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  Yves Bourel has been living in St. Barts for more than 10 years. He is an experienced journalist and has been the editor-in-chief for local newspapers. Currently, he is one of the radio announcers at Radio St. Barth for whom he covers political news and is presenting the local news every 2 weeks for St. Barths Online!
  June 6, 2002 - Issue # 20
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  The Marine Reserve: a selling point for St. Barths
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   Because of the development of tourism and the increase in the resident population, environmental protection has progressively edged its way to priority status in St. Barths. Concrete steps have been taken not only to keep the island clean, notably, the installation of an effective waste treatment system, but also to improve the condition of the coastline and the ocean floor immediately surrounding the island. In the past, it was Subprotect, a volunteer group, that periodically scheduled clean-up days. The success of these outings depended on the fact that the island's most-environmentally conscious were active and dedicated enough in their quest to preserve the island's greatest natural resource- an unpolluted ocean- to pick up the garbage tossed mindlessly at sea by environmental Cromagnons. Aside from these community-generated projects, island leaders thought it wise to take an official stand on the matter and to create a marine reserve around St. Barthélemy in order to safeguard the island's underwater flora and fauna.
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  In 1988, American scientists on an underwater observation mission in St. Barths undertook a series of dives in different parts of the island. The results of those dives brought two vital bits of information to the fore: that the underwater biosystem was as fragile as it was varied, and that remedial steps needed to be taken quickly to prevent the further degeneration of the island's underwater flora and fauna. Though several factors were responsible for the deteriorated marine condition, the most consequential had mostly to do with sheer numbers; there were more and more people now using’ the ocean to dive, to fish, or boat, whether for pleasure or commercial gain. As for overfishing, the island's commercial and amateur fishermen shared the blame. The coral reefs were taking a severe beating from careless or inexperienced scuba divers and anchors that would rake against the underwater pastures or coral reefs until they landed. It became evident that some kind of control was needed.
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  On an island that has lived for years without rules and where residents have had the habit of fishing where and what they pleased, the creation of the marine reserve was not an easy sell. It took nearly 8 years of meetings, discussions, counter-discussions, and sometimes-violent opposition for the concept to come to fruition. One of the greatest challenges was striking the elusive balance between the no-rules position of the past and the for-our-own-good rules that would protect the environment without damaging tourism or depriving the island's fishermen of practicing their livelihood. On October 10, 1996, the first formal step was taken when the prefect of Guadeloupe signed the ordinance officially recognizing the marine reserve. It would be a full three years more, on November 6 1999, before the reserve officially went into operation.
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  Since that day, a limited number of zones stretching out over 1200 hectares, are under reserve protection ( Fourchue, Colombier ,Fregate and Toc de Vert, Pain de Sucre and Gros Islet, La Tortue, Marigot and Cul-de-Sac). Activities that are permitted or prohibited are defined for each zone. For example, all marine-based activities (fishing, anchoring, diving, jetskiing, etc,) are strictly prohibited around the island of Tortue. Cul de Sac, Marigot and Petite Anse in Flamands have been classified as underwater nurseries, and as such, fishing in those areas is limited to only a certain number of specifically designated species. The rules are more relaxed and scuba-diving, burgot and conch fishing are permitted in the areas that have a high tourist draw (Fourchue, Colombier ,Fregate and Toc de Vert, Pain de Sucre and Gros Islet).
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  Even if it is still too early to draw scientific conclusions, the results of the protection program seem to be paying off already. Certain species are reappearing. Turtles, protected by the Washington Convention, have made a comeback and once again inhabit the island's bays. Fish can once again be seen in Colombier and Fourchue and the coral reef is, in places, rebuilding. Local thinking has also progressed, in large part as a result of the environmental awareness campaign that the reserve's managers have doggedly pursued. Marine reserve staff members pay regular visits to the island's schools, an educational measure that is indispensable for ensuring the preservation of one of St. Barth's most vital, and most essential treasures.

  More to come,

  Yves Bourel


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