Category: News

Rebalancing Act

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma has been a rollercoaster. We have bounced through feelings of fear, relief, uncertainty, hope and joy. We’re not alone. Some parts of nature have also experienced ups and downs on the road back to normal.

The first new leaves bring hope.

Some of these bumpy roads have been easy to notice. The time of many flies arrived a few weeks after Irma and then ended gradually. The explosion of new vegetation began right after the storm, but has started to slow as rainfall becomes less frequent.

Today, you may see trees that recovered from Irma are bare again. Flamboyants, Gaïacs and Jamaican Capers are being devoured by caterpillars. After being inspired by the recovery of the island’s plants, this can be sad for us to see. But it is also part of the recovery process.

Caterpillars arrive to feast.

Our local natural systems move towards balance. Hundreds of plants and animals each have their place in the landscape. But that balance isn’t constant, only the movement towards it. It happens every year as wet season passes into dry season and in a thousand smaller ways.

After a major event like a hurricane, the balance is disrupted. Suddenly stripped of all their leaves but well watered by the rain, plants grew back like crazy. It is no surprise that an explosion of leaves would be followed by an explosion of caterpillars.

New growth is eaten completely, but it will come back.

As much as we are trained to see caterpillars as pests, they are important, too. They keep vegetation in check by eating it. They provide food for birds, lizards, insects and spiders. For a moment, it may seem like we have too many, but today’s caterpillar boom is just another bump on the road back to balance.

Gradually a balance is struck.

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 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:

Fruits Drop New Album: Fruits Around the World

Download Fruits Around the World for free at

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

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 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 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.

Amuseum Naturalis Exhibit on Unsung Heroes of Caribbean Science Opens April 18th

Amuseum Naturalis co-curator Jenn Yerkes prepares vibrant panels showcasing trailblazers of Caribbean natural history for the April 18th exhibit launch.

Amuseum Naturalis invites the public to the free gala opening of the museum’s exhibit WOMEN, PEOPLE OF COLOR, AND THE MAKING OF NATURAL HISTORY IN THE CARIBBEAN from 4-8pm on Tuesday, April 18th. The installation is part of a special series created to shine a light on the trailblazers of Caribbean natural science from the late 1400s to the early 1900s. The exhibit brings their discoveries, explorations and stories to life with vivid biographical snapshots and reproductions of beautiful antique zoological and botanical illustrations, engravings, maps, and portraits by historical and contemporary artists. Be The Change SXM contributed to funding for this exhibit and the upcoming companion website.

“People of color and women have made important contributions to science throughout history. But their work has often been suppressed, or just not as well publicized as that of their white male peers, and this happened in Caribbean science just like everywhere else. We wanted to create an opportunity for people to discover the fascinating stories of these incredible women and men who helped to build the scientific heritage of the Caribbean,” explains Jenn Yerkes, Amuseum Naturalis co-curator and Les Fruits de Mer President. She adds, “We hope everyone will come out to celebrate the exhibition launch, find out about these amazing pioneers, and enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres at the opening reception!”

The free, public exhibit will launch Tuesday night, which will include captivating figures such as Catalina de Ayahibex, a 15th century Taino tribal leader who was an expert in native plants; Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717), a scientific artist known for her expedition to Surinam to document Greater Caribbean insects, reptiles, birds, and plants; and Graman Quassi (ca. 1690 – ca. 1780), a renowned healer and botanist of African descent, and more.

Modern portraits of pioneers like Charlotte Dugée, an 18th century botanic artist from Saint Domingue, were created for the exhibit, opening April 18th at Amuseum Naturalis.

The free opening reception and the exhibition will be held in the Special Exhibition Room at Amuseum Naturalis. The exhibition will run April 18th to May 2nd, and can be visited during the museum’s regular opening hours as well as from 9am-3pm on Sunday, April 23rd during the 2017 Endemic Animal Festival.

Amuseum Naturalis is a free pop-up museum that highlights the natural history of St. Martin and the Caribbean, created by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The museum is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm. Amuseum Naturalis is located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case in Grand Case. It is made possible by the generous support of Delta Petroleum and over a dozen businesses and individual donors who have become Friends of the Amuseum. For more information, visit

The exhibit features images of Caribbean wildlife like this Tetrio Sphinx Moth caterpillar, painted by naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian on her 1699 expedition.

Endemic Animal Festival 2017

The fourth annual Endemic Animal Festival is just around the corner. This free, fun event highlights the unique animals that live only on our island or only in our region. Here’s the scoop about this year’s event:

Endemic Animal Festival 2017

Sunday, April 23rd
Amuseum Naturalis
All ages and free!

Les Fruits de Mer’s annual Endemic Animal Festival is a free public event for all ages that celebrates St. Martin’s unique wildlife and natural heritage. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about the animals that only live on this island or in our region. The 2017 event features an Endemic Animal Discovery Station, a Club Gaïac seedling giveaway, local wildlife-themed art activities and free access to the island’s only natural history museum. It will take place at Amuseum Naturalis, 96 Grand Case Boulevard in Grand Case on Sunday, April 23rd from 9am-3pm.

The festival is made possible by our sponsors: Tri-Sport, Hotel L’Esplanade and IGY Marinas. We are still seeking additional sponsors for this year’s event. Contact us to find out how to become a sponsor!

Endemic Animal Discovery Station
Wildlife Walk
Club Gaïac Seedling Giveaway
Kids’ Art Activities

For more information about Amuseum Naturalis, visit
Join and share the event on Facebook.

Amuseum Naturalis Brings DEAD to Life with Smell Station

Amuseum Naturalis curators harvested the aromas of decomposition from Amuseum specimens.

There’s a brand new way to explore nature at Amuseum Naturalis, and it’s a truly “scentsational” experience. St. Martin’s only natural history museum launched its new Smell Station exhibit as part of the international celebration of Decomposition Education and Awareness Day (DEAD).

“Decomposition is an often overlooked part of the cycle of life,” explained Amuseum curator Mark Yokoyama. “The Smell Station seemed like the perfect way to smell-ebrate this es-scent-ial natural process.”

The Smell Station was inspired by the success of the Amuseum’s interactive audio exhibit featuring the sounds of nocturnal animals. Based on pre-launch testing, the exhibit has a powerful impact. Visitors reported being overwhelmed by the Smell Station.

The new Smell Station at Amuseum Naturalis delivers a unique and powerful experience.

“One of our goals for the Amuseum is to redefine the museum experience,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We in-stink-tively feel that smell-driven interactive installations are an area ripe for exploration.”

Expert smell-ologists from Amuseum Naturalis harvested the scents from specimens in the museum. They used groundbreaking odoractive technology to isolate and refine the smells for discharge at the exhibit. The Smell Station features the natural decay aromas of mammals, reptiles and fish, including both native and introduced species.

Decomposition Education and Awareness Day is celebrated with dozens of events around the world on April 1st each year. Amuseum Naturalis is free of charge and open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm.

Amuseum Naturalis Celebrates 5,000 Visitors with Free Ebook

The ebook Caribbean Curiosities: Island of Change is now available for free download.

It’s only been two months since Amuseum Naturalis officially launched its 2017 season in January, but the free natural history museum has already had over 5,000 visitors this year. To celebrate, Amuseum Naturalis creators Les Fruits de Mer are sharing a free ebook, Caribbean Curiosities: Island of Change.

This ebook is the second volume in a series highlighting the plants and animals featured in the museum. Both volumes are available for free from the resources section of the association’s website. This volume highlights some of the many species that were introduced to the island by humans, and how they are changing St. Martin’s local ecology.

“The Caribbean Curiosities ebooks are a chance to build on the stories we are sharing at the Amuseum,” explained Amuseum curator Mark Yokoyama. “They’re also a chance to share some of the magic of the Amuseum with people who haven’t had a chance to visit yet.”

Amuseum Naturalis is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm and admission is free. Group visits—for school classes, youth groups, or any kind of group—can be scheduled during March and April by email at or on the Amuseum’s website.

“We’re surprised and excited to have welcomed 5,000 visitors in just two months,” commented Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “It’s so fun to share the island’s natural history with a diverse group of locals and tourists each week. We also hope to host more school classes and other group visits, so please get in touch!”

Amuseum Naturalis is a free, public pop-up museum of the natural history of St. Martin and the Caribbean, created by Les Fruits de Mer and made possible by the generous sponsorship of Delta Petroleum and the support of the Friends of the Amuseum. Amuseum Naturalis is located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case in Grand Case and on the web at

Caribbean Curiosities: Land of the Blind

St. Martin was once home to a rather beautiful snake, the Leeward Island Racer. It was given the scientific name Alsophis rijgersmaei in honor of St. Martin’s 19th century physician and naturalist Dr. Hendrik Elingsz van Rijgersma. If you’re lucky, you might still see it on Anguilla or St. Barts. On this island, it seems the mongoose has hunted it to extinction. But that doesn’t mean that there are no snakes on St. Martin…

A scale covers the blind snake’s eye.

The one snake that is definitely living on St. Martin is odd, but it’s not surprising to find it here. It is known by many names: Brahminy Blind Snake because it is though to come from India, Flowerpot Blind Snake because it often travels in potted plants, and Island Blind Snake because it has been so successful in colonizing islands.

As you may have guessed, this snake is blind. It has eyes, but they are feeble and covered in scales. They can sense light and dark, but probably not much more than that. This is not a problem for them because they live underground, eating ants in all their life stages: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults.

If you’ve never seen one, that’s probably because they’re rarely out and about. They’re also very small—just a few inches long and thinner than a chopstick. There’s no need to fear the blind snake because their mouth is far too small to bite you.

A soil-dwelling snake.

How did this strange snake get here? Probably in potted plants or trees, the same way it has hitchhiked its way around the globe. This species is also parthenogenetic. They are all female and can reproduce entirely on their own, giving birth to genetically identical offspring. This is a serious advantage when colonizing an island, and surely a big part of their success in establishing themselves around the world.

Could there be more to St. Martin than a tale of two snakes? It is possible. Native blind snakes are now known from many nearby islands. If there’s one on St. Martin, it could have gone unnoticed. Today, it could be mistaken for the introduced Brahminy Blind Snake. If one is found—and several have been found in the Caribbean in recent years—it would likely be a species new to science.

You can learn more about the Brahminy Blind Snake and other invasive species at Amuseum Naturalis, located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case. The museum is free and open 4-8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Get more info at

Amuseum Naturalis Launches THE 5TH DREAM Art Exhibition Feb. 14th

“La Rêveuse” will be on display at Sélénia Sanner’s THE 5TH DREAM exhibition, launching February 14th at Amuseum Naturalis.

Amuseum Naturalis invites the public to the free gala opening of the museum’s first fine art exhibition, THE 5TH DREAM, from 4-8pm on Tuesday, February 14th. THE 5TH DREAM is a new series of paintings by Sélénia Sanner, inspired by the infinite ocean and the profound connection between humans and nature. The theme is explored through imagery of whales, with magical portrayals on large and small scale canvases that illuminate a dreamy alternate universe where these seemingly weightless giants can be seen swimming through boundless starry skies, or as epic shadows beneath tiny boats.

“This is the season when whales are especially visible in the Caribbean,” explains Amuseum Naturalis co-curator and island wildlife expert Mark Yokoyama, “so this exhibition really connects with what’s going on in nature right now.”

“We’re so excited for people to experience this breathtaking painting series and think about these majestic leviathans of the deep,” adds Jenn Yerkes, President of Les Fruits de Mer, the association behind Amuseum Naturalis. “We hope everyone will come out to celebrate the exhibition launch, meet the artist, and enjoy wine and cheese at the opening reception!”

“Crise Arctique” will be on display at Sélénia Sanner’s THE 5TH DREAM exhibition, launching February 14th at Amuseum Naturalis.

The launch of the exhibition also serves as the official launch of the unique painted wooden panels which were created by Sanner to accompany displays in the main exhibit hall of Amuseum Naturalis. The large-scale panels, each featuring nature scenes which bring its related exhibit to life, are mounted at the eye level of toddlers and children in strollers–giving even the smallest a special way to discover St. Martin’s natural heritage.

The free opening reception and the exhibition will be held in the Special Exhibition Room at Amuseum Naturalis. The exhibition will run February 14th to March 16th, and can be visited during the museum’s regular opening hours.

Amuseum Naturalis is a free pop-up museum that highlights the natural history of St. Martin and the Caribbean. The museum is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm. It is also open for school and other group visits during the day by appointment, which can be made via email at or on the web at Amuseum Naturalis is located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case in Grand Case. It is made possible by the generous support of Delta Petroleum and over a dozen businesses and individual donors who have become Friends of the Amuseum. For more information, visit

Only on St. Martin…

The new Destination magazine is out for St. Martin and it features a couple articles I wrote about local wildlife. This one covers a topic that is especially dear to me: the animals that are found only on this island or only in this region. Grab the actual magazine or check it out below!

St. Martin Timelapse

Looking at St. Martin from 1984 to the present with the updated Google Earth timelapse feature is pretty fascinating. It’s certainly not perfect, I think the data is pretty infrequent in the early years and part of what we can see is the improvement in the quality of satellite imagery. Still, we can also see major changes pretty clearly: a huge increase in the size of Pond Island an the ring road sandfill, the airport expansion and the development of Orient Bay, to name a few.

On Expedition Ringtones


If you’re enjoying On Expedition with Les Fruits de Mer by Marc AuMarc, you’ll probably want to have the Les Fruits de Mer theme song as a ringtone on your phone. Luckily, we’ve created ringtones with three versions from the album and you can download them right here. Hear the call of expedition and adventure every time someone calls you on your phone!

Les Fruits de Mer Theme Ringtone: MP3, M4R for iPhone
Promenade Ringtone: MP3, M4R for iPhone
Sous-marin Ringtone: MP3, M4R for iPhone

New Album “On Expedition” Captures the Spirit of Les Fruits de Mer

On Expedition with Les Fruits de Mer is available for free download.
On Expedition with Les Fruits de Mer is available for free download.

The sound of excitement and adventure comes alive in the new album On Expedition with Les Fruits de Mer. Composed and recorded by Marc AuMarc over the past year on St. Martin and on location elsewhere in the Caribbean, the twelve-track album explores and deconstructs the Les Fruits de Mer association’s iconic theme song across a variety of musical styles. It is now available for free download and online streaming at

“The concept of a Les Fruits de Mer theme song dates back many years, and the first notes of the melody were composed in 2012, although the theme itself was not completed until several years later,” recounted Mark Yokoyama, who composed the theme under the nom de plume Marc AuMarc. “Once the original theme was completed, it took on a life of its own, inspiring many unique variations.”

The album begins with the original Les Fruits de Mer theme presented in an orchestral arrangement, before sending the listener on an eclectic voyage through electronica, soft rock, disco, dub reggae and more. While melodic lines from the original theme form the basis of each track, a diversity of styles ensures that the album is constantly in motion, echoing the experience of being on a scientific expedition.

Some of On Expedition’s songs were recorded on expedition.
Some of On Expedition’s songs were recorded on expedition.

“You may recognize some of these songs from the wildlife documentary films we have been producing,” explained Les Fruits de Mer president Jenn Yerkes. “These songs have been an integral part of our work in film, and we felt it was time to showcase them on their own. Their energy, spirit and diversity exemplify the spirit of Les Fruits de Mer.”

Although this is the first album released under the name Marc AuMarc, Mark Yokoyama has been writing and recording music for over 25 years in a variety of genres, from country and folk to indie rock and electronic music.

The full album is available for download and streaming from The album is free. Fans wishing to make a contribution are encouraged to donate to the non-profit Les Fruits de Mer association to support their wildlife education activities and their free natural history museum, Amuseum Naturalis.

Archaeology + Biology


Today there was an open house at a pre-Colombian archaeological dig site near our apartment. In Grand Case, these sites have some pottery, stone tools and bones, but the majority of the artifacts are shells, primarily conch and whelk. Scattered around the dig site, I noticed a few shells from the Giant African Land Snail, a recent arrival that definitely wasn’t around 1,000 years ago. I asked one of the archaeologists and he explained that during digs like this hermit crabs will walk out onto the dig site and exchange their shells for ancient ones, walking off with some of the artifacts! Apparently, this is not a huge problem, since some of these digs generate literally tons of shells.

Free Pond Life Ebook Released for 2016 Migratory Bird Festival


In preparation for their upcoming Migratory Bird Festival, Les Fruits de Mer have released a free ebook, Pond Life. With vivid photography and fascinating facts, the book showcases seven bird species that are found on St. Martin’s ponds. Pond Life is available for free download on the association’s website.

“St. Martin’s ponds are perhaps the best place on the island to observe birds and other wildlife, especially during the peak of the migration season in early fall,” commented Pond Life author Mark Yokoyama. “When our resident wetland species are joined by seasonal migrants, our ponds are incredibly vibrant with a mix of birds that can change daily.”

Ponds are ideal for birdwatching because they offer unobstructed views, and several dozen species live and forage there. On St. Martin, birdwatching is not only a fun hobby, but also a potential tourism market. A recent study in the United States found that $17 billion was spent annually on travel for bird and wildlife watching. St. Martin is well-positioned to benefit from this market because its best birding locations—like the Great Salt Pond, where the Migratory Bird Festival will be held—are so easily accessible.

“The annual migration of birds from North America to the Caribbean is one of the most incredible and inspiring stories about nature in St. Martin, and the Pond Life ebook is a great way to learn about it,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “The Migratory Bird Festival is another, and we’re putting together a fantastic program this year.”

The ebook Pond Life and the details about this year’s Migratory Bird Festival are available at The festival will be held from 9am to noon on Sunday, October 16th at University of St. Martin on Pond Island in Philipsburg. The festival, now in its fourth year, is free to the public and all are invited.

Help Bring Local Bird Education Program to the French Caribbean


The nonprofit association Les Fruits de Mer is looking for help making the Caribbean’s most exciting new science curriculum available in French. Their goal is to leverage the power of crowdsourcing to complete the translation of the BirdSleuth Caribbean program from English into French. Anyone interested in joining the effort is encouraged to contact the association.

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a set of fun lessons and activities that uses birds to teach youth about nature and science. Based on a highly-successful international program, BirdSleuth Caribbean has been specially adapted for the region—kids learn about the birds and habitats that they can actually see around them, a refreshing change from educational materials created for Europe or North America. Designed for students 9-13 years old, the BirdSleuth Caribbean program contains lessons, activities and learning games designed for the classroom and outdoors.

“The mission of our association is to promote wildlife education, so the opportunity to take a bird education program designed for the Caribbean and make it more widely accessible in the region is a natural fit,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “It’s also a chance for us to connect with volunteers locally who want to be part of something positive. Living on a diverse, multilingual island we have an opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to tackle regionally-important projects like this.”

Les Fruits de Mer is leading the translation of the BirdSleuth Caribbean materials from English into French so they can be used throughout the French Caribbean. Once completed, Les Fruits de Mer and other organizations on French-speaking islands will conduct training workshops for teachers and youth leaders. Kits of BirdSleuth Caribbean materials will also be available to teachers who wish to use the program.

To participate in the translation project, email or use the contact form. The association is seeking volunteers who can translate a portion of the text from English to French and who can review the French translation. Teachers are especially encouraged to participate in this effort, and knowledge of birds is not required for those who want to help translate.

Any teachers, youth group leaders, or other educators who are interested in the upcoming free training workshops to learn the curriculum are also encouraged to contact Les Fruits de Mer. BirdSleuth International was developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and adapted for the Caribbean by BirdsCaribbean. The BirdSleuth Caribbean materials are currently available in English and Spanish.

Unsung Stories of Caribbean Naturalists Come Alive at Book Fair Presentation


Discover the fascinating, largely unknown stories of the incredible women and men who helped to build the scientific heritage of the Caribbean at a special multimedia presentation at the 2016 St. Martin Book Fair. Women, People of Color, and the Making of Natural History in the Caribbean, is free and open to the public and will take place from 11am to 12:30pm on Saturday, June 4th at the University of St. Martin.

The presentation was created as part of an ongoing research, writing and outreach project to shine a light on the lost or unsung work of the women and people of color in the study of Caribbean natural history, from the late 1400s to the early 1900s.

“Their historical contributions to science were often hidden, suppressed, or simply not as well publicized as those of their white male contemporaries,” explains presenter Jenn Yerkes, President of Les Fruits de Mer and co-curator of Amuseum Naturalis. “Many of these trailblazers had to fight slavery, racism, and sexism, and risk perilous journeys, pirates, disease, and dangerous wildernesses to do what they loved; their real lives were more epic, adventurous, heartbreaking, and inspiring than any Hollywood movie.”

Anyone are unable to attend the Book Fair presentation can learn more about some of these amazing individuals in the special exhibit currently on display at Amuseum Naturalis in Grand Case. The museum is open to the public from 4-8pm each Thursday and Sunday throughout the month of June.

Learn Bird Photography with Free Ebook


Bird photography is the subject of a new free ebook, Bird Shots, produced by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The book is a guide designed to help readers improve their bird photography and get more enjoyment from the hobby.

“Bird photography has its own specific challenges, and getting the best results requires a certain understanding of both birds and photography,” commented author Mark Yokoyama. “As a hobby, it is a fantastic way to develop a deeper connection with nature and appreciation for the craft of photography.”

The book was written for birders interested in improving their photography, photographers interested in capturing birds and even those who are new to both birding and photography. Topics include basic techniques to use in the field, composition and visual storytelling, and how to work with the photos you have taken.

This new ebook arrives just in time to inspire local photographers to capture some bird photos for the 2016 Heritage Photo Contest. The theme of this year’s contest is The Spirit of St. Martin.
The contest is free and open to every age, and everyone is welcome to enter as many times as they like.

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 summer. Awards will be given for the winning entries in three categories: Adult, Under 18 and People’s Choice.

The ebook Bird Shots is available for free download. Information about how to enter the 2016 Heritage Photo Contest and this year’s online Heritage Gallery are also found on the site.