PHILIPSBURG--On World Nature Conservation Day, Thursday, July 28, Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation called on the Government of St. Maarten, Minister of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Development, and Infrastructure VROMI Egbert Doran and Parliament to declare the entire remainder of the Emilio Wilson Estate as St. Maarten’s first land-based protected area.
World Nature Conservation Day is observed annually to highlight the importance of nature and natural resources: to create awareness and a better understanding of and appreciation for the many benefits derived from conserving and properly managing Nature.
“We at Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation call on all of St. Maarten’s residents and visitors to take pride in the island’s natural heritage, to respect it and to make any possible effort to protect and preserve it,” the trustees of the estate of the late Emilio Wilson declared.
The foundation reiterated its calls to the Government of St. Maarten to take measures to establish land-based protected areas on St. Maarten, in addition to the only protected marine zone in St. Maarten, Man of War Shoal Marine Park.
Because all activities on land affect sea life as a result of surface runoffs, it is essential that there is protected nature on the island with a clean transfer of land water to the ocean, according to Nature Foundation St. Maarten that manages Man of War Shoal Marine Park. There is currently no management of the catchments on St. Maarten that drain into the marine environment. Integrated catchment and coastal management is essential for the future well-being of St. Maarten’s natural resources.
The conservationists of Emilio Wilson Estate are calling for this green area to be declared the island’s first land-based protected area. The estate is located on the western side of the road that runs through the Cul de Sac valley to St. Peters covering about 90 hectares from the road to the top of Sentry Hill. The Estate covers land that had sugar plantations, including 9ha of land leased to Emilio Wilson Estate Historical and Cultural Park Foundation and 80+ha of land to the summit of Sentry Hill.
“It should be made very clear that it is not the intention of the organisations nor the people that are lobbying for the protection of this area to just have it as a green space where no one can go,” said Reuben Thompson on behalf of Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation. “As St. Maarten’s first protected area, it should be accessible to the public.
“We want to invite the people of St. Maarten as well as visitors to come over here and to learn about our heritage, to learn about the ecological value of our islands. We want to be able to open up to the schools, so that students can learn about our heritage.”
St. Maarten’s natural and cultural heritage is not ingrained in the school curriculum, Thompson said. “So, the environmental organisations go to the schools to provide natural heritage education, to provide environmental education. Protecting the Emilio Wilson Estate, establishing it as a protected area with trails to the top of the hill and lookout points, would really facilitate that environmental education.”
At present, none of the terrestrial environments of St. Maarten are protected, including biologically diverse rainforest, drought-resistant habitats and lagoons. St. Maarten and its habitats are a home, migratory stop or breeding site for several endangered bird species and many other animal species and plants with limited distribution.
The lack of terrestrial parks and the severity of the threats facing the remaining terrestrial environments prompted Nature Foundation and other conservationists on the island to develop a strategy even before the establishment of Land St. Maarten in 2010.
St. Maarten Proposed Land Parks Management Plan provides for the protection of four land-based areas, including the hilltops and Emilio Wilson Estate. As this proposal provides an informative and generally cohesive guide to developing the parks, the Government of St. Maarten, in particular VROMI Minister Doran, is urged to adopt this plan for the protection of St. Maarten’s cultural and environmental heritage.