Proposal to make Little Key a protected nature park moves forward in government with Nature Foundation support

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten, 26 July 2023 – On July 12, the Ministry of VROMI announced its pre-approval of Little Key island as a protected nature park, after a decade of ongoing efforts between the government, the Nature Foundation, and Environmental Protection for the Caribbean (EPIC). The establishment of Little Key Nature Park represents a small but hopeful step for conservation efforts on Sint Maarten.

The Nature Foundation first identified Little Key as a desirable area for protection status in 2013. The recommendation was given to government in the “Simpson Bay Lagoon Management Proposal.” Little Key’s recent pre-approval is in line with the government-led Nature Policy Plan for 2021-2025, an ambitious and critical policy guideline that the Nature Foundation fully supports.

At 2500 m2, the proposed islet park represents only a modest portion of St. Maarten’s terrestrial area, but its status as a protected site will prevent development, fishing, and anchoring near or on the island. Due to its location in the Simpson Bay Lagoon, Little Key is seldom visited by humans, decreasing direct pressures on its delicate ecosystem and allowing a variety of bird, reptile, mollusk, mangrove species to call it home. The waters surrounding Little Key are also an important nursery area for juvenile fish species.  

Pictured: Little Key, a small isle in the Simpson Bay lagoon, provides critical habitat for many wildlife species.

Little Key Nature Park will join two other sites as the only protected conservation areas on St. Maarten. Mullet Pond, a Ramsar Convention-protected site, is rich in native seagrass beds and hosts the majority of the island’s remaining red mangroves. The Man of War Shoal Marine Park is a marine protected area (MPA) off Philipsburg that preserves distinct habitats for marine life. The MPA covers 31 km2, or some 76,600,000 m2. Together, these three areas encompass mangrove nurseries, coral reefs, seagrass beds, sand beds, and low-salinity pond ecosystems.  

“We’re very pleased that the Ministry of VROMI has been successful in creating the framework to establish the first terrestrial protected area for St. Maarten,” said the Nature Foundation manager. “Overdevelopment of our hillsides, coastlines, and wetlands has made the island less resilient to climate change and natural disasters. Ensuring that we now have the legislative basis for protected land areas will contribute to the efforts for climate change mitigation and species protections.”  

With Little Key in the process of becoming a nature park, our organization’s next conservation goal will be to obtain protection status for native seagrasses and mangroves. These vegetation species sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide, filter pollutants from the water, and provide a nursery habitat for marine wildlife. These trees benefit from special protections at various government levels across the world, but are currently unprotected on St. Maarten.  

The Nature Foundation is pleased with VROMI’s pre-approval of Little Key Nature Park, and we look forward to seeing it pushed through and working with government to expand St. Maarten’s protected areas in the face of increasing development and climate change.  

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.