With their population of less than 300.000 and land area of 800 km2, the Dutch Caribbean islands are remote, tiny and as a consequence easily overlooked. But their natural heritage is rich and diverse making them the ‘hotspot’ for biodiversity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The islands form two distinct groups which are not only separated by more than 900 km of open water, but are also linguistically, culturally and geologically and ecologically divided.
The Windward islands of St Maarten, Saba and St Eustatius are volcanic in origin with lush vegetation ranging from seagrapes and aloe in the coastal areas to ferns and mountain mahogany trees at altitude. There are coral reef pinnacles, patch reef and fringing reef and St Maarten also has numerous salt ponds and mangrove stands.
By contrast the Leeward islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao have semi arid vegetation consisting largely of cactus, acacia and other dry loving trees and plants. Bonaire and Curaçao are unique in being true oceanic islands as they are separated from mainland South America by a deep water trench. Aruba on the other hand was formerly part of the South American mainland. Bonaire’s reefs are considered some of the very best and healthiest in the Caribbean. All three islands have fringing coral reefs, seagrass and mangrove stands as well as extensive bays and salinas (salt ponds).