Development on St. Maarten has taken place at an unsustainable pace, many local nongovernmental organizations agree. The island is the last in the Dutch Caribbean not to have a terrestrial protected area.
“Politicians don’t seem to realize that one of the reason tourists come is because of the green areas, the beaches and the beautiful hills,” commented Rueben Thompson, a member of the boards of the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation and of Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. “Of course they want restaurants and casinos, but they like to lie down on the beaches. … Some on St. Maarten seem to equate development with economic growth. Not every piece of concrete poured is a sign of progress.”
The Emilio Wilson Estate is one of the island’s last remaining authentic landscapes and one of the very few low-lying areas of St. Maarten not yet built on. All of the surrounding areas have been used for residential housing and commercial facilities.
The hillsides in the Dutch Cul de Sac area, in particular the Sentry Hill hillside (the Emilio Wilson Estate), are of considerable value to the natural environment. The top of Sentry Hill is mostly undisturbed and of high biological value.
Original and vulnerable hilltop vegetation includes a profusion of bromeliads, ferns, mosses and orchids. Semi-evergreen seasonal forest occurs in the higher parts of the estate. This area may be home to St. Maarten’s endemic plants Calyptranthes boldinghii (Myrtacaea) also known as Lidflower and Galactia nummelaria (Fabaceae).
Caves on the estate and rare forest formations are refuges for endangered and rare bird and bat species. The habitat is home to a tree lizard, the Anguilla Bank Bush Anole (Anolis pogus) and perhaps even the Grass Snake, also known as the Anguilla Bank Racer (Alsophis rijgersmaei). Epiphytes serve as nesting places for endangered dove species.
The area is the largest remaining portion of land available for establishing a continuous nature reserve in the Dutch part of St. Maarten.
“A lot of areas have been destroyed in the name of development,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the foundation believes working with Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance to preserve the estate makes sense because the regional organization provides a framework for Dutch island nonprofit nature organizations to come together to share expertise that benefits nature conservancy throughout the Dutch Caribbean.
“When it comes to management,” Thompson said, “a co-management agreement between existing organizations on the island that have been active in their protection of the island’s natural and cultural heritage is best.”