Of all three Dutch Caribbean countries, St. Maarten is facing the greatest imminent threat to nature in terms of habitat destruction, which is proceeding at an alarming pace, writes The Daily Herald. Reducing or stopping it depends on the implementation of a new zoning law. This is one of the conclusions in the Fifth National Report of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to assess the status of implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, released by Dutch State Secretary of Economic Affairs Sharon Dijksma late last week and which has been passed on to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament. “Ecosystem degradation and habitat destruction on St. Maarten is proceeding at the highest pace of all Dutch Caribbean islands. Hopefully the new land-use zoning plan will be implemented soon and help stem habitat loss,” it is stated in the report.
The report, an initiative of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, has been drafted in cooperation with the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and the IMARES Institute for Marine Resources and Eco-system Studies of the Wageningen University. The Curaçao Government has given its approval to the report, while Governments of Aruba and St. Maarten have “taken note” of it, Dijksma stated in her accompanying letter to the Second Chamber. Generally, the autonomous Kingdom partners Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten have made progress in the area of biodiversity. Fortunately, the countries have very active non-government organisations (NGOs). “Activities and public awareness around ecosystems and bio-diversity is rather high,” it was stated in the report.
The report cites large differences in terms of state, direction and rate of change of biodiversity policy development and implementation between Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. Experts concluded that the three countries still need to improve a lot in order to reach the so-called Aichi targets of biological diversity and that certain bio-diversity aspects are worsening on these islands. Physical developments, pollution, tourism, erosion and uncontrolled grazing by roaming livestock pose big threats to bio-diversity on Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten.
On St. Maarten, widespread dumping and insufficient waste-water treatment are an additional threat. “Pressures are increasing dramatically in all aspects. Ship groundings on the main reef area occur regularly.” On Aruba and Curaçao recreational disturbance continues to grow and forms an important threat to nesting sea-birds. Real estate development pressure remains high on both islands. On Aruba the actual and potential risks of extinction and bio-diversity loss remain very high with many tree and plant species expected to disappear in the coming decades. Bio-diversity management remains fragmented and embattled, with no recent structural policy advances to report since 2000 when the Arikok National Park was officially established. The process to establishing a national zoning plan on St. Maarten, including the holding of public hearings, is considered a positive development. “Important policy trajectories are currently on track among the most important of which is the planned implementation of a land-use zoning law.”
Also, the institutional capacity and expertise has grown on St. Maarten, both at the government ministries and the NGO sector. “Government financing of NGO management has improved slightly, as well as application of the userpays-principle, where park user fees help defray nature management cost.” Key recent policy decisions have been the legal institution of a St. Maarten Marine Park, the island’s first protected area, and a shark fishing moratorium to protect these predators which serve as an important resource for tourism. The Man of War Shoal Marine Park is an area with a healthy population of marine mammals including migratory whales and dolphins, numerous species of shark, sea turtles and fish species. “These developments signal a new dynamism in the bio-diversity decision making and implementation on St. Maarten.” Throughout the world, nature and marine parks and a well-maintained bio-diversity and preserved ecosystems are known to largely contribute to the local economy.
St. Maarten was lauded for being an active partner in the joint Exclusive Economic Zone Management Plan for the Caribbean Netherlands islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. Since 2011 the bio-diversity and fisheries resources of the waters surrounding Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are jointly managed through a Memorandum of Cooperation between the Dutch Caribbean and the Netherlands. Fisheries monitoring programs have been initiated on the Saba Bank, St. Eustatius and Bonaire to develop effective ecosystem-based management. The Nature Policy Plan 2013-2017 for the Caribbean Netherlands has a positive effect on the mainstreaming of bio-diversity on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, as it contains several main targets and strategic actions. The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs has earmarked 7.5 million euros for nature conservation projects on the islands to be implemented over a period of four years. In addition, a yearly 600,000 euros are available for implementation of the Nature Policy Plan, plus 500,000 euros for research, monitoring and reporting on bio-diversity. The islands further receive 800,000 euros per year to support nature management responsibilities. As a result of this funding, progress has been made to meet the Aichi bio-diversity targets.
On St. Maarten the local nature foundations receive minimal funding from government for their programme. “Funding remains very deficient and the increase has only been minimal when compared to what is needed to address this important national task. This is disappointing considering that St. Maarten is a well-developed and prosperous island,” it was stated in the report. On Aruba funding has not increased, while on Curaçao funding has declined since 2010. The funds generated through the trust fund of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) have a positive effect on funding resources for all six islands. Bonaire and St. Eustatius each have zoning regulations identifying conservation areas and prohibiting any development in such areas. Both islands have also embarked on plans to reduce the serious degradation from over grazing by roaming livestock. Saba has not yet implemented a zoning plan but has limited development to a maximum altitude, safeguarding most of the natural areas from degradation. It has also embarked on a programme to reduce the number of roaming goats. On Saba and Bonaire there is a general awareness among the population of the importance of natural resources and the need to use them sustainably. The establishment of the multi-disciplinary knowledge centre, the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI), in St. Eustatius in 2013 is mentioned in the report. The centre will be the starting point for research and monitoring in the region and it will play an educational role for the local community. Funding for the centre, as well as a research programme for the Caribbean, comes from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
Where it comes to extinction of plants and animals, the report notes that two endemic land plants of St. Maarten have not been documented for about 50 years and are likely extinct. These are the West Indian manatee which can no longer maintain itself or use the Simpson Bay lagoon and the endemic snake, Alsophis reijersmai, probably caused by the introduction of the mongoose. The mongoose has also led to a decline in land birds. Also, the Lesser Antillean Iguana is probably extinct or at best genetically degraded by the accidental introduction of the invasive Green Iguana on St. Maarten. “The loss of terrestrial bio-diversity is likely to continue due to habitat loss and introduced species.” Aruba has two documented animal extinctions: the blauwduif (Patgioenas squamosal) and the Yellowshouldered Amazon Parrot (Amazona barbadensis). Unless measures are taken against feral grazers and the voracious Boa constrictor snake, more extinction can be expected.
The process to draft the 5th National Report started early 2013. The process was led by a team of representatives from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The information from the Caribbean Netherlands was collected by the National Government Service (Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland RCN), in consultation with representatives of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. The information for St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao was collected by Adolph Debrot of Imares in consulation with local nature organisations, government ministries and agencies whereas the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) provided information on all six islands. On St. Maarten there was consultation with the St. Maarten Nature Foundation, EPIC, the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour and the Ministry of Physical Planning, Public Housing and Environment VROMI. The fifth national report is used by the Conference of the Parties to assess the status of implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity to assess how those actions have contributed to progress towards the 2020 Aichi Bio-diversity Targets. The report will be handled in the Second Chamber on May 20 by the Permanent Committee for Economic Affairs.