient behind each treatment, like the woman Judy. She appears in the title of a remedy: “For the dry Belly ache such as the woman Judy had.” Others invoke family names still common on St. Martin, like the pills to J.B. Gumbs “to act on the liver.”

Some tell a story of inter-island connection. A number of cures are recorded from a Dr. Griffin from St. Kitts, and one from “the French Doctor Laguionie.” Others help us place the notebook in history. One medical recipe was “recommended for the man Will belonging to the Estate Mary’s Fancy.” This seems to show that this was written during the time of slavery.

Parson Hodge is better known for spreading Methodism than curing cough.

Early in the notebook is a list of medicines delivered from New York to Mr. Lucas Percival. He was born around 1809 and died in 1877. He is best known as the owner of the Diamond Estate in Cole Bay. Just after emancipation was announced by the French, 26 enslaved persons left the estate to gain their freedom across the border. This escape showed that slaveholders on the Dutch side could not sustain slavery as it was. They were forced to make changes long before it was finally abolished by the Dutch in 1863.

Most of the cures in the first part of the book come from Dr. Allaway. Peter Welles Allaway was a surgeon who bought the Union plantation in Colombier in 1832. After French emancipation in 1848, Dr. Allaway was the first planter to sign a contract with free workers. Despite being a doctor, Allaway’s contract has a clause noting that he makes no commitment to providing medical care to the workers.

The “Remedy by Parson Hodge of Anguilla for cough and digestion” is noted as “good.” He is the Reverend John Hodge, who introduced Methodism to Anguilla and St. Martin. He was a free man of mixed race — a black mother and white father. He was also the first Caribbean person ordained by the Methodist Church. At the time, there was no doctor on Anguilla, so medicines were provided by the Methodist Missionary Society and care was given by missionaries.

The author of the book is revealed by their daughter’s name.

One more name found in the book is not tied to the major historical changes in 19th century St. Martin, but is still important. Tucked at the bottom of the page is a short recipe: “Pills (by Doctor Allaway) prescribed by him for my daughter Anna Gumbes who had a catarrh, bilious fever and obstinate.”

Do you have an idea who the parents of Anna Gumbes are? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Be the Change Foundation Funds Citizens of Change Project

Melanie Choisy (center) of Be the Change Foundation presents a check to Les Fruits de Mer to fund the Citizens of Change project.

The Be the Change Foundation has provided $800 in funding for Les Fruits de Mer’s Citizens of Change project. The project will highlight St. Martiners who have made a difference on the island. The stories of their work will be featured in an exhibit at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, and also online.

“We are thrilled that Be the Change and their local donors have supported this project,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Local kids need a place where they can see the faces and read the stories of the people that made St. Martin what it is. It is one of our goals for Amuseum Naturalis and something this project will do.”

The first installment of the project will feature about a dozen people. The project aims to spotlight a variety of people, including teachers, writers, artists, builders, farmers, craftsmen, cooks, parents and storytellers. During March, Les Fruits de Mer requested nominations from the public. Based on those nominations, the association decided to focus first on St. Martiners who have passed.

“As we started researching, we realized it’s already difficult to find information and images of St. Martiners from the past,” explained project leader Mark Yokoyama. “In many cases, we feel like we’re racing against the clock to find and document these exceptional lives.”

The first installment of exhibits from Citizens of Change project will debut later this year at Amuseum Naturalis. The museum welcomes further submissions of people to feature, and information and photos that can help tell their stories.

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.

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.

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.

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

Help Create a Museum About St. Martin Nature and Heritage on Sunday

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

Local association Les Fruits de Mer invites everyone on St. Martin to help make a museum together this Sunday, at the Amuseum Naturalis February volunteer day. Volunteers of all ages can lend a hand on Sunday, February 3rd from 3-5pm and then enjoy refreshments together right after.

“All are welcome, and anyone can help,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “You can help out in the bush tea garden, install new exhibit panels, plant some seedlings, or share your local knowledge. The Amuseum is a place to tell all the stories of St. Martin, so come add your voice!”

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is a free museum of local 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.

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

The Amuseum is an all-volunteer project. Over the last year, over 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.

“After watching museums, libraries and other cultural resources close in recent years, or get destroyed by Irma, it’s clear that the need for a museum is stronger than ever,” said Amuseum curator Mark Yokoyama. “It’s also a chance to build something for the island together. We can look beyond the old style approach to history. We can create something more alive and more diverse that reflects the spirit of the people.”

The February volunteer event is 3-5pm on Sunday, February 3rd 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.

Free BirdSleuth Caribbean Training for Educators This Weekend

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a bird-based education program made for the Caribbean.

On October 20th and 21st, the Les Fruits de Mer association is offering a free training for teachers and others who work with children. The training is for the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. The training and materials are bilingual in English and French. The September BirdSleuth training was fully booked, and many educators from that session are already using the activities.

“Imagine a school class having fun and learning about biology by playing a game of Bird Bingo or Habitat Scavenger Hunt,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’re excited to make that possible by offering a free training program for teachers and educators. It can be used in the classroom and outdoors and it was made for the Caribbean.”

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a set of fun lessons and activities that uses birds to teach youth about nature and science. BirdSleuth Caribbean has been specially adapted for the region, so kids learn about the birds and habitats that they can see around them. It’s designed for students 9-13 years old. The program contains lessons, activities and learning games that can be done in the classroom and outdoors.

Binkie van Es teaches a BirdSleuth Caribbean training session.

Les Fruits de Mer will be hosting free training in the BirdSleuth program with instructor Binkie van Es. Participants will enjoy hands-on training and receive materials to bring back to their class or youth group. On each training day, 4-5 different games and activities will be taught.

“It’s an amazing feeling to see kids fall in love with birds and science through the BirdSleuth program,” explained BirdSleuth instructor Binkie van Es. “Birds are the perfect gateway to a love of nature and a passion for learning. The activities are a lot of fun for teachers, too!”

Educators learning BirdSleuth Caribbean explore nature at Amuseum Naturalis.

The bilingual training will be at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House: October 20th and 21st, from 9am-1pm. It is free, and lunch will be served after each training session. If you are interested, please contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com to reserve your spot in the free training.

Free Fun This Saturday at Migratory Bird Festival

Festival guests can compare their wingspan to local birds. Mark Yokoyama is larger than an Great Egret but smaller than an Osprey.

People of all ages are invited to enjoy the free 2018 Migratory Bird Festival from 9am to noon on Saturday, October 13th. The festival will be held at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, on the hill above Le Galion in French Quarter. The annual family-friendly event was created in 2013 by Les Fruits de Mer. It celebrates the birds that travel thousands of miles each year to spend time on St. Martin.

“We’re excited to have lots of fun new ways to connect with birds and nature,” says Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “How big are you compared to some of St. Martin’s birds? You can measure your wingspan at the event and find out! You can also learn the songs of some of our visiting birds, and go on a hunt for the things birds need to survive.”

If you want to see what pond birds eat on St. Martin, visit the festival’s Portable Pond. Just one inch deep, it’s your chance to get a good look at all the aquatic insects and other animals that are usually hidden. At the birdwatching station, you can learn how to use binoculars to spot birds. You’ll find out about the amazing travels of migratory birds and why St. Martin is so important to them. 

What do pond birds eat? See the amazing world of life that’s just below the surface of our ponds.

The event is also a great time to explore Amuseum Naturalis and its gardens. Discover bats, night creatures and animals that live only on St. Martin in the exhibit hall. Find out about native plants and trees in the backyard, or explore the gardens playing Bird Bingo. Guests can also learn the 250-year history of the Old House itself.

“We also want to make it fun to help birds and nature,” explained Amuseum Naturalis curator Mark Yokoyama. “At the festival, you can paint bird art on a canvas tote bag. After the event, you can use it instead of a plastic bag. That helps protect the island and the habitats that birds need.”

Add your own bird art to a canvas tote bag and take it home with you!

The festival is designed to be a good time for all no matter the weather. “There are indoor areas for all the major activities, so it will still be lots of fun even if Saturday is a rainy day!” adds Yokoyama.

The Migratory Bird Festival is part of World Migratory Bird Day. Events celebrating migratory birds are happening on many Caribbean islands and all over the world. 

Head to the Migratory Bird Festival, rain or shine, Saturday, October 13th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter. The festival is brought to you by Les Fruits de Mer, and the 2018 sponsors: L’Auberge Gourmand, BZSE, Coalys, Delta Petroleum, ECOFIP, Frigodom, IZI LIGHT, Lagoonies, Pelikaan Brewery, St. Martin’s Sweetness and SXM Logistics. For more information and a map, visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

World Migratory Bird Day in St. Martin and the Caribbean

World Migratory Bird Day will be celebrated on 16 Caribbean islands.

The month of October heralds a change in the seasons—even in the Caribbean. The days grow shorter and the fierce heat of the sun lessens. Countless birds journey to the their winter homes on these islands. October also brings World Migratory Bird Day, when Caribbean people celebrate the birds that come here every year.

In the Caribbean, about a third of our 500 bird species are summer or winter visitors. More than 30 events on 16 Caribbean islands are lined up to celebrate these amazing birds. More than 80,000 people will join in the activities, led by Environment for the Americas and BirdsCaribbean.

The Migratory Bird Festival is October 13th at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter.

On St. Martin, the Les Fruits de Mer association is hosting the sixth annual Migratory Bird Festival. This year’s event is Saturday, October 13th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter. It is free and people of all ages are invited.

The Migratory Bird Festival is a great chance to go birdwatching.

At the Migratory Bird Festival, guests will see birds and learn about the amazing journeys they take each year. There will be bird-themed arts and crafts, and fun games like Bird Bingo. Guests can also explore Amuseum Naturalis and enjoy its gardens and scenic viewpoints.

The 2018 theme for World Migratory Bird Day in the Caribbean is “Year of the Bird.” It is a chance to look at issues facing birds. On St. Martin, pollution and debris impact many places where birds live. It is also a chance to take action. Planting native trees to replace the ones lost to Hurricane Irma can help birds.

“Last October, we weren’t able to celebrate WMBD,” says Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean Lisa Sorenson. “Hurricanes Irma and Maria had just hit several islands with great force, and many of our partners were in shock. Now we are moving forward now with great hope as migratory birds return to our shores.”

Birds like the Whimbrel travel thousands of miles to spend their winter on St. Martin and other Caribbean islands.

Visit migratorybirdday.org or birdscaribbean.org to learn more about celebrations all over the Caribbean. For more information about the Migratory Bird Festival at Amuseum Naturalis in St. Martin, visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

Les Fruits de Mer Highlights Heritage to Boost Local Education

Students have fun learning about St. Martin at Amuseum Naturalis.

Les Fruits de Mer is launching new initiatives to help teachers and young people. The non-profit association has provided education about St. Martin wildlife and heritage for the last five years. Since Hurricane Irma, that mission has become even more important. While schools on both sides of the island work to build back their staff and facilities, Les Fruits de Mer is helping with new ways to provide education focused on St. Martin.

“The first phase of Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is open,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “It’s a great place to learn about the nature, history and culture of St. Martin. We’ve already been getting lots of visits from school classes, youth groups and families.”

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is a free museum created by Les Fruits de Mer and located in French Quarter. Right now, the Amuseum features eight exhibits on local natural and cultural heritage. There’s also a botanic walk with native plant signage, a bush tea garden, plots of traditional food plants, and special panels about the historical site and its features. Games and activities in English and French help students of all ages discover and learn. Classes and youth groups can book free visits to the museum.

Binkie van Es leads the first session of free BirdSleuth teacher training at Amuseum Naturalis last Saturday.

The Amuseum is also hosting free bilingual teacher trainings for the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. The program includes fun lessons, games and activities made for the Caribbean. BirdSleuth uses local birds to help kids connect with nature and learn science and problem-solving skills. Training at the Amuseum will empower dozens of schools and youth groups on both sides of the island with this program. 

“We love helping people discover what is special about St. Martin,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “That could happen at a visit to the Amuseum or a BirdSleuth activity in your school. We also share everything we do for free online, including books and movies. Interviews we’ve filmed with St. Martiners reveal a lot in just a few minutes. They’re a great way to connect with local culture and history in the classroom or just watching on your phone.”

Delphine David shares stories about her life in an interview filmed by Les Fruits de Mer.

The fall hours of Amuseum Naturalis are 9am-noon Tuesday to Saturday. The next free BirdSleuth teacher trainings are scheduled for October 20-21. Contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com to participate in the trainings or to schedule a free school visit. Short films, presentations, books, and art activities focused on local nature, culture and history are available for free download on www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

Rediscover St. Martin at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House

Students enjoy activities during their visit to Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House.

People of all ages are invited to enjoy and explore Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House this fall. Organizers have announced the fall hours–the Amuseum will be open from 9am to noon, Tuesday to Saturday, starting September 1st. Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum of local nature, history and culture, developed by the Les Fruits de Mer association with an all-volunteer team. It is located at the historic Old House on the hill above Le Galion in French Quarter.

“We had a fantastic summer preview, with over 1,000 visitors in just over a month,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We especially enjoyed the summer camps and school groups that visited during the preview. Now we’re inviting teachers and youth group leaders to schedule fall visits!”

While the process of restoring The Old House continues, the Amuseum has opened its gardens and an exhibit hall featuring eight exhibits. In the back yard, visitors can enjoy amazing views and learn about native trees and plants. A bush tea and bush medicine garden is growing, with many plants donated by St. Martiners who want to share this tradition.

Visitors learn about The Old House and its history dating back to the 1700s.

The Amuseum’s “micro-theater” shows a reel of over a dozen documentary shorts about nature, history and culture. Many of the films feature fascinating interviews with St. Martiners. Les Fruits de Mer members and volunteers have been interviewing St. Martin residents to share the stories of the island as told by its people. The association’s goal is to collaborate with the community so the Amuseum can be a true reflection of the island.

Families are encouraged to visit the Amuseum. Amuseum Hunt! and Amuseum Adventure! are two fun activities created by the association to help students and families interact with the exhibits.

The public is also invited to share their stories during their visits. The Amuseum is ready to film interviews, scan photos or documents and photograph historic items. Volunteers are also welcome. To get involved, just stop by the Amuseum when it is open or email the association at info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

For more information about Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, visit http://amuseumnaturalis.com. Schools and youth groups can schedule group visits by contacting info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Amuseum Naturalis Open House

People of all ages are invited to visit Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House this Sunday from 9am to noon. St. Martin’s free museum of nature, history and culture is celebrating the launch of its summer preview with an open house event.

Amuseum Naturalis is a museum dedicated to sharing all that is unique about St. Martin. It was developed by the non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer. During 2016 and 2017, it was located in Grand Case. The association is relaunching and expanding the Amuseum at the historic Old House in French Quarter.

“Right now, everyone is looking for fun stuff to do—especially parents and kids,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We decided to do a summer preview so people can start enjoying the Amuseum, even while we continue to develop it.”

The summer preview includes an exhibit hall with eight exhibits. Visitors will discover fascinating displays on topics like animals found only on St. Martin, traditional building techniques and the tree with the hardest wood in the world. They can also see projects in progress, like the Amuseum’s bush tea garden.

The open house is Sunday, July 22nd from 9am to noon. Following the open house, the Amuseum will be open Monday to Friday from 9am to noon during July and August. Admission to the Amuseum is free. Schools and youth groups are invited to contact Les Fruits de Mer to arrange a group visit.

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is located in French Quarter at the top of the hill above Le Galion. For a map and more information, visit http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

Les Fruits de Mer Launch St. Martin’s First Yoda Museum

Adventure! Excitement! Les Fruits de Mer look away to the future.

Non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer is getting ready to launch their biggest project ever, a brand new museum for St. Martin. The group, which has previously focused on wildlife education, is taking their latest project in a surprising new direction.

“After two successful years of our nature museum, Amuseum Naturalis, the obvious next step would be to expand to include local heritage and culture as well,” explained co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “But we decided to consider all the possibilities, no matter how crazy or unexpected. What has never been done on St. Martin? What would no one ever think of doing a museum about? Then it hit us: Yoda!”

Yoda is a character from the Star Wars movies, a “Jedi” master, strong with “The Force” who lives on the fictional planet “Dagobah”. Although loved by millions, the character has no particular connection to St. Martin. For an organization focused on local topics like wildlife and folklore, the idea of creating a Yoda museum was intimidating.

“When the idea first came up, I said, ‘You want the impossible!’ ” remembers Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Mark said ‘Let’s try!’ and I thought, ‘There is no try—let’s do this.’ ”

The Yoda museum will be located in the historic building that formerly housed The Old House museum. After Hurricane Irma, the site was in need of extensive clean-up. The association has used all its powers to lift this project off the ground. Still, the building is remarkably beautiful. As Jenn Yerkes asserts, “When 200 years old you reach, look as good you will not.”

Always in motion is the future, but you can follow the progress of the museum at http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com or search your feelings for Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook.

UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the new museum will not be the island’s first Yoda museum. It seems there has been a Yoda museum in Philipsburg for over 10 years. We sincerely regret the error. To our knowledge, the new museum will be the first Yoda museum on the French side of the island.

The Stories Behind the Names

Does every name have a story behind it? If not every name, surely most do. Some are beautiful, some are terrible. But one thing that many have in common is that we become so used to the names, we forget the stories.

Consider Philipsburg—it’s named after John Philips, but what do we really know about him? He is not particularly well known—he doesn’t even have a page on Wikipedia. How many countries have a capital named after someone so obscure?

A town named after John Philips.

What we do know is that he was born in Scotland and made Commander of St. Maarten by the Dutch West India Company. The West India Company was a slave trading enterprise, and every part of the Philips story involved enslaved people. He convinced planters to come to the island with their slaves by offering them land, and was a plantation owner and slaveowner himself. He gets the credit for having Fort Amsterdam rebuilt, but surely enslaved people did the actual rebuilding.

Of course, many historical figures took an active part in enslaving and dehumanizing others. Thomas Jefferson is a commonly cited example. His ownership of slaves was accepted at the time, then largely erased from history. Thankfully, today we are more open about the brutality and horror of colonization and slavery, and the role of those involved. We can recognize Jefferson as a political thinker, while also seeing how terribly incomplete his vision of democracy was.

On St. Martin, many names we use today are linked to slavery. Consider all the towns and neighborhoods named after plantations where people were enslaved: Hope Estate, Belvedere, Mary’s Fancy and Madame Estate. There are neighborhoods, real estate developments and businesses named after plantations.

St. Martin is full of names that are both part of local heritage and linked to terrible suffering. How can the island reconcile these two things? Are we telling an honest version of the story behind the name Philipsburg? Is it reasonable to expect that every time we name something after a plantation, we recognize the enslaved people that built that plantation? What is the role of government, business owners using these names, and the people of the island? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and share your thoughts!

We’re Relaunching Amuseum Naturalis

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is being prepared for a 2018 launch.

After delighting over 10,000 visitors in its first two years, Amuseum Naturalis is coming back in a new location in 2018. St. Martin’s first natural history museum will be expanding to highlight island heritage and culture as well as nature. At the new location, formerly The Old House museum, there will also be community projects including gardens, a composting center and a native plants nursery.

“We are thrilled to create a space to tell all the stories of St. Martin!” announced Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’re working with the local community to find and tell stories. We especially want to shine a light on heritage that’s been ignored or suppressed, and show how the island’s history and culture is fascinating and meaningful.”

Amuseum Naturalis is developed and operated by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The group believes this project is important for many reasons. Local school systems are already under stress after Hurricane Irma. School materials on the island come from Europe or North America, and don’t teach enough about local nature or heritage. The Amuseum has been, and will be, free for all. It is a place where young people can discover science and history, and develop valuable skills.

Amuseum Naturalis had over 10,000 visitors in the last two years.

“We’re really happy to see the amount of support the Amuseum is getting,” commented Amuseum curator Mark Yokoyama. “Volunteers have been coming to help clear the property and prepare the site. Everyone who comes falls in love with this place. People from around the world have been supporting with donations. It’s a big project, but together we can make it happen for the island!”

Amuseum volunteers pause for a photo after a recent clean-up session.

Les Fruits de Mer are currently working with volunteers to prepare the new location every weekend, and more volunteers are always welcome. The next volunteer day is Saturday, March 17th, and more information is available at lesfruitsdemer.com and on the Les Fruits de Mer Facebook page. There is also a crowdfunding campaign raising funds until March 30th. St. Martiners interested in sharing stories or ideas about topics to feature in the museum should contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Relaunching Amuseum Naturalis

We’re super excited to be relaunching Amuseum Naturalis at an amazing new location: The Old House! In addition to nature, we will also be highlighting local heritage and culture. The new Amuseum will also be a space for community projects. We’ve already started a native plants nursery for reforestation and bird-friendly backyards. Community gardens and a composting center are on our to-do list!

To learn more about the project and donate to support it, visit our crowdfunding page.

We will be posting regular updates about our progress here, in our newsletter and on Facebook, so please follow along. Our next volunteer get-together is Saturday, March 17th. Event info is here.

Year in Review: 2017

2017 was a pretty amazing year for Les Fruits de Mer. Here are a few of the highlights.

Our year started strong, with the relaunch of our pop-up natural history museum, Amuseum Naturalis. We remade all our exhibits with big, bright signage and added many new attractions. Special exhibits, including original whale paintings and the unsung heroes of Caribbean science took the Amuseum in interesting new directions. Over the course of the season we welcomed almost 9,000 visitors. The all-volunteer team ran the Amuseum during busy Mardis de Grand Case street fair nights and daytime classroom visits.

In April Les Fruits de Mer held the 4th annual Endemic Animal Festival at the Amuseum. It was a chance to see the unique animals that live only on St. Martin. The event also featured nature-themed art activities and giveaways of Gaïac seedlings as part of our Club Gaïac project. The next weekend members of the team also hopped over to Anguilla to volunteer at the 2nd Anguilla Iguana Day festivities.

The team traveled quite a bit during the summer. Members visited Statia to film and research and Amsterdam to attend a conference about Maria Sibylla Merian, a groundbreaking scientist who did key work in the Caribbean. Jenn Yerkes and Mark Yokoyama gave presentations and led workshops at the BirdsCaribbean International Conference in Cuba and Jenn presented at the International Association of Caribbean Archaeologists meeting in St. Croix.

Hurricane Irma hit St. Martin in early fall, delaying most plans. The Fruits team worked to document the hurricane’s impact on nature and the subsequent recovery. Since the storm, Mark Yokoyama has been writing weekly columns in The Daily Herald about nature after Irma. The team has also produced a number of short films highlighting different aspects of the recovery. Our videos were viewed over 100,000 times in the last three months. In October, Marc AuMarc released the second album of Les Fruits de Mer theme songs, Fruits Around the World.

Les Fruits de Mer restarted public outreach with a bird feeder giveaway at Sky’s the Limit restaurant in October. The 5th annual Migratory Bird Festival was held in late November at Friar’s Bay. It was a fun event, with great activities and a super team of volunteers. The 2017 theme was Welcome Back! to both the migratory birds and the recovering habitats that they depend on. The 4th Heritage Photo Contest was also launched in November, with the theme Rebirth. Entries were accepted through the end of the year, with an exhibition to follow in early 2018.

The association is also very thankful for the generous support of friends and members in the final months of the year. Sarah Allen and Maël Renault collected donations. William Moore and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap also made donations. Jarrad Nunes included Les Fruits de Mer in his Cheer Project fundraising which drew support from many fine people. We were also incredibly grateful to have sponsorship support from local businesses for the Migratory Bird Festival despite the challenges that they are facing right now. This timely support made it possible for us to continue our work celebrating local nature and heritage at a time when it is truly important.

Thanks to everyone who helped make 2017 such a great year for Les Fruits de Mer, and we’re looking forward to an even better 2018!

Thank You Cheer Project

We want to give a big thank you to The Cheer Project—Jarrad for doing it, Andy for helping and everyone for donating and sharing! Yesterday we raised $732 for Les Fruits de Mer, which we will be using to fund a really exciting set of projects for 2018. We will be rebuilding the Amuseum, printing new books about wildlife, making films about wildlife and how Hurricane Irma impacted the island. If you missed the video, here it is. If you want to make a donation, you still can.

What Will Happen to Homes?

The sound of hammers and saws fills the air in Grand Case and around the island. But many homes and buildings are still exposed to the elements. How many of these buildings will deteriorate past the point of saving if they are left uncovered. How will that change the look and character of streets and towns on St. Martin?

We are hoping to document this aspect of the Hurricane Irma aftermath and recovery. Which homes and buildings best reflect local architecture and building traditions? How can we recognize and protect buildings that may not be old enough to qualify as “historical” but do represent part of St. Martin’s unique heritage? We aren’t sure exactly what form this project will take, but we are starting to document local buildings with a focus on homes. We will also work on cataloging some of the elements that best reflect unique local traditions. Down the road, perhaps we can follow a selection of buildings over the coming months and years to see how they are saved or lost, and how streets and towns are transformed as a result.

We welcome anyone who would like to get involved with this project. Just get in touch!

2017 Heritage Photo Contest Focuses on Rebirth

People of all ages are invited to showcase St. Martin heritage, and their talent, in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest, now officially open for entries. The annual Heritage Photo Contest and Exhibition was developed by the Les Fruits de Mer Association as an opportunity for people to celebrate art created here on the island, and to engage residents—especially kids—in thinking about their heritage.

The theme of this year’s contest is Rebirth. It was chosen to inspire entrants to explore the nature, culture and people of this unique island through the lens of recovery and reinvention.

“St. Martin is an island that has been reborn many times throughout history,” explains Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “In the wake of Hurricane Irma, St. Martin is rising again. We believe that capturing this transformation through photography will be a powerful way to show and share this hope and strength.”

Organizers designed the contest to include everyone, and to empower children and youth to enter with a special Under 18 award category, and other initiatives. “We’d love this to be an opportunity for young people to get into photography,” says Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “For kids and teens who are already exploring photography, this initiative creates a showcase for what they’re doing.”

The contest is free and open to every age, and everyone is welcome to enter as many times as they like. People who want to enter should submit their entries to info@lesfruitsdemer.org by December 15, 2017. Each entry should include an original photo taken on St. Martin/St. Maarten by the person entering, a brief statement explaining why the photo was chosen, the entrant’s full name, and age if under 18.

All qualifying entries will go on display in the online Heritage Gallery, and selected entries will be featured in the Heritage Photo Exhibition, which will be held this winter. Awards will be given for the winning entries in three categories: Adult, Under 18 and People’s Choice.

For more information about the Heritage Photo Contest and Exhibition, including the full rules and a sample entry, visit: http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/category/rebirth/

Fruits Drop New Album: Fruits Around the World

Download Fruits Around the World for free at marcaumarc.com.

The new album by Marc AuMarc—Fruits Around the World—lives up to its name. From the opening blast of horns to the closing sighs of a church organ, it’s a globetrotting journey of sounds and styles. Over the course of twelve songs, it reshapes the ever-fruitful Les Fruits de Mer theme song in surprising new directions. This latest release is available for free download at http://marcaumarc.com.

Fruits Around the World was composed and recorded over the last year in a wide variety of extraordinary places, from 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean to the mountains of Cuba. Working with mobile technology, Marc AuMarc was able to create many of the songs on location.

“Drawing inspiration from different cultures and musical traditions keeps the music fresh,” explained Marc AuMarc. “This is the second full-length album based on a theme song that’s less than a minute long, and I think it’s even better than the first one.”

Many of the new tracks are upbeat. Latin rhythms brush up against Scandinavian techno, driving neo-disco and Chinese electro-funk. A few more contemplative takes on the theme balance out the tracklist.

“The variety of moods on this album is key to the listening experience,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We also use different takes on our theme as the soundtrack to most of our documentary filmmaking, so this gives us a range of moods and styles to work with as we produce new films.”

An ever-expanding universe based on a single idea, a simple melody reflecting itself across the globe, and a fun time for all, Fruits Around the World is a lot like Les Fruits de Mer. Download it for free at http://marcaumarc.com and make it the soundtrack for your next expedition.

Bird Feeders Are a Big Hit in Grand Case

Sky’s the Limit restaurant hosted the bird feeder giveaway in Grand Case.

At lunchtime on Thursday, people were lining up at Sky’s the Limit restaurant in Grand Case. But unlike most days, these people hadn’t just come to eat local barbecue. They came to get bird feeders so they could take care of the birds around their homes. In less than an hour, the Les Fruits de Mer association gave away over 80 bird feeders.

“We were surprised and delighted at the response,” exclaimed Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “It shows that people care about birds, and know that it’s an important time for the island’s nature to restore itself.”

After reading about the giveaway online and in the local newspapers, people came from all parts of the island to get their bird feeders. The Les Fruits de Mer team explained in French and English how to fill and clean the feeders, and provided sugar, hanging rope and instructions.

Recipients learned how to fill and clean their feeders.

“The birds on St. Martin today are the strong and lucky ones that survived the storm. By giving them a boost now, we can help the island get back to normal faster,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “Keeping a bird feeder helps birds, but it also brings them into our life and makes our connection to nature closer. Many visitors to the giveaway asked questions and shared stories about local birds, which was great to see.”

Due to the massive demand, all the feeders were given away before the end of the event. The Les Fruits de Mer association is hoping to get another shipment of feeders so they can do more giveaways in the future. The feeders were provided by BirdsCaribbean, which has sent over 2,000 bird feeders to ten Caribbean islands that were impacted by hurricanes this year. To find out more and learn about future giveaways, visit lesfruitsdemer.com or find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook.

The bird feeder giveaway brought a big crowd.

Free Bird Feeder Giveaway Thursday in Grand Case

Get a free bird feeder at Sky’s the Limit in Grand Case this Thursday.

Pick up a free bird feeder this Thursday and help the island’s birds recover from the hurricane! The Les Fruits de Mer association will be giving out bird feeders for free at Sky’s the Limit restaurant in Grand Case this Thursday from noon to 3pm.

Just like people, St. Martin’s birds are having a hard time after Irma. Putting out bird feeders like these helps local birds like the Sugar Bird and the two kind of hummingbirds that live on St. Martin, the Antillean Crested Hummingbird and the Green-throated Carib.

“The birds that managed to survive the hurricane still need help, because it takes time for new flowers to bloom. Feeding them also helps them feed new chicks so the bird population can come back sooner,” explains island wildlife expert and Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama.

“We’re excited to give away these free bird feeders at Sky’s the Limit because it’s a place for everybody, and helping our local birds is something everybody can do,” says Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “People still talk about how there were no hummingbirds on the island for five years after Luis. Anybody, young or old, can be part of making sure that doesn’t happen to our birds this time, just by putting out a feeder.” She adds, “Plus, it’s amazing to watch these birds at your feeder–it just puts a smile on your face every day, and we could all use that right now!”

Bird feeders were provided by BirdsCaribbean.

The bird feeders were sent by BirdsCaribbean as part of a special post-hurricane initiative and will be distributed locally by the Les Fruits de Mer association. Everyone is invited to pick up a free feeder this Thursday, October 26th from noon to 3pm at Sky’s the Limit lolo, located on the Boulevard de Grand Case in the heart of Grand Case.

Sharing Catalina’s Story

Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes showcased early Caribbean naturalist Catalina de Ayahibex in her presentation at the 27th Congress of the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology in St. Croix in July. Her paper about this groundbreaking Amerindian plant expert will be published in the proceedings from the meeting. Jenn first discovered Catalina when researching an exhibit for Amuseum Naturalis. By bringing Catalina into the academic spotlight, Jenn hopes more information about this trailblazer and her work can be uncovered through research and perhaps even through archaeological exploration.

Catalina de Ayahibex was a Taino cacica, or tribal leader, in early 16th century Hispaniola, in the area now known as Santo Domingo. Her extensive knowledge of native plants and plant-based medicines led to the first drug patent in the New World, the first pharmaceutical business in the Americas, widespread research on Caribbean flora, and revolutionary developments in empirical science. Catalina worked with her Spanish husband Antonio de Villasante, who tested and marketed her cures. Their partnership was one of the first scientific collaborations between a European and an indigenous expert. It’s also one of the rare few over the centuries which actually recorded the contributions of a native naturalist.

One of the key discoveries Catalina is credited with in Spanish documents is Hispaniola balsam. This balsam became one of the most expensive and popular drugs in Europe during the 1500s. However, like many indigenous naturalists and female experts, Catalina was later erased from the historical and scientific record. Jenn’s work uses 16th century documents from the Spanish archives to reconstruct and reveal the lost story of this unsung hero of natural science and medicine.

Archeologists, anthropologists, and other conference attendees were impressed and intrigued by Catalina’s story. Nearly 500 years later, wider recognition of her work and legacy is beginning.

Reaching People: A Writing Workshop in Cuba

What’s a Whimbrel? Where’s the Atlantic Flyway? Bird lovers may know, but the rest of us don’t! At BirdsCaribbean’s 21st international conference in Cuba, Mark Yokoyama led a writing workshop, Reaching People. The goal? Helping scientists write about birds in language that anyone can understand.

Most people like birds. Sadly, many people writing about birds fail to connect with a general audience. We forget to tell a story. Facts are given without context. There is no natural flow from one idea to the next. Often, the writing itself is too difficult for most people to read.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Science writing can be engaging—our favorite writers do it all the time. Complex ideas can be explained simply—great teachers know how. The workshop focused on these two ideas: storytelling and accessibility.

Picking key facts and ordering them logically helps turn a topic into a story. Adding details that grab a reader, and knowing what to cut are also crucial. Participants worked on their own stories during the class. Some even worked on a press release about the conference to send out when they got home.

The second half of the workshop focused on accessibility. Many were surprised to learn that the average adult in the US reads at about an 8th grade level. Unfortunately, many press materials are written at college level. This is a serious mismatch.

Luckily, we can be more readable just by using plain language and clear sentences. During one activity, participants found they had written sentences up to 60 words long without knowing it. Want to be easier to read? Find out what’s making your writing hard. There are even online tools that measure readability and suggest what you can change.

In just three hours, the group had a new set of writing tools and some hands-on practice. Jealous? Don’t be! You can download the workshop as a handout and run through it yourself. With birds and habitats under threat in the Caribbean, it has never been more vital to spread our message. Writing for everyone is a great start.

Les Fruits de Mer Present at International Bird Conference in Cuba

Mark Yokoyama leads a writing workshop during the conference. (Photo by Jenn Yerkes)

Over 200 scientists, teachers and conservationists came together in Cuba this month at BirdsCaribbean’s 21st International Conference. Held every two years, it is the only time when this far-flung community has a chance to work face-to-face to improve how birds are studied and protected. The event included nearly 150 presentations and workshops over five days.

St. Martin was represented by two members of the association Les Fruits de Mer. President Jenn Yerkes delivered a well-received presentation, The Human Element. She showed how the stories of people, like scientists and conservationists, can be used to interest people in birds and science. Mark Yokoyama hosted Reaching People, a writing workshop.

“This year’s theme was Celebrating Caribbean Diversity,” explained BirdsCaribbean Director Lisa Sorenson. “We love the variety of birds here, but the diversity of our members is even more important. We brought people here from dozens of islands. We have different cultures and languages, but we all face similar challenges. The chance to share ideas improves our work all over the region.”

BirdsCaribbean is the region’s largest conservation group. Programs like the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, which highlights birds found only in the region, reach over 100,000 people each year. At the conference, festival coordinators on different islands share ideas and activities. Others are inspired to launch festivals on their islands for the first time.

BirdsCaribbean members learn the latest in bird science and conservation.

Researchers sharing their work give ideas that can help save birds. Members learn how birds recover after hurricanes or prosper when farmers plant shade trees over their coffee. Then they can bring bird-saving tools back to their own islands. This year, one highlight was the large number of Cuban scientists.

“For almost 30 years, BirdsCaribbean has helped share the work of Cuban scientists with the rest of the world,” said BirdsCaribbean President Andrew Dobson. “Helping this collaboration has been a very rewarding part of our mission. It was also a joy to spend time with so many Cuban friends in one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful nature reserves.”

After five days of sharing stories and bird-sightings, members flew home to their islands. Each one brought back new skills and ideas. Tools developed on one island will soon be helping birds on others. Though many may do their work alone, they have friends and allies across the sea. In two years, the next conference will unite them again.

Local Frogs Find Fame

Some Cuban Tree Frogs photographed on St. Martin are having their moment in the spotlight in a recent article called Early-life disruption of amphibian microbiota decreases later-life resistance to parasites. They’re featured in Figure 1, and you can read the article for free. In basic terms, the study showed that lack of exposure to bacteria as tadpoles left frogs more vulnerable to other parasites as adults.

When rare frogs are raised in captivity, they often die once released into the wild. Perhaps we can use this information to improve their survival. This could change the fate of endangered frogs in our region like the Mountain Chicken.