Opinion: St. Maarten slowly waking up

POSTED: 08/26/11 12:15 PM

Somehow we get the feeling that St. Maarten is slowly waking up to its responsibilities towards the environment. That is good news and a just reward for the tireless efforts environmental organizations have been making for years. We seem to be at the beginning of a new era, wherein the government is taking actual measures to protect our fragile natural environment.
First, Minister Meyers signed a management contract with the Nature Foundation for the Man of War Shoal Marine Park. Yesterday, the same minister issued a ban on shark fishing in the island’s territorial waters.
Issuing a ban is of course not the same as making shark fishing disappear, but the measure is certainly one that deserves all the support it can get. Enforcing the ban will obviously be crucial to give it its intended meaning. To keep an eye on those developments, the Nature Foundation and its manager Tadzio Bervoets is right there.
In the same vein, we read with some pleasure how the performance of local volunteers that take part in the annual coastal cleanup are holding up against those of other Antillean islands/ St. Maarten has by far the most volunteers of all islands that Curacao, which is a much bigger island with many more inhabitants, is performing poorly in this respect. In the field of coastal cleanup volunteer the score is St. Maarten 643, Curacao 52.
The driving force behind the coastal cleanup, that will take place this year on Saturday September 17, is the St. Maarten Pride Foundation.
And while the figures St. Maarten produces are nothing short of impressive, there remains a lot to be done.
Tourism Minister Franklin Meyers seems to be bent on taking some serious measures to protect the ocean – which is an integral part of his tourism product. That’s great, and we commend the Minister for it. In this context we ask his special attention for the matter of plastic grocery bags.
Like in many countries, these bags are everywhere. Just go to any supermarket on a Saturday and see how shopper after shopper drag groceries over the parking lot in shopping carts crammed with those ugly black plastic bags.
For years, local environmentalists have urged the government to ban these plastic bags, but no politician has ever taken the initiative in this field. The effort by parliamentarian Louie Laveist a couple of years ago does not count, because this was an obvious cosmetic action designed to make people think that the Man of Action was serious about it. After one or two press statements, the Laveist-effort disappeared somehow from the political scene and was never heard off again.
And what is so difficult about it? It might take any Member of Parliament around twenty minutes to write a draft ordinance that reads something like, “Starting on date X, the use of single-use plastic grocery bags in St. Maarten is prohibited. Violations will be punished with a lifelong obligation to take part in the annual coastal cleanup and a maximum fine of 20,000 guilders.”
The reason things don’t happen is usually money. Banning plastic bags is a measure that does not cost anything, but it will of course kill the business that imports this stuff. So what? Let the imported come up with reusable shopping bags and when that market is saturated, move on to something that is not harmful to our marine environment and, by extension, to our tourism industry.
We’re looking forward, full of expectation we may add, to our tourism Minister’s next initiative that is good for the environment and good for business as well.

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