ST. EUSTATIUS–Nature on St. Eustatius has been severely affected by Hurricane Irma that struck the island in the early morning of Wednesday, September 6. Most visible are the effects on land. During a preliminary natural damage assessment St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) counted hundreds of uprooted trees and snapped trunks, but there is damage underwater as well.
The quick scan shows that in The Quill National Park 80-90 percent of the trees on the outer Northwestern slope and the inner Southeastern slope have lost their leaves. Due to this The Quill looks brown-greyish instead of vibrant green.
At least 20 trees were uprooted and fell over the Main Quill trail and there are hundreds of limbs and branches on the ground. This means that hundreds of trees overall on The Quill are down and many more limbs and branches. The Southeastern part of the crater is also affected.
Outside the National Park STENAPA counted 217 visible trees with a diameter of at least one metre down or snapped. Of all the districts Oranjestad itself showed the most damage with 34 trees of which 12 had a diameter of three metres or more. Trees provide shade, stabilise the soil, provide food, provide shelter for wildlife, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Around 95 per cent of the trees along the Caribbean cliff side in Lower Town, many of them old trees, lost their leaves.
In the National Marine Park seven of the most important dive sites have weathered the storm relatively well. There is minor damage to the reef. The hard and soft corals such as sea fans retained their cover. Except for damage to mostly medium-size Giant Barrel Sponges the sites have retained their cover.
Unfortunately, the coral garden in Jenkins Bay (six metres underwater, 10 coral ladders) is gone. This coral garden is part of a European Union-funded project where STENAPA tries to grow, with other partners, Elkhorn and Staghorn coral fragments on tree-like structures.
The coral garden at Crooks Castle is still standing (five metres underwater, four coral ladders). As soon as the fragments are big enough they will be planted out on the seafloor.
All the sand on the beaches on the Caribbean Sea coast (Orange Bay) has gone. Due to this, sea turtles will not be able to lay their nests in the short term. Conversely, 1-2 metres of sand was deposited on Zeelandia Beach on the Atlantic side. This beach is well-known as a nesting area for sea turtles. It is too early to say whether the additional sand will have a negative effect on the already confirmed nests.
Also in the Botanical Garden trees are down, including numerous branches and limbs. The shade house is destroyed and two of the four solar panels were blown off the roof of the visitors centre. Due to this the drip system does not function any more.
STENAPA has submitted a report about the results of the preliminary nature damage assessment to the Public Entity of St Eustatius.