The Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) is a Wider Caribbean-specific agreement that helps member countries establish specially protected coastal and marine areas to protect at-risk wildlife biodiversity.

St. Maarten is a member (“Party”) of SPAW through the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Man of War Shoal Marine Park is a SPAW-listed protected zone, and the Protocol protects many of the species located in its waters. The Protocol also serves as a guideline for locally protecting species, since St. Maarten legislation protects all the species included in SPAW Annexes I and II.

It is illegal to kill, harm, pick, trade, disturb, or possess SPAW protected species or their body parts without local regulation and oversight.
What does the SPAW Protocol do?

SPAW empowers Caribbean nations to create local regulations that collectively protect important areas and species that make up critical ecosystems. In St. Maarten, SPAW protects species listed in Annexes II and III by establishing regulations that limit or prohibit the ability for people to harm, kill, harass, take, possess, or trade those species. SPAW also provides extra support for the protections created within the Man of War Shoal Marine Park.

As the only intergovernmental legal tool for habitat and species conservation in the Caribbean, SPAW takes an ecosystem approach to encourage regional collaboration and identify environmentally critical zones. States are responsible for protecting, preserving, and sustainably managing ecologically valuable marine and coastal zones, as well as flora and fauna species.

How does SPAW protect species and land or marine areas?

The protected areas section of SPAW allows states to establish SPAW-listed protected areas within their sovereign territory. Those zones must be ecologically sizable, valuable, productive, and significant. The Protocol lists various measures to protect and manage those zones, including the regulation of waste, fishing, and trade. Parties are required to recognize the listed zones and cooperate with their protection.

The protected species portion compels Parties to identify at-risk species within their territory and then take action locally to protect those populations. SPAW countries must create national legislation for those species and help conserve them through regulation, management, and enforcement. All other member states conform to the rules for those species across the Caribbean, not just nationally. This part of SPAW is divided into three annexes, which provide two levels of protection.

What species are protected by SPAW in St. Maarten?

These are some of the most commonly found species protected under the SPAW Protocol. This is not a comprehensive list and does not reflect the totality of SPAW-listed species around St. Maarten.


  • All coral species
  • All marine mammals
  • All sea turtle species
  • Manta ray
  • Oceanic whitetip shark
  • Hammerhead shark
  • Whale shark
  • Queen conch
  • Nassau grouper
  • Caribbean spiny lobster
  • Mexican free-tailed bat
  • Antillean fruit-eating bat
  • Brown pelican
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Audubon’s shearwater
  • Leaster tern
  • Roseate tern


  • All mangroves: Buttonwood, Red, White, Black
  • Lignum Vitae
  • Turk’s Head cactus
  • Manatee grass
  • Turtlegrass
Which areas are protected by SPAW in St. Maarten?

The Man of War Shoal Marine Park is the only SPAW protected zone in Sint Maarten. However, the Réserve Naturelle Nationale de Saint-Martin on the French side is SPAW-listed as well.

What are the different SPAW Annexes and what do they mean?

Annex I protects marine and coastal flora species which are endangered or threatened. The destruction and disturbance of protected plants are prohibited on a regional level as a cooperative measure. On a national level, they are either regulated or banned. Picking, cutting, trading, and other forms of tampering with the plants are generally not allowed. Annex I applies to over 50 species in the Wider Caribbean. There are no Annex I-listed species in St. Maarten.

Annex II protects marine and coastal fauna species which are endangered or threatened. It regulates or prohibits the taking, possession, killing, and trading of wildlife or its body parts, products, and eggs on a national level. It also forbids the disturbance of such animals, especially during critical periods such as breeding. On a regional level, such actions are entirely prohibited as a cooperative measure. Annex II applies to over 175 species in the Wider Caribbean, and over 50 in St. Maarten.

Annex III regulates both near-threatened flora and fauna species, but it allows for monitored harvesting on a regional level. The annex requires parties to adopt a level of protection and recovery measures to ensure the health of the species’ population, such as closed seasons and take, possession, sale, and trade regulation. Annex III regulates well over 300 species in the Wider Caribbean, and 281 in St. Maarten.

What is the history and reasoning behind the SPAW Protocol?

The SPAW Protocol is one part of the Cartagena Convention, which was implemented in 2000 through the United Nations’ Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP). 17 countries are currently signed onto the SPAW Protocol. The Protocol protects several hundred plant and animal species, and conferences are organized every two years to review research and update the species list.

SPAW reflects a comprehensive ecosystem approach that takes the necessity of regional protection into account. Since species may breed in one area, feed in another, and migrate elsewhere, they must be protected across the Caribbean. Marine and coastal species are greatly threatened by commercial fishing, habitat loss, onshore development, poaching, and retaliatory harm. These are issues that have impacts far beyond borders, so simply protecting them in one particular country’s territorial waters is not enough.