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. The goal of SPAW is to empower Caribbean nations to create local regulations that collectively protect important areas and species that make up critical ecosystems.

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 area, 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.

Did you know?

It is illegal to kill, harm, pick, trade, disturb, or possess SPAW annex I and II protected species or their body parts in St. Maarten.

How is SPAW implemented locally?

In St. Maarten, SPAW protects species listed in Annexes I and II by establishing local regulations that prohibit the ability of people to harm, kill, harass, take, possess, or trade them. These regulations can be found in St. Maarten’s nature ordinance. SPAW also provides support for the national protections created within the Man of War Shoal Marine Park. The Nature Foundation is responsible for responding to SPAW violations along with the Prosecutor’s office and the Korps Politie Sint Maarten, the local police force.

What does it mean for species or areas to be protected by SPAW?

The protected areas section of SPAW allows St. Maarten to establish SPAW-listed protected areas within the 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. Other parties are required to recognize the listed zones and cooperate with their protection.

The protected species portion compels St. Maarten 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 are some local species covered by SPAW?

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. A list of all SPAW-protected species can be found on the SPAW website.


  • All coral species
  • All marine mammals
  • All sea turtle species (Cheloniidae)
  • Manta ray (Manta birostris)
  • Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)
  • Great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
  • Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
  • Queen conch (Strombus gigas)
  • Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus)
  • Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)
  • Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)
  • Antillean fruit-eating bat (Brachyphylla cavernarum)
  • Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
  • Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
  • Audubon’s shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri)
  • Least tern (Sternula antillarum antillarum)
  • Roseate tern (Sterna dougallii dougallii)


  • Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)
  • White mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa)
  • Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans)
  • Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus)
  • Lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale)
  • Turk’s head cactus (Melocactus intortus)
  • Manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme)
  • Turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum)
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 (plant) 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 (animal) 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.

Why is SPAW important?

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.

Who manages and takes part in 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 across the Caribbean.