Hurricanes have shaped Caribbean ecosystems for millions of years. Any plants or animals that couldn’t survive the periodic damage from these storms would have disappeared from islands like St. Martin. The native species that live here today are hurricane-ready by design.
But things have changed in recent centuries. Humans have altered the island tremendously. We have cleared forests and filled ponds. We have brought new plants and animals, and some of these compete with or consume native species. Wild spaces have become smaller and more vulnerable. Already pushed to the edge, our local habitats can use a helping hand.
Irma was a world-class showcase in the raw destructive power of nature. Somehow, in Irma’s aftermath we also became closer to nature. We were humbled by the storm. We were astounded by the speed of nature’s rebirth, especially compared to our own labored steps towards rebuilding. We realized that our existence here is a partnership with nature.
In the last few months, amidst the surviving and struggling and rebuilding, so many St. Martiners have found time to help nature. Hundreds came to get bird feeders so they could help local birds survive. Hundreds have participated in clean-ups all around the island, from the beaches to the hills. Dozens have helped plant local trees to restore habitats.
Most of these efforts existed before Irma, but have gained momentum recently. The Clean St. Martin Facebook group was started in 2016, but only began organizing weekly clean-up events this fall. Environmental Protection in the Caribbean has done a series of habitat restoration projects through the years. Their current work planting native trees on hillside and wetlands sites has captured the interest of many volunteers eager to make a difference right now.
Joining in as we clean the island and restore habitat is a great way to help nature recover from Irma. In the long term, healthier habitats are stronger when facing future hurricanes and other threats.
We also benefit when we work for nature. Healthy native forests prevent erosion. Healthy wetlands keep our seas clean and our coral reefs alive. Beautiful hillsides and beaches boost the tourism value of the island. On a more personal level, a morning outdoors planting or cleaning can make you feel really great.