Rebirth: Alita Singh

Almon’ gonna reach for the sky! This almond tree sprouting a crop of new leaves two weeks after Hurricane Irma slammed on to island gave me heart. It made me stop and admire Mother Nature for her force that snap off the branches scattered are tree’s base and for her gentleness to call on the survivors to regrow, reach … be reborn.

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Deadline Extended for 2017 Heritage Photo Contest

There’s more time to share your interpretation of Rebirth. The deadline for the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest has been extended to December 31st to allow more people to share their photography and ideas about the island.

The Heritage Photo Contest and Exhibition was developed by Les Fruits de Mer to showcase local photography, 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. Dozens of photos have been submitted so far this year, featuring animals, landscapes, historical buildings, local events and much more.

“There are some amazing images and stories in the online gallery for the 2017 contest,” says Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’re excited to see so many different ideas about what rebirth looks like, so we’re giving folks a little extra time to contribute.”

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 31, 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/

Helping Hands

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.

Hundreds have been feeding birds in the last few months.

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.

Volunteers clear debris from a hillside.

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.

Planting mangroves at Little Key.

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.

Rebirth: Mathieu Alexandre

Wherever my story takes me, however dark and difficult the theme, there is always some hope and redemption, not because readers like happy endings, but because I am an optimist at heart. I know the sun will rise in the morning, that there is a light at the end of every tunnel.

Shot taken in Nettle bay, in the destroyed homes ..

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Thibault Poret

Tu n’es pas tout seul l’ami.

Cette route est une des plus belles routes de Saint Martin. La route de la Baie Lucas longe le bord de la mer, et cette zone est entièrement sous réserve naturelle, il n’y a donc quasiment aucune construction et la nature y est sauvage.

Photo prise avant Irma. #remember

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Thibault Poret

Un endroit beaucoup bien reposant, l’observatoire des baleines.
Cette image est ma première tentative de photo des étoiles ! Ce qui est vraiment cool, c’est qu’une voiture à fait demi-tour, éclairant l’observatoire comme il le fallait !
Si vous aimez la nature, les belles couleurs, le calme, cet endroit est un must !

Photo prise avant Irma. #remember

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Mathieu Alexandre

Shot taken of kids in Sandy Ground. The look in their eye says it all. The future is in the hand of our future generations and we shall do anything to make their life as easy as possible.

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Angie Stmartin

Oyster Pond´s Rebirth : SALVAGING

After a major hurricane cat 5++ nature started its rebirth and with each day we could witness that our beloved island became green again. With each boat that was salvaged the marina became cleaner, with each crane the process was quicker and with each barge the salvaging went faster.

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Thibault Poret

J’ai pris cette photo en rentrant du travail. Je me demandais “À quoi peut bien ressembler Quartier depuis le haut de cette antenne ?”. Ni une ni deux, je me suis arrêter et j’ai grimper là-haut pour voir ça. La gendarmerie c’est arrêté quelque minute après, j’ai bien failli avoir beaucoup d’ennuis ce jour ci ! Mais pas de regret, je voulais voir Quartier de ce point de vue absolument avant mon départ.
On espère que Quartier d’Orléans retrouvera toutes ses couleurs. Pour la joie de vivre des habitants, je sais qu’elle sera toujours présente !

Photo prise avant Irma. #remember

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Thibault Poret

Photo prise en haut de la colline Red Rock. On peut voir le spot de surf connu “Wilderness” ainsi qu’un bout de la plage des Petites Cayes.
Je me souviendrai de cette marche à vie, les herbes mesuraient entre 1 et 2 mètres de haut, et nous avions dû marcher à travers pendant plusieurs heures pour se rendre sur cette pointe là !

Photo prise avant Irma. #remember

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Thibault Poret

Sunrise photo !
Le club Aquarius fut détruit en 1995 par le cyclone Luis et abandonné par la suite.
Pour la jeunesse d’Oyster-Pond, c’est notre parc de jeux, on y est tous allé découvrir les sous-sols, la piscine vide, construit des rampes pour faire du skateboard et du vélo !
Comme quoi, aucun endroit ne meurt.

Photo prise avant Irma. #remember

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Thibault Poret

Avant Irma, j’allais me promener souvent à Pic Paradis, et je méditais tranquillement sur le point le plus haut de Saint Martin, une des antennes France Telecom.

Elles reviendront dominer le sommet de Saint-Martin avec leurs petits point rouge la nuit !

#remember

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Mathieu Alexandre

Behind every difficult situation of life : There is always a way to turn things upside down and especially by using Sarcasm to deal with it. I don’t know who put that Teddy bear on that chair but I’m sure that it was a way of taking a step back after everything that had happened.

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Mathieu Alexandre

Picture taken during a electricity cut on the french side, we can clearly see the stars because there was no light pollution and a really beautiful sky.

To me it proves that behind darkness is always light .. Hope behind tears

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Edward Penagos

This photo reflects the hope after the destruction. At the beginning after Hurricane Irma everything was darkness, desolation and anguish. However, if you pay attention and see the future, the light will start to appear, showing that even after a tragedy is possible to stand up and find a new way that will help us to overcome and build everytime a stronger sxm.

And this picture is exactly what happened, I took the picture in the darkness during the midnight, but after 2 minutes you can star seeing what is invisible to the eyes, the light, the new hope.

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

How did Edward take a photo like this at night? The technical information is not required for the contest, but he shared it with us, so we will share it with you. It looks like the exposure was over two minutes long:

The picture was taken before Irma.

Place: Mont Vernon (Orient Bay – French side)
Is possible to see St. Barth in the right corner.

Camera: Nikon D7100
Lens: 15-55 mm
Focal distance: 55mm
Focus mode: Manual
Aperture: f/5.6
Exposure time: 123.4s
ISO: 100
Color Temperature – manual: 4760k

We Will Never Know

Hurricanes are a great force of transformation. In the Caribbean, they are often the milestones in our collective memory: before Donna, between Luis and Lenny, after Irma. Towns change after a hurricane and nature does, too.

There are many natural changes that are associated with Hurricane Luis in 1995. Many will tell you that the bright red Oleander Moth arrived at this time. Others add the Green Iguana and the Giant African Land Snail, too. Some trace today’s Vervet Monkey population to individuals that escaped during Luis. Many recount the lack of birds after Luis, particularly hummingbirds and Sugar Birds.

It is hard to tell how accurate these stories are. Some may be coincidences. It is natural to connect events from the same time period with a major event like Luis or Irma. In other cases, these stories can be true. Hurricane winds and waves do bring animals from island to island on occasion. Huge amounts of material are also shipped in during the rebuilding period. New species often hitch a ride with building materials and trees for landscaping.

At this very moment, there may be changes happening that will change nature on the island forever. But we will never know exactly what they are.

How are Ground Lizards doing after Irma? It’s hard to say.

Nature on St. Martin is special. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. There are species that live only here. There habitats that don’t have an exact match on any other island. It should be something worth studying, but we don’t really study it a lot.

To understand the impact of a hurricane like Irma, we need to study the plants and animals of St. Martin all the time. We need to know what a normal year is like and what a dry year is like. We need to measure changes over time. Scientists might call this the baseline data—the normal, the before.

Ideally, there would also be research teams on the ground immediately after Irma to study what is happening to natural systems. How are trees and plants growing back? How did bird numbers change after the storm? How has debris changed water quality in ponds? Are invasive species spreading? This work would be in addition to rescue efforts to help the people of the island, and some of the information might help keep people safe and healthy.

We missed an opportunity to learn about nature, and it happens all the time. As our most urgent recovery needs are met, we should work towards understanding our own island better. We will never know exactly what Irma did to nature on St. Martin, but perhaps next time we will.

Rebirth: Chelsea Pyne

Trampled by Turtles
Over sixty sea turtles hatched the night before December 1st. It was a great way to go into the holiday season: with a renewed spirit and tiny trails across the sand. This photo captures their exit from the nest, as many still have sand covering their faces. It was a quick few minutes to army crawl their way to the water, before they vanished into the sea.

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

Rebirth: Chelsea Pyne

Turtle Plunge
In November, we witnessed the birth of many sea turtles. Debris was strewn across the nests, so we made sure to uncover and clear what we could. This eager, little guy was up and ready to make his journey at sunset. (Early turtle gets the seagrass?) Once he entered the water the waves quickly greeted him and swept him on his way.

This is an entry in the 2017 Heritage Photo Contest. Our theme this year is Rebirth. View all the entries in the online gallery, learn more and find out how to enter here.

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!

Out of the Woodwork

Nature lovers—and perhaps even casual observers—may have noticed some unusual animals on St. Martin after Hurricane Irma. There are a few different reasons why animals we don’t usually see here may be on the island, or more visible than usual.

Hurricanes can bring animals with them, especially birds. Birds can be trapped in the eye of a hurricane for hours or days, forced to move with the storm. There have been many cases where hurricanes have deposited birds far from their home or migratory destination.

The Scaly-naped Pigeon is not rare, but is rarely seen in town.

Some unusual sightings after Irma could be birds brought from islands the storm passed on its way here. However, this would be difficult to know for sure because those islands—like Barbuda—mostly have the same birds that live here.

Migratory birds can be thrown off course by hurricanes. Needing rest after flying near or through a storm, they may stop in unfamiliar destinations. A small flock of American Golden Plovers was seen for the first time on Statia just after Irma. This species prefers wetlands, which Statia lacks, so they moved on quickly.

A White-crowned Pigeon near the beach is an odd sight on St. Martin

Birds can also change their behavior after a hurricane in ways that make them easier to see. Scaly-naped and White-crowned Pigeons have been seen in urban areas on several islands after Irma, including St. Martin. While these species are native, they prefer forested hilltops. The destruction of their habitat may have brought them down in search of food.

Domesticated animals set loose by the hurricane aren’t exactly wildlife, but they could become wild. Free-roaming pigs made headlines several times before they were recaptured. We were visited by a Cockatiel and a Lovebird during the weeks after Irma. Like many native birds, they had come to us for food. Friends saw a rabbit hopping around Simpson Bay.

Our exotic bird friends entertained us, but they don’t belong in the wild.

Native species tend to find their way after a storm. They will continue their migration or head back to their homes in the hills as the forests recover. Hopefully lost pets and livestock will find their way home as well. If they don’t some—feral pigs, for example—can have the potential to become dangerous to both man and nature.