Man on a mission at Pointe Milou | St Barth
Updated: Oct 14
Turenne Laplace, a 45-year old diveshop-owner and native to St. Barth, is determined to restore and conserve the underwater ecosystem of his beloved island.
Small green tiles from a swimming pool are scattered around the algea–covered beach. Crooked balconies face the ocean and on almost every roof in the bay of Grand Cul de Sac on St. Barth are men working to repair the damage caused by hurricane Irma in September last year. A little lightblue building in the middle of the bay, that once housed diveshop Ouanalao Dive, is unrecognizable. “Three months ago the water was one meter up above the floor”, says Turenne Laplace (45), owner of the diveshop and president of a local organization that is commited to protect the reef around the Island he was born on.
Laplace, diving since his teens and owner of the diving center since 2004, started the organization called Ouanalao Reef two years ago. “Scuba diving all these years I experienced the changes to the reef firsthand. I have witnessed the loss of biodiversity. I am not a scientist, but I can see what is happening to the reef”, Laplace says. His concern about the future of the islands underwater ecosystem made him start the project Artireef by which his organization aimes to restore the reef using a specific method called the Biorock Method. “I wanted to show that there is a solution. Because we have a problem. A global problem, that needed political action.” Within a year he obtained the support of a number of partners and the necessary authorizations.
The Biorock method Laplace uses was invented in the 1970’s by a professor named Wolf Hilbertz and further developed with the help from dr. Thomas Gorea, now a partner within the Ouanalao Reef organisation. With this method electricity is used to repopulate marine ecosystems. Large triangular-shaped structures of metallic wire are placed under water offering coral a place to grow. In order to accomodate the growth of the coral weak electric pulses are send through the wires. This creates a deposit of crystalized salty minerals necessary for the corals to grow. The growth of corals on the wires is three to five times larger than under natural circumstances. The coral is also more resistent to the degradation of the quality of the water or the warming of the climate. The chances of survival for the coral are 16 to 50 times higher than normal. Thus making the Biorock method a great way to restore reefs.
And it is not just the coral that can survive and grow. Other marine-organisms find refuge within the structures. Laplace and his team of mainly divers place empty conq-shells at the bottom of each structure. The shells will get covered by calcary algae and thus form a solid block where new corals can grow and fish can hide. Especially groupers seem to like this according to a smiling Laplace. So thanks in part to trash from the ocean, the pyramids will ultimately form an underwater reservoir of biodiversity.
First on the agenda of Laplace’s project is the restoration of the reef of Point Milou on St. Barth. This site provides a home for a large number of species and Laplace hopes to restore the balance and create extra habitats for the marine-life. “St. Barth has such a small and unique ecosystem. Because of its shallow waters and large coastline. It has to be protected though. And restored, since the hurricane has caused a lot of new damage underwater, Laplace explains. Three of his own structures have also dissapeared. “But maybe Irma has also brought something good to the island. It can mean a new start. I hope it makes us realize that this is the last chance to safe the island and it’s special ecosystem.”
A place Laplace ostensibly loves. Throughout the conversation he keeps getting distracted by the birds that fly by or the occasional turtle that pops up in the lagoon in front. Causing an enthousiastic outcry and frantic pointing everytime. “If we can save an ecosystem anywhere it is here,” he says. “Because St. Barth is small and we have the means to do it. There is something special about this island, that’s why I want to save it.”
(Information about the Biorock method and the work of Ouanalao Reef can be found on the website: www.ouanalaoreef.com. You can also become a member yourself and help Turenne Laplace with his projects.)