About St Barth

By I, Aotearoa, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2263290

 

The Island of Saint Barthelemy, commonly referred to as Saint Barth or Saint Barts, has coasts that face both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This small island, measuring just eight square miles, is one of the most northern islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago.

Christopher Columbus “discovered” the island during his second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, although in the mid-12th century, the Carib Indians had already baptized it as “Ouanalao”, which means pelican in their language. It remained uninhabited by Europeans until the first French settlers arrived more than a century later in 1648. The island remained French until 1784 when it was traded to Sweden, in exchange to commercial access to the Port of Gotheborg, but it was returned to France in 1878.

Since 1960, Saint Barth has experienced sustained economic growth as it developed into a high-end tourist destination, renowned for its tranquility and beauty. The population grew by almost 40% between 1982 and 1990, and again by 26,5% between 1990 and 1999, reaching the official number of 6,848 inhabitants in 1999. The residents of the island thrive primarily through tourism as well as activities related to the sea (fishing, diving, nautical sports…). Several studies that were made in the 1980s by the University of the Antilles and Guyana, and the American foundation, New England Biolabs, drew attention to the richness of the underwater world around Saint Barth, but also to the fragility of this marine environment and the risk of sustained damage.

With the results of these studies in mind, and in light of continued development on the island, local authorities decided it was necessary to take measures that would protect the natural heritage of the island: its marine environment. As a result, the Marine Park of Saint Barthelemy was created on October 10, 1996, as the 132nd marine park in France. It covers 2,500 acres that are divided into five distinct zones located to the north and west of the island. The biggest challenge is to reconcile the needs and desires of the resident population with the fragility of the marine environment.

The variety of marine habitats around the island was favorable to the development of two ecosystems. Without a doubt, the most important of these is the coral reef, which plays and essential role: it is a source of life! It has a rich and complex biology, yet also plays a considerable economic role, especially on an island like Saint Barth, where tourism and fishing are among the principal activities. However, the beds of seagrass (phanerogames) represent an ecosystem that stretches around the island and includes nursery zones that are important for the feeding of young marine animals living along the coral reef.

And finally, a third environment that is often misunderstood an maligned is that of the coastal ponds, which have a direct relationship between the sea and the land. In fact, they filter the unsalted water from the land before it goes to the sea, helping keep the sea water clean, which is important condition for the development of coral.

At the end of the day, these three ecosystems are closely interconnected, adding to their strength but also to their weakness!

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