Gonzalo leaves Simpson Bay Lagoon badly damaged

POSTED: 10/17/14 4:24 PM

Yacht run aground

A yacht which was run aground during Hurricane Gonzalo. Credit: St. Maarten Nature Foundation/Tadzio Bervoets

St. Maarten – In the wake of Hurricane Gonzalo, Tadzio Bervoets, ecologist and manager of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and his team set out late Tuesday morning to assess the damages the category one hurricane wreaked on the nature of St. Maarten and help storm victims. “After every hurricane, we have a protocol in place in what and who we’re serving,” said Bervoets. First to be assessed were the foundation’s boats, its equipment and the office building, which were left unscathed by the weather system. He and his team then went out on the Simpson Bay Lagoon to provide assistance to those who were in need of aid. “There was so much damage in the lagoon,” he said. “When we saw the extent of the damage, it was clear that many mariners did not prepare as they should have; the hurricane caught many of them off guard.”

While on the lagoon, Bervoets and his team helped stranded mariners off their boats. They also towed dinghies, cleared any floating debris that would obstruct other sailing vessels and assisted the coast guard and St. Maarten Sea Rescue Foundation, which were on site as well.

The team focused its attention on the St. Maarten Shipyard, which, as Bervoets put it, had quite a bit of damage from boats that had drifted in from the lagoon. “They were unprepared and didn’t put out the storm anchors that they should have put out.” The Nature Foundation team continued their assessments by compiling inventory of how many wrecks there were in the Simpson Bay lagoon, an endeavor which is still taking place. Thus far, they’ve found approximately 36 wrecks. “We will be working closely with the Department of Maritime Affairs, Ministry VROMI and Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority Corporation (SLAC) to come up with a plan of approach to remove the wrecks that are there.” The wrecks that they are not able to salvage will be sunk and turned into artificial reefs.

Bervoets pointed out that when he and his team assess these wrecks, they also assess if there is any remaining fuel or hazardous materials in the boats. He went on to say that there was quite a bit of fuel, both gasoline and diesel, which had escaped from damaged boats, floating on the water’s surface in the lagoon. “Though it is still serious, diesel is not as serious as gasoline; diesel evaporates within a few hours into the atmosphere.” Gas, however, stays in the environment for a longer period of time. To address this situation, the team responded with oil-absorbent pads, which were used to effectively absorb the oil on the water’s surface. They also employed the use of an oil-absorbent boom, which was pulled across the area contaminated with fuel to stop the fuel from drifting into other areas of lagoon.

The team also went out to assess the damages the mangrove stands sustained during the passing of Gonzalo. Next to the damage caused by boats that had been run aground in the trees, the mangroves sustained quite a bit of damage from mariners who tied their boats to the trees, Bervoets said. He reported that there was quite a bit of damage in Mullet Pond because of this. In areas where there has been extensive damage to the mangrove stands, he and his team will plant more mangrove trees. They also checked the mangroves stands, an area of approximately 500 meters that had been planted with trees by the Nature Foundation, near the Causeway Bridge in Colebay. He reported that those mangroves fared quite well, despite having some boats run aground in them. The mangroves on Belair Pond and Fresh Pond fared well.

St. Maarten’s big, historic almond, quenette and tamarind trees were also assessed, many of which had been significantly damaged, reported Bervoets. He added that these types of trees will be replanted through the foundation’s ongoing St. Maarten Tree Project, where Bervoets, along with his team and volunteers, go into the community to plant trees.

The Nature Foundation manager advised everyone, both residents and tourists alike, to refrain from swimming in the Great Bay area for quite some time due to the overflow from the Great Salt Pond, which brought tilapia fish into the area. Upon entering the ocean, these fresh-water fish died, as they were unable to cope with the ocean’s high salt levels, and then washed back ashore, causing quite a stink. Once water quality improves, Bervoets and his team will do a survey dive to ensure that there are no submerged pieces of zinc or other sharp objects that can injure swimmers.

 

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