Sint Maarten: Paradise in Peril

Patrick Holian writes about the fast-diminishing natural beauty of Sint Maarten, saying that the island “is at the crucial point of destroying the last of what draws crowds of dollar-touting tourists.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article (from Green Antilles):

When the Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, was bathing in opening ceremonial champagne in 2010, no-nonsense dredgers were busy scraping out the bottom of Sint Maarten’s Great Bay to accommodate the behemoth boat’s thirty-one foot draft. The port did not want to miss out on welcoming the 6000 passengers that this mega-vessel promised to deliver each time it arrives. The dregs from the bay were taken to the Great Salt Pond, one of the few remaining wetlands on the island—critical habitat for birds, fish, and other marine organisms. The pond is currently being filled in with the bay’s sand to build a ring road, one declared by politicians and developers alike as an absolute must for the island’s economy. There is also talk by some of constructing a drag strip there. Others want to build a cricket stadium in the pond, which also currently holds the island’s landfill. Welcome to a paradise in peril. [. . .]

It is readily apparent that Sint Maarten is approaching a breaking point. Increasing population, unbridled development and an aging infrastructure are stretching the island’s carrying capacity to the limits. The very attractions that draw tourists to this established Caribbean destination are being threatened, and will continue to degrade if sustainable solutions are not quickly implemented. Will tourists come back to bask on palm-studded beaches if oil spills and sea contamination persist? Do divers return to offshore reefs if coral degradation continues due to coastal runoff? Will yachtsmen and partygoers still revel in the warm, tropical nights along The Strip if the stench from Simpson Bay sewage and overwhelming traffic jams increase?

These are pressing questions that the politicians, developers and environmentalists need to answer soon. It is a complicated balancing act of preserving a quality, natural environment while keeping the economic engine of tourism afloat. Ironically, the island’s treasures in jeopardy—clean beaches, a healthy lagoon, robust reefs, and verdant ridge forests—are the same gems prized by many tourists. If the fundamental value of these natural resources is not realized soon, Sint Maarteners will destroy the very things that draw cash-carrying visitors to their tropical homeland. Increasingly, the island will become a paradise in peril.

For full article, see

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