THIS IS..... Didier Laplace!

Posted on February 08 2018

Didier, you are passionate about protecting the environment and have done a lot in St Barth in particular to protect its nature and its coral reefs with your organization, Coral Restoration of St Barth.

 We often compare coral reefs to aquatic tropical forests. This is where a quarter of all worldwide marine species nourish themselves and reproduce themselves.

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Could you explain the current situation of the coral reefs in St Barth and around the world? Could you explain the recent phenomenon of coral bleaching?

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Coral is made of animal, vegetal and minerals. It is the symbiosis of animal and algae. The animal, called polyp nourishes itself of “zooplankton”, and houses in its tissues the algae we call zooxanthellae that expel nutrients. The Caribbean waters are poor in zooplankton, so the zooxanthellae give the coral the majority of its nourishment.

-The warming of bodies of water throughout the world has had stressful repercussions on coral in general, which has made it expel the zooxanthella that nourish it. Having lost its colorful algae dressing, it is then that the limestone white skeleton of the coral appears.  This is where the phenomenon of coral bleaching happens.

Occasionally, some of the pigments of the zooxanthellae remain and give a residual softened tint to the coral. Without their zooxanthellae, the corals die within a few weeks, sometimes even sooner if the conditions are particularly difficult.

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Is global warming the sole reason for this phenomenon?

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Unfortunately not. In addition to global warming, the impact of humans also plays a significant role: pollution, overdevelopment along the coasts, sullied waters, and overfishing all contribute to the destruction of our coral reefs. To date, 60 % of our coral reefs have been destroyed. 

That being said, there are what we call “super corals” with which we have been working. I was able to learn this in Miami, while in the company of the marine biologist David Vaughan who cultivates large coral fragments in basins.  His technique enables the coral to grow 25 times faster than in their natural environment. He then reincorporates them in the sea. The corals have an incredible capacity to adapt.

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Losing coral reefs, what does this mean in laymen terms?

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On a reef, each specie plays a vital role: the coral is competing with the algae, which are chewed by the vegetarian fish, who themselves are hunted by carnivorous fish, and at the top of the food chain are the sharks that regulate this precious equilibrium. Losing our coral reefs would have an impact on the entire marine ecosystem as well as on the local economies as it would have a significant impact on tourism. IFRECOR (a French initiatve for coral reef) claims that 1000 corporations and 2000 employees depend on coral reefs in St Barth alone.

Since the 1980s, we have lost more than half of our coral reefs, and Irma had a terrible impact with its strong winds.

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What is your action plan for St Barth in the sea but also on the island itself with regard to its inhabitants?

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We are working with volunteers on coral restoration as well as the general preservation of marine life. Last year, we were able to study the effect of the lion fish, which has a very big appetite for all marine life and therefore can negatively affect native forage fish populations ( it can reduce marine life on a reef by up to 90% in only 6 months!). Unfortunately, we did not have the funds necessary to finish that important study.

This year we will focus on dune restoration and the impact they have on the biotope and the nesting of sea turtles. We will intervene in schools and we will organize field trips to inspire the students. We believe educating the next generation is essential for them to understand the importance of our seabed and coral reefs and become invested volunteers.  We hope to be able to restore colonies, which will grow and propagate for 400 years to come.  Our challenge will be to continue to educate the locals to care and to participate and volunteer. In light of future hurricanes, we will need to understand the repercussion of those on our reefs and on the current restoration projects which will have to adapt.  There are many more challenges but we hope to attack them one by one and ensure the viability of these projects in the long term.  In the end, it is a matter of funding, and we hope to get more support in general.

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To participate in helping restore the coral reefs, please make donations:

http://www.coral-restoration-stbarth.com/donation.html