To dive in St. Maarten, each visitor must purchase a diving tag and vessel operators
must register and pay for their personal boat. Learn more here.
Nearly 8,000 acres of protected reefs, historical wrecks, seagrass meadows, and open sands
The Nature Foundation is the management authority for the Man of War Shoal Marine Park, the only protected marine zone in St. Maarten and a wildlife haven.
Located south of Philipsburg, scuba divers and snorkelers are spoiled for choice, with shipwrecks, natural coral formations, and sunken artificial reefs. But the variety isn’t limited to the type of dive sites! Within the park, you can find species of sharks, sea turtles, rays, thousands of reef fish, lobster, conch and crabs. It also is a migratory stopover point for many marine mammals, including whales and dolphins.
The Man of War Shoal Marine Park was established on December 31, 2010 after years of negotiation to protect a significant marine zone in St. Maarten through a Marine Park Ordinance. The designation of the marine protected area (MPA) was a groundbreaking achievement for St. Maarten as it became the country’s first legally protected area, and the final island in the Netherlands Antilles to have an MPA. The mission of the marine park is to preserve and enhance the natural environment through proper management, education, public awareness, law enforcement, scientific research, and monitoring relating to all aspects of the terrestrial, wetland, and marine surroundings.
The Man of War Shoal Marine Park is a sanctuary for whales, dolphins, sea turtles, coral reefs, and a wide array of fishes that are protected by national, regional, and local legislation. As one of the first Dutch Caribbean islands to protect sharks, both our local and migratory reef, tiger, and nurse shark populations thrive within the Marine Park. The park is also a breeding site for three IUCN Red List species, 10 CITES Appendix I species and 89 Appendix II species, and over 300 SPAW Protocol species spanning Annexes I and II. The conservation area allows for these threatened and endangered species to live, forage, and breed without the direct threat of exploitation via fishing or trade.
Studies conducted by the Nature Foundation indicate high levels of biodiversity and particularly high coral reef coverage within the park. Marine life around our reefs includes crabs, coral shrimp, spiny lobsters, Queen Conch, urchins, fireworms, sponges, and cushion sea stars. You can also find porcupine fish, barracudas, moray eels, scorpionfish, nurse sharks, seahorses, and dolphins. In recent years, there has been an increase in foraging hawksbill and green sea turtles, and the occasional loggerhead turtle. With so much life, the Man of War Shoal Marine Park attracts thousands of visitors and is believed to increase the economic value of goods and services on St. Maarten by an estimated fifty million dollars annually.
St. Maarten features over two dozen diving spots that include shipwrecks and natural and artificial reefs, and the Marine Park is no different. The park’s various coral reefs and wrecks are surrounded by wide seagrass meadows or open sand areas, which are vital habitats for a variety of species and life stages. Proselyte Reef is a wonderful example of a historical wreck with coral-encrusted artifacts, while the four islets Molly Beday, Pelican Rock, Cow and Calf, and Hen and Chicks are known for their pristine coral reefs. Pelican Rock, a terrestrial landmark, is recognized by Bird Life International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for resident and migratory birds including the Audubon’s Shearwater and the national brown pelican.
The Marine Park serves as an excellent site for ongoing research initiatives, including coral restoration through the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN). A coral nursery is located in the park to facilitate coral growth and allow for further studying. The Nature Foundation also conducts yearly surveys to determine the status of local coral and wildlife, with many of the sites located within the Marine Park boundaries. Given the migratory nature of many animal species, the health of the Marine Park may be directly tied to the results of other research projects off St. Maarten, such as the shark tagging and tracking done in collaboration with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF).
The Marine Park covers 31 km² (3,100 hectares or 7,660 acres) and is located off the southern shore of the island. There are nine official dive spots located within the Marine Park; more information can be found by exploring our maps and dive site tables. St. Maarten’s most famous dive site, Proselyte Reef, is the site of a Spanish warship that sank in 1801. Big Momma’s Reef and Fishbowl are hotspots to see our local reef sharks, and Carib Cargo provides an excellent wreck dive including abundant approaches with sea turtles. There is a great variety of depths from Mike’s Maze at 10m/30ft which features a series of swim-throughs to Tiegland at 22m/70ft, which features the remains of a wreck at the deepest point.
Learn more about the regulations involving diving here. The Marine Park prohibits the exploitation, harassment, killing, or taking of wildlife. We ask all visitors to please abide by the guidelines found on our website when scuba diving. In general, however, please do not feed animals, sink vessels or other objects, fish (in any capacity), harass marine life, remove live or dead plants or animals, discharge chemicals or waste into the water, or anchor. These rules are put into place to protect the wildlife and habitats that provide sustenance for our local population, uplift our economy by drawing in visitors, and maintain the stability and health of our marine ecosystems. Please follow the regulations!
In order to dive in St. Maarten and enter the Marine Park, visitors to the island must first register with the Nature Foundation. Each user is required to purchase a dive tag unless the fee was already included as part of a dive shop purchase. Individuals who are interested in using their personal vessel to dive or use any moorings have to fill out paperwork and pay an annual fee. Fees generated by visitation to the Marine Park help fund conservation research, maintain the moorings, and manage the protected area. The Nature Foundation welcomes and depends on the financial support of park visitors and donors to keep the area healthy, protected, and safe! We welcome your donations.