As soon as hurricane Irma hit St Barths and that it was clear that the whole island had been severely damaged, a lot of people reached out to me, to ask what they could do. While my first efforts had been to inform about the state of the island through social media and also to get useful equipment like power generators shipped to the island, I’ve also been buy uniting with other local actors to propose a way to help St Barths that makes sense beyond the urgency of the first weeks. This is how Make St Barths Green Again was born.
Our immediate effort: Information & Power Generators
While St Barths was almost cut from the outside world, it was important to enable St Barths lovers, people with families on the island, owners of villas like me, and everyone else, know about the real state of St Barths. Using my SaintBarth.com Instagram account, I Love St Barths Facebook Group, and SaintBarth.com Twitter account, and by being present in the French speaking group Cyclone St Barth infos et solidarité, I’ve tried to share news in English about what was going on.
The media was focused on Saint Martin, for good reasons, but not much was being said about Saint Barthélemy. Soon, contacts, readers, former villa guests, journalists were contacting me to say: How can we help?
In the first 2 weeks, my focus had been to help with an initiative to get power generators shipped to St Barths. Thanks to Aviation Without Borders, we’ve been able to make it happen. Bruno, co-owner of our villas ans Senator Michel Magras have been key in this effort. I only played a super minor role here, using my networks. This was the most urgent thing that people outside from the island while Irma struck could do: Enabling people on the ground to get portable power not just for their homes (short-term effort), but also for all the tools needed to cut trees and clean up the island (mid-term effort).
Jumpstarting the local St Barths economy by replanting trees to attract and delight visitors
Then,we sat down to think: What would make sense to do? What kind of simple, yet impactful, project could we propose to St Barths lovers who wanted to help?
St Barths locals are pretty resilient: Without outside help, with no army, with no one really, they had been able to reopen the airport in 2 days, the commercial port in 4, the power plant in 5 and the water plant in 6 days. Some people had lost everything, but after 5 days, locals had themselves donated so much clothes that it did not make sense to organize clothes drives to ship things to St Barths.
After French President Macron came to the island, it was clear that insurance companies would be paying the bulk of the reconstruction. Not all of it (believe me, I know that I will have to pay for a lot of it), but as President Magras of St Barths said, people will get their roofs back.
Taking advice from the local authorities, talking with friends on the island, with potential donators in the US, we realized that the one thing that would be hitting bad the island in the months and years after Irma would be a dip in tourism. St Barths lovers would come and support the island, but casual visitors would want to have nice landscapes to look at to come over.
This is how we agreed to focus on replanting trees. Tourism is the island’s only industry. Without visitors, shops would close, people would be made redundant and a lot would have to leave.
Creating a non-profit: Make St Barths Green Again
Working under the guidance of the local environmental agency (Agence Territoriale de l’Environnement de Saint Barthélemy), with local St Barths people known for having executed and delivered similar projects (e.g. Didier Laplace if the Coral Restoration St Barth organization), with local gardeners, landscapers and architects, we have decided to create Make St Barths Green Again.
The idea is to allow St Barths lovers to buy a package, say one palm tree, its shipping to St Barths, its replanting of the tree, in a trackable way. Armed with a set list of tree species endemic to the island, with local experts on the ground, we’re about to open the donations in a few days.
It did take us a few weeks, but we wanted to create a non-profit under French law, to be transparent and accountable. Also, we were waiting to be certified by the local authorities (la Collectivité) as officially part of the post hurricane Irma relief effort. This has just been confirmed, through an official letter. Now, armed with a real project, an organization that is not just some online pipe dream and the seal of the St Barths government, we feel that we can inspire trust and start asking for donation, in a few days from now.
What can you do now? Join the GreenStBarths.com info letter, to know more about the project and be the first to know when you can have your own tree planted on the shores of St Barths.