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The nature reserve




Copyright Tony Duarte


St Barthélemy’s coastline and waters are a valuable and precious natural resource. In 1996, a marine reserve was created, designating various protected zones within a 500 metre perimeter around the island, as well as nature reserve areas.

The nature reserve is overseen by an association called ‘Grenat’, whose mission is to manage the designated area in its entirety with the help of both the local collectivity and the State, and alongside two other associations: SubProtect, who promote protection of the underwater environment, and the association of professional divers. The main aim of Grenat is to protect the different marine habitats around the island, thus ensuring the longevity of this environment and the many species which live within it.

Indeed, this protection has become essential, when you consider the number of tourists which visit the island, and the related proliferation of hotels, the increase in the number of motor vehicles as well as unofficial anchoring by boats along the coast. There has also been an increased potential for pollution, notably waste water, as the island has become more populated and welcomes more visitors.

Fishing is prohibited in ‘high protection zones’ and regulated elsewhere. This includes gathering shells and coral, and fishing for crayfish. Water-skiing and jet-skiing are also forbidden, and anchoring boats is prohibited unless authorisation is obtained.

A map showing the zones is displayed at the entrance to each beach, and the reserve body’s most important task is to educate and raise awareness of the vital need to look after the environment, among both the local population and the tourist population. The rules are strict, for example you should not touch nor feed marine animals. Also, dives can be organised and led only by individuals who have been licenced by the State, and who will carry out monitoring and testing during their dives and report back to the organisation who manage the reserve.

The best season for scuba diving in St Barts is from 15th April to the end of August, before the cyclone season begins and brings windy weather and a cooler temperature of around 25°C. From April onwards, the water temperature typically reaches 28°C again. The island’s natural coastal sites, both onshore and underwater, are rich in diversity. Its coral reefs especially, with no less than 51 species in 31 different genera. It is also teeming with fish; 183 species were identified in 2007, with an average density of 238 individuals per 100 square metres, which compares very favourably with other reserves in the West Indies, including that of Saba island which is regarded as a model in marine conservation.

The SEI (Sustainable Ecosystems Institute) has already demonstrated that, since 1996 when the reserve was created, population numbers and biodiversity have recovered more rapidly around certain islets such as Gros-Ilets and Pain de Sucre. This restoration of the marine environment seems to be directly linked to the creation of the reserve (even though fishing is not forbidden throughout the whole reserve).

However, informing visitors to the island and educating them about their ecological impact is not always enough, and so the reserve wardens must also assume a ‘nature police’ role. In fact, continual monitoring of the coast and its waters are necessary in order to combat poaching and abuse of the environment.




un mérou, Tony Duarte
Un Mérou, ou Vieille à carreau, à sauvegarder car prédateur du Poisson Lion. Copyright Tony Duarte



Poisson Soleil, Tony Duarte
Un Poisson Soleil, rare le jour, il chasse la nuit. Copyright Tony Duarte