Friday, July 26, was World Mangroves Day, also known as “International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem.” Not much was heard about it in St. Maarten, but the Nature Foundation and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) have been very active and vocal in trying to raise awareness on the importance of the coastal trees for the island’s biodiversity and particularly marine life.

Globally, half the mangrove forests have disappeared in the last four decades and the local situation is probably similar or even worse. Especially shoreline commercial development has taken a huge toll on the species with roots that grow in and help clean the water, providing a nursery for fish and other creatures in the process.

The consequences are already visible, as the quality of the coral reef population has strongly diminished partly for this reason, while increasing algae bloom in Simpson Bay Lagoon indicates a high level of nutrients. The few mangroves left there themselves are at risk due to this pollution coming mainly from untreated wastewater runoff on land.

Government should in any case stop giving out lease land for building in areas that still have some of the trees, or at least ensure they are spared. Enforcement of rules concerning the dumping of raw sewage must be given more priority too.

But perhaps the greatest and most urgent need is to finally realise the long-discussed joint Dutch/French wastewater purification plant and accompanying central sewerage system in Cole Bay. St. Maarten’s recently-approved 2019 budget has means to buy the chosen property, so that the project to be co-funded by the European Union (EU) can hopefully start soon, once and for all.

Better late than never.