PHILIPSBURG:--- Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) has started the first phase of a study to assess the economic value of St. Maarten’s remaining wetlands. Prior to the rapid urbanization in recent decades, St. Maarten possessed at least 19 healthy ponds, of which only five remain today: Salt Pond, Fresh Pond, Little Bay Pond, Red Pond and Mullet Pond. In addition, the island has one of the largest wetlands in the West Indies, Simpson Bay Lagoon.
When the Great Salt Pond was used to harvest salt, it’s value as an economic asset was very clear. However, in recent times, wetlands such as these ponds are seen more as an area that should be developed for immediate economic gains. Yet wetland conservation offers significant economic benefits. As development and pollution continue to threaten our remaining wetlands, EPIC aims to make clear the significant role which healthy wetlands contribute not just to our environment, but also to our economy.
Wetlands are special ecosystems where land is partially or fully covered in water, making it a “wetland”. Wetlands are among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world, providing us with vital services such as climate control, water purification, and storm protection. Not to mention the more tangible services such as fishing, agriculture, and recreation. These are just a few of the ways in which wetlands improve our daily lives.
Without healthy wetland habitats, we would either forgo these benefits or create (often costly) infrastructure to replace them. A powerful example of the economic benefit of wetlands comes from New York. Studies revealed that they could avoid spending USD$3-8 billion on new waste water treatment plants by investing USD$1.5 billion in the purchase of land around the reservoirs upstate. These preserved lands will purify the water supply free of charge.
In 2010, the Nature Foundation found that St. Maarten’s coral reefs contribute US$58 million a year to the country’s economy through tourism and fisheries. This ultimately lead to the creation of the Man of War Shoal Marine Park which now protects these important natural and economic resources. In a similar fashion, this study ultimately aims to shed a light onto the overlooked value of our remaining wetlands.
The first phase of this project, led by Kippy Gilders, will last a total of three months. At the end of July, a community meeting will be held for the public to learn more about this study and the importance of wetlands as well as share their knowledge, concerns, and experience on the topic.