July 12, 2023 –Sint Maarten, On July 7th,2023 – The Ministry of VROMI, is pleased to announce that the proposal for the establishment of the Little Key Nature Park in the Simpson Bay Lagoon has been officially approved by the Council of Ministers. This significant milestone marks a crucial step forward in the preservation and enhancement of the island’s natural environment.
The proposal, which includes a draft national decree containing general measures (LBham) and an explanatory memorandum (NvT), seeks to formalize the designation of Little Key as a nature park. The proposed park aligns with the naming convention of nature parks in the region and reflects the importance of preserving natural habitats.
Little Key, despite its modest size of 2,500 m2, harbors a diverse range of mangrove species, including red mangrove, black mangrove, white mangrove, and buttonwood. These mangroves serve as a vital habitat for numerous species, including spotted eagle rays, moray eels, and young sharks. The surrounding waters boast healthy seagrass beds, acting as essential nursery grounds for various fish species, such as banded parrotfish, bluehead, herring, and anchovies.
“We are thrilled to announce the approval of the Little Key Nature Park proposal by the Council of Ministers. This significant milestone demonstrates our unwavering commitment to environmental preservation and sustainable development in Sint Maarten. The establishment of the nature park will safeguard the unique biodiversity of Little Key and its surrounding wetland area, ensuring its protection for future generations. We look forward to working collaboratively with stakeholders and the public to realize the vision of this remarkable nature park” said the Honorable Minister of VROMI Egbert J. Doran.
Moreover, Little Key provides nesting areas for several bird species, including the American coot, moorhen, yellow-crowned night heron, green heron, black-winged stilt, and various plovers. Its ecological significance extends to its role as a refuge for numerous mollusks, including the Queen Conch, Milk Conch, Cushion Stars, Sea Cucumber, Sea Urchins, Upside Down Jellyfish, and the Atlantic Triton.
Recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area of Sint Maarten, Little Key plays a critical role as a corridor for endangered marine species, facilitating their movement between other key marine areas, such as the Man of War Shoal Marine Park and the Mullet Pond. Establishing Little Key as a nature park will ensure the preservation of these high ecological values and safeguard them for future generations.
To ensure comprehensive stakeholder input, the proposal has undergone extensive consultations with local environmental organizations, including the St. Maarten Nature Foundation and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) Foundation. Valuable feedback received during the consultation process was incorporated into the draft LBham and NvT documents, further strengthening the proposal.
Collaboration with the Ministry of TEATT, specifically the Section of Shipping and Maritime, has ensured the consideration of maritime and transportation aspects. The proposed nature park boundaries have been adjusted to accommodate the navigational channel between Simpson Bay and Porto Cupecoy, with vessels required to maintain a minimum distance of 70 meters from the shore of Little Key unless otherwise permitted by posted signs or traffic regulations.
The proposed establishment of the Little Key Nature Park aligns with Sint Maarten’s Draft Development Plan for Simpson Bay, which designates the island as “Nature” and the surrounding waters as “Water-Natural Value.” These designations emphasize the commitment to conserve, restore, develop, and manage the natural and ecological values of the area, with restrictions on construction and emphasis on nature-oriented recreational activities.
The removal of abandoned wrecks from Little Key, coupled with post-Hurricane Irma rehabilitation efforts, has created an opportune moment to designate the island as a protected nature park. This proactive step aims to prevent future damage and ensure the preservation of ecologically important areas in Sint Maarten.
Upon approval, the Prime Minister will sign the letter of presentation to the Governor, initiating the process of forwarding the proposal to the Council of Advice (Raad van Advies).
The Ministry is committed to safeguarding its natural heritage and looks forward to the positive impact the establishment of the Little Key Nature Park will have on preserving the island’s rich biodiversity.