The Daily Herald – St. Maarten Ecosystem

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By Isaiah

Hello, my name is Isaiah and I have been researching our ecosystems. I discovered that we have to keep nature clean. If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us! An example is the coastal area around the island. Nature grows special plants to protect the earth and give fish places to grow.

In fact, there are five coastal ecosystems on St. Maarten/St. Martin: coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves, salt ponds and dry coastal forests.

Coral reefs grow underwater when sunlight filters through. They are actually animals! They like to be right under the waves. On a coral reef, some parts are hard like rock and others are soft like sponges or feathers. Fish and other sea life love hanging out near coral reefs – and a reef will keep big waves from hitting land, so it forms a barrier that protects the island.

Seagrass beds are also underwater, usually very shallow water that you can wade through. There are all kinds of grasses found on the sand under the sea. If you look closely with a snorkel mask, you might find seahorses or starfish there.

Mangroves are super important ecosystems that protect our shorelines. They have strong roots that form a protective network for all kinds of baby animals that live in the sea. Big fish like to eat small fish, but they can’t get between these mangrove roots. In addition, these roots prevent the earth from being washed away by a storm.

There are four types of mangroves: black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemose), and buttonwood mangrove (Conocarpus erectus). Each type grows in areas ranging from the beach to inland. Red mangrove seeds fall from branches and float in the ocean, waiting to hit a sandy shore before they begin to grow into a full tree. Over time, the mangroves can enlarge the island, as the roots continue to cling to the sand.

Salt ponds are near the sea, but they are on land. In St. Maarten, our most famous salt pond is located in Philipsburg between Bush Road and Sucker Garden Road. This is called the Great Salt Pond and people used to harvest salt there by walking through the water and picking up the salt. It was very hard work! On the French side of Saint-Martin, there is a salt pond near Le Galion and another near Grand Case. These ponds are the source of all the salt that people used.

Dry coastal forests are visible on our hillsides and are another unique ecosystem. Dry forests are home to many species, some of which are endemic, meaning the plant or animal is found nowhere else on the planet. These forests are adapted to survive dry seasons, even if it does not rain for a long time.

What impact do pollution and land use planning have on these five ecosystems? Pollution comes from people throwing away garbage carelessly or from spills from industrial companies. This allows toxic materials to find their way into the ecosystem and kills plants and animals. Animals even get tangled in old plastic bags and eat small pieces of trash that make them sick. Landscaping takes place when someone cuts out natural land to make way for a new building. If this happens often, there are no more homes for the animals. The ground loses its ability to stay in place and washes away every time it rains. This drives too much dirt into the sea and kills seagrass beds and coral reefs.

It is important to protect nature and keep the island as it was before people started polluting and building too much. If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us. You can help. Put your trash in the trash. Recycle if possible and participate in island cleanups.

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