Clarification regarding Nature Foundation’s involvement in the approval of an underwater museum

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten, 13 July 2023 – The Nature Foundation would like to clarify our involvement in the underwater museum leasing agreement, in light of the Daily Herald’s July 12 article, “Agreement signed with undisclosed company for underwater museum.” We are cited in the article as a stakeholder who vetted, studied, and approved the Sint Maarten government’s decision to place an artificial reef attraction in Great Bay.

We were first made aware of the underwater museum in 2022, when the Nature Foundation conducted surveys for multiple sites and submitted two rapid assessment reports after receiving a request from the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI). The information solicited and data collected from these surveys included depth, seagrass coverage, coral coverage, and swell and wave patterns. Based on our research, only one site in Simpson Bay met the qualifications for siting a snorkeling attraction.

The first report was submitted in March 2022 for sites in Simpson Bay and Little Bay, and the second in September 2022 for additional sites in Simpson Bay. The findings ultimately led us to recommend one particular site in Simpson Bay with low seagrass cover, an appropriate snorkeling depth, protective geography, and public accessibility from the beach. Little Bay did not meet these standards.

At no point was the Nature Foundation informed of the possibility of Great Bay as a site for the underwater museum, and as a result, no rapid assessment surveys were conducted for that area. From a safety perspective, we are most concerned about the possibility of snorkeler injury at this site, as Great Bay has intense jet ski and boating activity from cruise ship-based tourists.

We hope that, if the developer and government insist on moving forward with this development in Great Bay or at any other location, they will follow the recommendations outlined in our 2022 report. Among other suggestions, we recommended that the area encompassing the underwater museum receive official protective status to prevent overexploitation of resident reef fishes and seagrass deterioration from anchoring. We also requested that physical and financial access to the museum be made easy and free for St. Maarten’s residents, who should be able to enjoy a celebration of the “culture and history of the West Indies” without payment to an anonymous developer.

While our rapid assessment reports were purely scientific in scope, we are deeply discouraged to learn that yet another tourism-oriented attraction has been approved by government, without action on protecting the island’s natural resources. In the time this agreement has gone through, the Nature Foundation’s ongoing efforts to protect and expand terrestrial and coastal ecosystems have been repeatedly unsuccessful or indefinitely delayed. St. Maarten, the only island in the Dutch Caribbean without a terrestrially protected area, is under intense environmental pressures from unsustainable development, climate change, and inefficient resource management, with major health, economic, cultural, and wellbeing consequences for our residents.

In the list of local environmental initiatives that the Nature Foundation would like established, regrettably, a tourist-oriented underwater museum does not make the top ten.

We look forward to clarifying our position on this artificial reef with VROMI and pushing through environmental protections for St. Maarten’s lagoon, hillsides, coasts, and ponds.

The Nature Foundation Sint Maarten is a non-profit, non-governmental organization established in 1997, dedicated to conserving the natural ecosystems and resources of St. Maarten through research programs, educational initiatives, and policy assessment. You can contact the Nature Foundation by emailing or calling (+1) 721-544-4267.