St. Maarten is one of the few islands containing expansive wetlands in the mostly dry region of the eastern Caribbean, making it a critical habitat for many animal species. Little Bay Pond and Fresh Pond are especially significant sites as they are two of the few permanent freshwater wetlands in the Dutch Caribbean.
These areas are especially important roosting, foraging and breeding grounds for many species of wetland birds including herons, egrets, stilts and coots. Depending on water depth, the ponds shelter populations of fish, molluscs and small invertebrates that provide a great source of food for the birds. Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) have also been reported to inhabit the areas around the island’s ponds. St. Maarten’s ponds were once fringed with extensive mangrove forests, but the majority of these have now been destroyed by human development and hurricanes.
Small portions of mangroves are still present Mullet Pond and around Little Bay Pond and Fresh Pond. These mangrove areas provide a perfect habitat for roosting, nesting and migrating birds as well as a wealth of other species.
Little Bay Pond
Little Bay Pond is located 1.5km (0.9mi) east of Philipsburg and covers an area of 0.02 km² (2 ha). It is a permanent freshwater pond, up to 3m (10ft.) deep. The depth of the overall pond attracts many swimming and diving birds, including waterfowl and seabirds. It is bordered with aquatic grasses and mangrove trees. Birdlife International has designated Little Bay Pond as an Important Bird Area for St. Maarten (IBA AN001). The pond is significant for its population of the endangered Caribbean Coot (Fulica caribaea). Up to 22 birds have been recorded and some pairs breed. A number of other waterbird species breed at the site.
Fresh Pond is a permanent freshwater pond located in northern part of Philipsburg, just west of Great Salt Pond. It covers an area of 0.02 km² (2 ha) and is up to 3 meters deep in the center. The southern and western edges of the pond are fringed with Red Mangrove trees (Rhizophora mangle); the artificial islands at each end of the pond are also vegetated with mangroves. It is a public space and therefore does not receive any form of protection; the area around it is privately owned and completely developed.
Birdlife International has designated Fresh Pond as an Important Bird Area for St. Maarten (IBA AN002). Due to its low salinity, Fresh Pond supports bird species that are less common in other parts of St. Maarten and the Lesser Antilles. The area has been identified as especially significant for its breeding population of endangered Caribbean Coot (Fulica caribaea). The artificial islands at each end of the pond provide popular nesting sites for waterbirds. The tall mangrove trees in the area provide a roosting habitat for egrets and herons.
Great Salt Pond
Great Salt Pond is located in south-central St. Maarten, north of Philipsburg. It is bordered on all sides by downtown Philipsburg and its suburbs. It is the largest permanent saline lagoon saltwater pond on the island; it covers an area of 2.25 km² (225 ha) and is up to 10 meter (33 ft.) deep. It is unprotected, and its shorelines have been completely cleared of their native mangroves and grasses for urban development. This site is primarily used for landfill and land reclamation purposes.
Birdlife International has designated Great Salt Pond as an Important Bird Area for St. Maarten (IBA AN003). The area is especially significant as a stopover site for Laughing Gulls (Larus atricilla), with up to 5,800 gulls congregating prior to the breeding season. Great Salt Pond also provides a habitat for regionally threatened species: the White-cheeked Pintail (Anas bahamensis), Caribbean Coot (Fulica caribaea) and Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis).