Nature Foundation Outlines Incentives for the Ecological Development of the Great Salt Pond

The St. Maarten Nature Foundation in cooperation and advised by a group of concerned citizen fishermen has proposed various economic alternatives to the filling in of the Great Salt Pond. The St. Maarten Nature Foundation is a conservation nature management organization on St. Maarten with the direct mandate to manage a natural area on the island; the Man of War Shoal marine Park, the island’s first and only national park and naturally protected are.

"We are hereby approaching the various stakeholders with an economic, eco-tourism alternative which will hope to protect the Great Salt Pond while at the same time contributing to the country’s economy. We understand that there is a continuous push to develop the island economically; however this development has to occur in a sustainable manner. The task of the Nature Foundation is not to protest actions but to manage Nature and to propose alternatives and solutions to the environmental problems facing the island," read a statement from the Nature Foundation.

Part of the project which was proposed was centred on the promotion of a catch and release sport fishing operation in the Great Salt Pond. The Great Salt Pond has a large and steady fish population of especially the species Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus). This was clearly evident based on the number of fish die offs and fish relocation programs conducted and coordinated by the Nature Foundation and other organizations.

"Tarpon is a very popular sport fish and in many places in the region visitors pay top dollar to experience catching these large animals. If the various entities on the island would consider marketing this aspect and perhaps charging a small fee to visitors who want to have the experience the infrastructure around the Great Salt Pond can be improved, including reforestation of the Mangrove population which can in turn improve the water quality of the Pond."

Dedicated and interested sport fisherman from all walks of life within the community have approached the Nature Foundation regarding this and have in fact already gotten requests from numerous visitors as to the possibility of tarpon fishing in the Great Salt Pond. Some have even travelled to St. Maarten to fly fish for tarpon simply through hearing it by word of mouth. Fly fishing for tarpon is a multi-million dollar industry in various territories and countries through the region and is very much an untapped resource for St. Maarten. This, in addition to other activities such as bird watching, will diversify the St. Maarten tourism product and make our island more unique as a destination.

This proposal also has with it a sound ecological basis as the Nature Foundation can measure, tag and have an accurate population count of the fish population in the Great Salt Pond through the activities of the Fishermen. There is currently no ecological data on fish populations in the Great Salt Pond other than from fish relocation activities.