Despite being only 96 square kilometers, the island is split politically. One half, St. Maarten, is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the other, St. Martin, is a French Overseas Territory. Physically, the west end is an atoll of low land surrounding a lagoon, while the east end is a range of conical hills. The island has white sandy beaches and numerous bays. A lagoon and three brackish ponds are home to all four species of mangrove.
The island’s largest mangrove forest is at Simpson Bay Lagoon and Mullet Pond. The vegetation is seasonal evergreen forests, drought-deciduous and mixed evergreen deciduous thorn woodlands, and succulent evergreen shrub land.
The mangrove forests are vital breeding grounds for reef fish and marine life. Patch reefs are found approximately 2 km (~1.2 mi) offshore in waters as shallow as 15 m (~49 ft). The reefs include 20 species of coral that are breeding grounds for many coral reef fish and invertebrates. Seagrass beds that extend from Great Bay to Cupecoy Beach are vital breeding grounds for lobster and conch and help with coastal stabilization, hurricane protection and water quality. Endangered hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles nest on St. Maarten. Various offshore islands, including Pelican Rock and Molly B’Day, are nesting sites for migratory and resident seabirds and have been listed as Important Bird Areas.
Park Management Organization
Nature Foundation St. Maarten (NAFSXM) is a non-profit organization that was established to enhance St. Maarten’s natural environment through effective management, education, awareness and protection of natural resources.
Nature Foundation St. Maarten’s vision is a thriving actively managed and sustainably used marine environment around St. Maarten, which it aims to fulfill through the following mission: “to manage, conserve and restore St. Maarten’s marine ecological, cultural and historical resources for education, ecological functionality and sustainable use with continued stakeholder participation, for the benefit of current and future generations”. NAFSXM aims to accomplish its vision and mission by achieving the following goals:
- Manage St. Maarten’s Man of War Shoal Marine Park as a regionally and globally significant protected area, within an effective legislative framework and with commitment from stakeholders;
- Conserve and restore, through practical conservation and active management; a) the natural values of the marine park, including threatened, rare and endangered species, habitats, water quality, biological diversity, ecosystem processes and aesthetic values and b) the cultural and historical marine resources of St. Maarten;
- Facilitate the use of St. Maarten’s marine environment for: a) tourism, yachting and diving; b) education and c) research, monitoring and training.
- Ensure the promotion of the marine environment as a traditionally and contemporarily valuable, sustainable, multiple use resource whilst establishing rules, guidelines, permits and enforcing legislation.
- Ensure the involvement of the local community and stakeholders, to cultivate a sense of ownership and continuing support for the zoning, regulations and management practices of Man of Was Shoal Marine Park.