Nature Foundation St. Maarten showcased their critical conservation work during the 2022 Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) Board Meeting. During this presentation they drew attention to the island’s environmental threats while introducing impactful solutions to help improve the overall state of nature for the island.
Although the Nature Foundation made great advancements on St. Maarten in 2021, nature still experiences numerous challenges and threats. As a foundation, three new staff members joined the team making a total of 5 staff, along with office renovations and improved finances and project funds, all serving to lay the groundwork for a productive 2022. Additionally, increased partnerships with local authorities have led to an overall increase in enforcement. Coupled with improved education and awareness campaigns due to projects such as the In-No-Plastic project, nature conservation is off to a great start this year.
One of the most significant struggles facing the island is the lack of protected areas. In fact, Nature Foundation St. Maarten highlighted that there are no protected terrestrial or wetland areas on the island, beside Mullet Pond which is listed as a RAMSAR site but has no additional local protection. This results in challenges to protect and manage habitats both above and below the waterline. Coral reefs are degrading at an alarming rate on St. Maarten due to wastewater input, overfishing and development, made worse by the spread of the Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease across the reefs since 2018. Increases in development, pollution and wastewater paired with an overall decrease in vegetation and wetland habitats can threaten natural environments on St. Maarten significantly. Establish protected areas and an increase of protected species can reverse this trend.
In addition, there are a number of invasive species which threaten and harass local residents and native species. A recent survey as part of the R4CR Monkey management project found that 41% of the residents feels threatened by the wild monkeys, many of which have become increasingly aggressive. These monkey populations can double within a year posing a significant safety concern for the island. Other invasive species, such as the green iguana and racoon, can cause additional issues as they cause nuisance, spread disease and outcompete native species.
Nature Foundation St. Maarten also presented a number of solutions, such as establishing a terrestrial protected area and developing legislation to protect hilltops, wetlands and beaches. Further improvements to the marine park legislation and in the adaptation of a water sports tag could give the foundation the support it needs to adequately manage these critical areas. Critical habitat species, such as mangroves and seagrass, could greatly benefit from increased local protection.
Overall, Nature Foundation St. Maarten stressed the need for improved information concerning the current state of nature on the island, as only little is known about the state of important habitats on St. Maarten. Increased research and monitoring would give the government, environmentalists and residents the information they need to make better informed decisions to protect the island moving forward.
The DCNA board meeting is an important opportunity for each of the Protected Area Management Organizations in the Dutch Caribbean- the Aruba National Parks Foundation (FPNA), STINAPA Bonaire, Carmabi Curaçao , Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), Nature Foundation St. Maarten (NFSXM), St. Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA) – to collaborate, share resources and exchange information and ideas. Working together, each island can learn from the others, maximizing their successes and learning from the more challenging experiences. Also attending the DCNA Board Meeting was His Excellency Governor Holiday of Sint Maarten. Governmental support is extremely essential to preserve nature. His Excellency Governor Holiday will go into retirement, and this was his last DCNA Board Meeting. The DCNA sincerely thank him for his long-standing commitment to safeguarding nature in the Dutch Caribbean.