Story and pictures provided by EPIC
Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) is the FEE member organisation which runs the Blue Flag programme in Sint Maarten. Their headquarters were severely damaged during the passage of Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm with winds of up to 295 km/hr. It is at such difficult times that one learns the strength of community. The outpouring of support from the other FEE member organisations was overwhelming and greatly appreciated. Despite the great distances between our countries, the closeness of the community is very evident and heartwarming.
Thanks to this support, EPIC is now in the process of hurricane recovery. The roof, which was blown off, is being replaced and walls which fell down are being rebuilt. By January, the organisation expects to be back in operation at its headquarters, with new office equipment and housing supplies for staff and volunteers.
Because of the level of destruction, Blue Flag sites are struggling to begin operations in time for the tourism high season; complying with Blue Flag criteria offers another challenge. For example, one hotel had about a meter of sand in their reception area but lost much of the beach at the same time, along with numerous rooms destroyed by two-story high waves. Meanwhile marinas put up oil booms to limit the spread of fuel from sunken boats and must now remove the wrecks. Nonetheless, EPIC has received optimistic responses from some sites regarding their ability to fly the Blue Flag this year. We continue to work with sites and encourage them in this compliance work.
At the same time, EPIC is leading restoration work to remove hurricane debris and invasive species from coastal and hillside habitats while planting native species. We are also conducting presentations and field trips focusing on the value of biodiversity for schools and community groups. The dedicated team of staff and volunteers are seeing progress in their restoration and education efforts, bringing a sense of hope to a country that has lost so much.