Dear Editor,

It is nine in the morning and a purple dawn is rising with difficulty in the east while a strong ice-wind is blowing over the cold North Sea to the west. It is February 2008 and I am standing with fifty of my fellow Master students at the Volgermeer Polder, a former toxic waste dump for the city of Amsterdam. In front of us two million square meters of garbage and dangerous chemicals are being transformed into a natural reserve by engineers contracted by the city of Amsterdam. My professor, Dr. Joyeeta Gupta – a Nobel Prize Laureate – lectures on the process of changing a national health hazard into a viable natural reserve.

While listening to Dr. Gupta speak I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Volgermeer and our Landfill back home on St. Maarten. The Volgermeer polder, which is approximately ten kilometres north of Amsterdam, is an area of land saturated with dykes and streams and lakes. It used to be a peat farm, the peat used to warm beautiful Amsterdam throughout its history. At about the turn of the last century the city decided to get rid of its garbage at the polder, ferrying in mass amounts of waste on garbage boats and dumping it in the lakes and bogs which dot the area.

As Amsterdam grew in size so did their garbage and soon the dump spread to immense dimensions. The area was plagued by fires caused by escaping gas and the residents in the area started to complain about their health; strange infections, respiratory problems and diseases caused by the lowering of their immune systems. All of this sounded eerily familiar.

The city of Amsterdam closed the area in the eighties and sent teams of scientist to monitor and take samples of the soil and water. They soon found that dangerous chemicals that leaked into the soil and groundwater, chemicals such as Agent Orange, famous for being used in the Vietnam war, and PCBs – a pesticide that causes deformities in both animals and humans.

As we started our tour of the area a representative of the company that was involved in the project started to explain the process by which a waste dump was transformed into a nature reserve. The streams and lakes that are a part of the polder were dredged and the silt used to cover the dump to about two meters high. The city of Amsterdam also provided soil from its various building projects to cover the dump and a special layer of plastic-like organic material was placed on top, a process called natural capping.

This material, which is widely used and quite inexpensive, allows for the gasses and fumes to escape while preventing further contamination to the area. On top of this layer peat moss and grasses were planted which eventually dissolved the garbage under it and in a few short years a viable ecosystem started to develop with clean water with fish and frogs and swans and ducks.

I started to think that perhaps this may be a solution for us here as well. Even with some of the advances that St. Maarten has had regarding conservation in the last four years there are still three issues which blemish our reputation in terms of environmental protection. One is the need for a terrestrial park to protect and conserve our land-based flora and fauna; the second is the continued challenges faced by our wetlands; and the third, and this is by far the issue of most concern both for the health of our environment and that of our population, is the Dump.

With the amount of chemicals and garbage entering into our soil, wetlands and into our lungs when the dump is on fire we need to address the issue of the landfill yesterday. The heavy metals and other pollutants present on the Dump and the surrounding area are a national health hazard. A waste-to-energy plant is good and very necessary to mine the current landfill. But why not make it better? A waste-to-energy plant combined with a complete rehabilitation of the area, including that of the Great Salt Pond, which is the reason why St. Maarten, our Soualiga, exists in the first place.

If the Pond is dredged and the silt used, if the tons of soil from all of the projects current and planned are used to realize a sustainable solution for one of the most embarrassing scars on our island, then yes we will be at the vanguard of forward green thinking in this region. For it is only when we solve the issue of a landfill in our capital and in our natural and national heritage, can we speak of sustainability.

I remember the tour being over and having to return to my tiny apartment in the city to prepare for the next day’s class. I remember how hard it was for me to focus because I couldn’t help but think how useful this would be for my home. Imagine a green park with paths and fountains and bird-watching blinds and swings for children where garbage once stank in the blazing sun and where flies and midges once made life miserable.  

Imagine it being the centre of the capital of a new St. Maarten; the fact that it was a dump a vague and unpleasant memory, like the memory of the taste of aloes on our sucking-thumbs as children. Imagine the Salt Pond, the cradle of our society, gently lapping at clean green shores. Imagine our grandchildren, students at our university, being lectured on how a dump was turned into a natural reserve. Imagine the lecturer, one of our children, winning the Nobel Prize for Science. Anything is possible under the Caribbean sun.

For more information on the Volgermeer Polder please visit: http://www.rnw.org/archive/transforming-chemical-dump-nature-area

Tadzio Bervoets

Sint Maarten Nature Foundation

Dear Editor,

Please allow me a few words to praise your recent post regarding posting early-warning flags at beaches to help avert future tragic loss of life, such as occurred recently at Mullet Bay.

Your plan is brilliant; in addition to creating local jobs for life guards, with minimal additional cost to the Government they could ask/require existing beach businesses to merely check to see which flag should be posted for the day as a Beach Danger Warning, and do so. I would suggest supplementing this plan with an additional flag being posted at each beach area. Please follow along with me.

I am not a resident, but a long-time visitor to your (my) island, having spent over 60 weeks on-island over these years. I am fully aware of online discussion boards, where the subject of beach water pollution surfaces regularly. These concerns are usually well founded, by personal reports and often with coverage from your newspaper, as you report Nature Foundation findings, or Government warnings, or even simple news stories of sewage running down streets or bubbling up on Backstreet.

Of course, you must continue to report such findings, but what is missing is any reported follow-up. Was that leak resolved? Was that problem solved? Was that finally flushed out to sea? Was the water re-tested? Is it now healthy? That is much harder to find.

As Government (hopefully) implements a Beach Danger Warning flag system, why not also push for a simple Beach Water Quality Warning, alongside the same flags?

Gary W. Taylor

Visitor

Dear Editor,

Global temperatures set yet another record last year and the world witnessed exceptionally low sea ice, and unabated sea level rise and ocean heat, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in its Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016, warning that the extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.

The extreme climate conditions also added to human suffering: 2016 saw severe droughts, affecting millions in southern and eastern African and Central American countries. For example in the Caribbean Hurricane Matthew – the first category 4 (CAT4) storm to make landfall since 1963 – tore a path of destruction in Haiti and inflicted significant economic losses in the Caribbean region.

At least three times so far this winter (2017), the Arctic saw what can be called the Polar equivalent of a heatwave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air, meaning that at the height of the Arctic winter and the sea ice refreezing period, there were days which were actually close to melting point due to warm temperatures in this part of the world.

Antarctic sea ice has also been at a record low, in contrast to the trend in recent years, and some areas, including Canada and much of the United States, were unusually balmy, whilst others, including parts of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, were unusually cold in early 2017.

St. Maarten, and the other islands of the Caribbean Basin also experienced unusually cool/chilly weather during the first two-months of 2017, a testament to ongoing global climate change now also at our doorstep.

In the United States (US) alone 11,743 warm temperature records were broken or tied in February, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the WMO.

The aforementioned might seem worlds apart from St. Maarten and our sphere of life, but it is as close as it gets as well – climate change.

“We are dealing with scientific facts, not politics, and the facts are clear; climate change is a direct threat in itself, and a multiplier of many other threats,” UN Secretary-General (SG) António Guterres recently told a General Assembly High-Level action event aimed at invigorating political momentum on climate change, highlighting its deep links to the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

UN SG Guterres said his messages to the meeting are simple: “First, climate change is an unprecedented and growing threat – to peace and prosperity and the same in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs – Ed.]. Second, addressing climate change is a massive opportunity that we cannot afford to miss,” he said.

Tackling climate change is a tremendous opportunity for Governments and business as there is no trade-off between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.

Our economy is based on tourism, a single pillar. This means that we have to be very conscious to protect what we have built over several decades. Our current economic base is facing many challenges, and growth has not been that positive for a number of years.

St. Maarten’s coral reefs according to the St. Maarten Nature Foundation contribute annually over US $66 million to our economy. The diving sector is one of our key areas just like cruise tourism, and the mega-yacht/yachting sector, but receives very little fanfare. The Nature Foundation carried out an Economic Valuation Study on St. Maarten’s coral reef ecosystems.

“The report highlights the economic contribution of healthy coral to the economy of St. Maarten, which was found to be US $66,606,042. This study is an update of the 2010 study which found that coral reefs contribute US $57,742,997 to the economy, and reflects the increase in coral reef associated values since the establishment of the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area.

“The results of this study show that Coral Reefs are one of the island’s most valuable resources and provide livelihoods through coral reef associated tourism as well as protection from large, damaging waves caused by hurricanes.

“The marine environment of St Maarten includes more than 16 square kilometres of globally threatened coral reef as well as seagrass and mangrove ecosystems. St. Maarten’s marine environment is a home and migratory stopover or breeding site for various endangered species and the beaches and waters attract approximately two million visitors a year, creating employment for 85 per cent of the island’s population both directly and indirectly. Tourism and the marine industry contribute significantly to the economy and both sectors depend on the health of St. Maarten’s marine resources,” according to the Nature Foundation.

The aforementioned presents additional opportunities for our country and economy. Additional protected areas should be introduced which would lead to new diving sites (e.g. manmade for the development of our ecosystem) that would further add to the protection of our coastal communities from storm surge; would provide new areas for coral reef growth and growth in fish populations; would create more employment opportunities for our youth as the dive sector grows.

Government and Parliament should work together with stakeholders in developing an “Integral Marine Protection-Dive/Fishery Sector Development Plan” that would nurture the aforementioned in a sustainable manner.

Our country’s underwater ecosystem is not protected from climate change. Reef systems across the globe have experienced “coral bleaching.” Coral bleaching is the dying of corals due to high water temperatures. Nature Foundation says while any stress can cause corals to bleach, high water temperature has been the major cause of coral bleaching events worldwide in recent decades. When corals bleach for a significant period of time they run the risk of dying all together. Our Nature Foundation has a “Coral Bleaching Response Plan” which was drafted back in 2010.

“Although the consensus is still out, the increased incidences of Coral Bleaching is more than likely caused by the heating up of the earth due to global warming. In the past decades the Caribbean in particular has seen an increased number of coral bleaching events with the last major bleaching occurring in 2005, where more than half of the Coral Reefs in the Caribbean, including St. Maarten, died,” our Nature Foundation reported.

Climate change is a scientific fact. Our underwater ecosystem is making a positive economic impact for the national economy, and can be further developed in a sustainable manner while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change. In order to accomplish the aforementioned, the necessary urgency and attention of discussion along with resources must be provided.

Where is the country in preparing our readiness and resilience in a time of climate change for a healthy environment and a healthy economy?

Roddy Heyliger

Dear Editor,

A special thanks to Saba people who all helped us three weeks ago Saturday, the 11th. I would like to say a very very thanks to him and his wife for helping us – Nicky Johnson leaving his table from eating to come and help us out at sea that day.

When I opened the engine room door and see it full up with water I almost lose it. When I looked around to see if land was close by or in sight and I didn’t see land I knew we was into problems so I ran to the VHF radio and made that frantic emergency call for help right away and give my position of where we were so if there was any boat nearby they would hear where we were so that they can come to help us too.

But there was no one close by on the area so help had to come from shore and it was Nicky Johnson who came to help us at sea and in the meantime I was bailing water out of the boat to keep us afloat until help got to us.

In the meantime I was bailing water out of the engine room and many things went throughout my mind, what will happen to us if help does not get to us on time? It was a bad feeling that came over me that day out at sea. I had a bad feeling that whole day that something bad was going to happen.

Anyway I did what I had to do in the engine room fixing the bilge pump that nearly took our lives and the boat’s life too. I did not know that we had passed Nicky out fishing because I was in the engine room. It was long after I knew that we had passed him 21 miles from shore, fishing, hauling his fish traps. I did not know that the same boat would be the boat to come and help us. It was a nice feeling to see someone close to you – that if something had to happen we would be safe.

Thank God for him coming back out to sea the second time to help us. When we got to shore he told me Bullo when he see the boat when it pass him he say to the rest of the guys on his boat, he turn and say to them he had a bad feeling that something is going to happen to the boat, nevertheless he went back to shore and while at home sitting eating he hear the call; he say to his wife: “My God that’s Bullo voice!” He say his wife never hear me like that. He say something is really wrong when he hear my voice like that.

So he came to the radio and answered it. I told him what was going on, on board, so he say “Okay Bulla I on my way.” It was very nice to hear that! You know I used to save people’s lives and their boats but never know I would have saved my own life and others on board the boat.

It was very hard for me to write this letter. I cry so much doing this. I will never forget this, my friend out at sea – sitting and watching the sun setting and dark setting in. God bless you Nicky Johnson and to the rest of the people who help and anyway God bless you all Sabans.

A special thanks to Nicky Johnson, Governor Johnson, Brandon Hassell, my girlfriend Marilynn Hassell, Luke Rolly, Bruce B, Roy and the man at the hotel and to Pualla and the lady who give me the cup of tea – thanks. Thanks to the rest of the office who helped. Thank you all.

Love you Saba.

Alex Velasquez and Captain and crew

Dear Editor,

As “reviews” come in from the Sea Trade Cruise Global 2017 (Seatrade), just recently concluded in Fort Lauderdale, we hear much of the same following any conference of this nature. In addition, there has been somewhat of a “to-do,” due to local reports of Members of Parliament attending the Seatrade conference. Firstly, let me make it clear that there was no representation from Parliament as such at the conference.

However, the whole discussion does raise the following questions: What was “our” message at the 2017 cruise conference? What did we learn at the conference? And most importantly, what will be done with this information? Where does Cruise feature in our National Plan or Programme?

As I look out over Great Bay harbour every day (ships or no ships), these questions inevitably pop up.

Like nearly everything else, Cruise is not a lone standing pillar, as strong as it might appear, and no single person or group “owns” this industry. There are so many topics that relate directly or indirectly to the cruise industry and that is why the positioning of Cruise on our national agenda is paramount for the simultaneous discussions on the environment, the infrastructure, energy, waste, health, crime etc.

To give a glaring example: the perils local cyclists face on the St. Maarten roads, now also daunt our (cruise) visitors who wish to make use of alternative means to tour the island. A new niche, I am sure, but this must be stimulated. I hold my heart every day as I see cyclists, especially those unfamiliar with our roads and traffic trying to manoeuvre their way around.

Bottom line: the cruise sector needs a wholesome approach to be effective, separate from the question of how far we can expand the cruise sector due to capacity limits in the complementing fields mentioned above, as well as the fact that several of these fields also offer some potential for growth, such as in the energy and health areas.

Sarah Wescot-Williams

President of Parliament

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