World Oceans Day by Frederique Stephanie

Local Martinicans On What The Ocean Means To Them


While you may be looking forward to booking a costal resort for a relaxing summer vacation, for many communities around the world, the beach and ocean serve a much greater purpose. This year on World Oceans Day, Trippin spoke to Frederique Stephanie, founder of Maison Carib, to shed light on how significant the ocean is to Martinique's local community. Used for transport, employment, recreation and much more, the ocean is a collective space with beaches purposefully nationalised by the government so all have access. As private beaches ever-increase, Frederique and Maison Carib hope to highlight local voices from Martinique who have deep connections to the water and depend on it being accessible.

In Martinique, the ocean provides so much more than leisure and relaxation. It is critical for food security, employment, poverty eradication, tourism, trade, transportation, culture, biodiversity, energy, sustainable development, climate action, conservation, activism, global connectivity, mental health benefits and security.

The ocean is literally the lifeblood of our economies, supporting the transportation of goods and people through shipping, providing food from fisheries and underpinning one of the most important economic activities in the region: tourism.

Martinique is one of the few islands in the Caribbean which prevents any attempt to limit access to the beach. This means if a hotel, resort, or restaurant sits directly on the beach, the public is still afforded full and fair access.

Beach access is a universal right and necessary for the public’s enjoyment. All recreational user groups and members of the community can enjoy low-impact beach access, including the enjoyment of coastal aesthetics.

What does this precious resource mean to the people of the Caribbean? Here is their story in words and images.

The home of an independent and proud subculture

Fishermen occupy a unique position in Martinique social structure. Research in the history of fishing technology discloses a great deal about the manner in which their specialised way of life came into being and persisted to the present. Caribbean fishing slaves – at first Amerindians (Arawaks then Caribs) and then Africans – were from the beginning a privileged subgroup within the plantation system, and their unusual socioeconomic role permitted a particular smooth transformation to a life as free fishermen.

Martinique fishing culture holds a socioeconomic role within the island and has a reputation as the home of an independent and proud subculture. Fishermen who constitute about 4% of the island’s active population, exercise a weight which neither their numbers nor their present economic role indicates -- partly because of their professional solidarity, their sharp consciousness of belonging to an original element of the population, to a kind of elite. “As fishermen we feel very different from our inland neighbours; and our individualism, pride, entrepreneurial values, and even our family organisation objectively, as well as our own minds, set us apart somehow.”

Every Day is World Ocean Day

“We can all be actors of change in favour of the ocean,” says founder of Coco an dlo Coralie Balmy. The retired Martinican athlete, Olympic Bronze medalist and European champion turned ocean activist is dedicated to the protection of the marine environment. Shocked by the consequences of human activity on marine life, through her organisation, the swimming champion organises classes to raise awareness amongst the general public, so that the behaviour can finally change.

She founded Coco An Dlo which means Coco in the Water in Creole, an association whose goal is to educate younger generations about the environment through learning how to swim. The organisation develops innovative educational awareness tools and offers fun nature protection programmes through teaching children how to swim.

“I take kids to the sea to make them discover the fauna and marine world, and to show them the beauty and richness of our lands and our environment. The goal is to educate them early and provide an experience they will remember all their lives.” Balmy firmly believes that the ocean binds the people of the region to their natural environment. “We are family, the fish and the people of the Caribbean,” says Balmy. “Let’s act that way.”

A source of creativity

“My marine and photography work always brings me in contact with fascinating people,” says Martinican Free Diving teacher and underwater photographer Stéphane Warin. “For the locals, the ocean is a source of unity and togetherness. There are so many great untold stories from amazing people, and in this age of social media, images are telling stories like never before.” “Free diving is much more than a sport. It is a spiritual journey.” Warin recently decided to use all his creative and photographic skills to support local projects and organisations which specialise in marine conservation, especially the fight against the damage and impact of plastic to marine life.

“The Ocean inspires me. It’s where I work and it’s where I play.” Martinique is a significant source of inspiration for art, music, carnival, literature, food, culture and politics. It is interwoven in everything we do,” says Warin. Warin has been paying attention to the plight of the ocean and thanks to his keen observations and social media influence, these photos and videos have shone bright lights on the magnitude of the plastic pollution problem on the island. By having his images go viral, he has contributed to the global momentum to stop single use plastic and encourage conscious and sustainable consumerism.

A major component of our tourism product

In 2020 the intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO officially included the traditional Yole sailboat of Martinique in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Yole boats are constructed with painstaking detail in the grand tradition of Martinican fishing vessels initially developed by local craftsmen in the 40s. Each vessel flies brightly coloured rectangular sails over rounded canoe-like wooden hulls made from local pear trees. As distinctive in style as they are challenging to sail, quick and agile yawl boats test the mettle of even the most experienced sailors.

The boats are the centrepiece of the Tour des Yoles Rondes, the race that is a highlight of the annual Martinican social calendar each summer for 35 years and counting. “The Yole race is an amazing spectacle of seamanship, bright colours and island pride, with each day’s race culminating in Carnival-style celebrations complete with live music, dancing, food, and fun,” says Olivier Lafontaine, a fisherman who has taken part in the competition for the last 15 years. “Martinique’s traditional Yole is much more than simply a boat. It symbolises the people of Martinique, that, united by their traditions and culture, can brave the elements,” he adds.

Teams representing various towns across Martinique compete alongside international competitors from neighbouring islands on the route that literally circles the Island of Flowers. Akin to Carnival, supporters on land cheer on their teams with boisterous enthusiasm and bountiful parties. Similarly, the party extends to the high seas where hundreds of yachts, catamarans and other private vessels trail the racers partying along the way.

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