The announcement of a visit by King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima to the hurricane struck islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten and the attention they will pay to nature has been universally applauded by park managers.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the islands in September 2017. Irma intensified to a category 5 Hurricane faster than any recorded storm bringing 158mph winds, torrential rain and 25’ storm surges. The damage was unprecedented.
Mr. Tadzio Bervoets, Manager of the Man of War Shoal Marine Park on St. Maarten, the island which was hardest hit by the storms, is delighted to have the opportunity to present to the Royal couple: “We will be talking about the impacts on the nature of St. Maarten and emphasising the urgent need to climate proof our islands. While working in the conservation field we have been continuously preaching sustainable development to Caribbean Governments. We have been advocating a structured social welfare system, a sustainable economic plan not totally reliant on tourism, and the protection and management of our natural resources. Now is the time to act. Resources like coral reefs or mangroves, which not only provide goods and services like tourism and fisheries, but which also protect our vulnerable coastlines and critical infrastructure from the damaging effects of hurricane storm surge. Because of the decline of both coral reefs and mangroves and because of Irma’s unabated twenty foot storm surge I have had to do a diving survey of the Simpson Bay Lagoon and there is a sunken boat every five meters. After Maria, the water was more diesel than salt.”
The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, a regional network of the six islands and ten parks in the Dutch Caribbean, has been working tirelessly with the parks to provide them with the funding and support they need to recover.
Mr. Kai Wulf, Parks Director for the Saba Conservation Foundation will be accompanying King Willem Alexander to the Saba Bank and is most concerned about the long-term fate of the islands coral reefs, “Saba suffered a significant amount of damage to its nature on land and we have spent months and thousands of hours to clear trails and to save what we could on the mountainside. But our biggest concern is for the long-term survival of our fragile coral reefs, both around Saba and out on the Saba Bank and the impact that any loss of reef habitat will have on our fishing industry. Last year at a Royal Symposium in Royal Palace in Amsterdam we heard Prof. Jeremy Jackson tell us that if drastic action is not taken to protect our coral reefs they would disappear within the next 15 years. This is shocking. Our islands rely on nature for a sound economy. We cannot let this happen.”
All other islands share this these concerns. DCNA Board Chair, Leendert van Driel made the position of DCNA very clear, “We support any plan which has the potential to protect coral reefs in the Dutch Caribbean.”
On St. Eustatius, Parks Director, Ms. Clarisse Buma says that the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria should serve as a wake up call to all of us concerned about the future of our islands and a reminder about the potential for more and more sever weather events in the future. ““Above all, we need to protect our nature and climate proof our islands by developing realistic adaptation strategies, such as erosion prevention, water catchment, sustainable coastal development and protection of the coral reefs that are a natural barrier to high swells!”