Not-so-great Salt Pond

The Great Salt Pond was, at one time, perhaps the defining feature of Sint Maarten. Salt harvesting was the main industry of the island, and Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side was built between the Great Salt Pond, the source of the island’s most valuable resource, and the sea, its connection with the rest of the world. Today, the Great Salt Pond is greatly diminished: made smaller by landfill, severely polluted and the site of an overflowing and often smoldering dump. It’s a sad sight, and in many ways a microcosm showing how “progress” has destroyed much of the island.

On a recent visit to the Great Salt Pond, I was appalled by many things: the trash, the smell, the algae and bacteria filled water and the dead fish unable to survive the pollution and lack of oxygen. The photos below show tell some of the story, but don’t even come close to sickness and sadness of the pond today.

Of course, despite our best efforts, nature is resilient. Though battered and bruised, the pond is still alive. Below are just a few of the animals that still call the pond their home, including cattle egrets sporting their breeding coloration, greater and lesser yellowlegs and a laughing gull. There are also people working hard to help the Great Salt Pond, notably the St. Maarten PRIDE Foundation and House of Nehesi Publishers. Whether their efforts are recognized by local government is, of course, another matter.

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