With its occasionally dry climate, the island of St. Martin has different vegetation from that of the neighboring islands, featuring dry varieties in the low areas and more luxuriant flora on the hills. The most common plants are sea grape, kapok, and gum trees. A wide variety of plants have also been imported to the island, such as tamarind, coconut palms, banana and mango trees, bougainvillea, and the flamboyant. Rare, protected species include Turk’s cap cactus, guaiacwood, and some endemic orchids. These are being reintroduced to the island and are safeguarded here.
Along the beaches and rocky shores, many species of seabird coexist, including gulls, terns, frigate birds, brown pelicans, ospreys, brown boobies, and white-tailed tropicbirds.
Since the National Nature Reserve of St. Martin was established in 1998, we have learned much about natural habitats and biodiversity, and certain fragile areas have been protected.
Explore St. Martin’s Nature Reserve
The National Nature Reserve of St. Martin covers 7,560 acres on the northeastern part of the island. Its purpose is to ensure the preservation of the island’s five main ecosystems: the coral reefs, the mangroves, the phanerogamous seagrass bed, the ponds, and the coastal dry forest. You can discover the fauna and flora of St. Martin by observing a few common-sense rules as you venture into these listed protected areas. Exploring the Nature Reserve is a unique land-and-sea experience, in a place where the sky meets the sea.
The land of the Nature Reserve is made up of rocky coastline, cliffs, beaches, and mangroves. The latter are made up mostly of the red mangrove that populates brackish pond waters. The ponds and mangroves are highly productive biosystems and nurseries for the young of various fish and crustacean species. These wetlands also provide food and shelter for numerous birds (around fifty species listed) and other wildlife of St. Martin. Although they are not native species, small, invasive mammals like raccoons and mongoose feed on the crabs, eggs, and small fish that live in the mangroves and the many coral reefs along the shores.
You can see iguanas warming their bodies on the rocky parts of the coast, or searching for food in the forest. Since the most common species (common iguana) was introduced to the island, the Lesser Antillean iguana has become rare. Three types of sea turtle (green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, and leatherback sea turtle) come to the shore to lay their eggs, mainly on the vast beaches of the east coast and the islets.
The marine part of the Nature Reserve is bigger, with a surface area exceeding 7,100 acres. It is home to marine phanerogam beds and many coral formations. In St. Martin, the seagrass beds are phanerogamous, meaning they are made up of flowering plants, not algae. This flora of St. Martin plays an important role and is of great ecological value. Like the coral beds, these seagrass beds are populated by many species of invertebrates and mollusks (starfish, urchin, lobster, slipper lobster, and queen conch), as well as many different fish (boxfish, grouper, surgeonfish, parrotfish, tarpon, barracuda, and angel fish). Further off the coast, you can see humpback whales during the mating season from January to May, as well as bottlenose dolphins. All the French waters of the West Indies make up the AGOA Sanctuary and its mission is to protect marine mammals.
The introduction of invasive, non-native species is one of the main reasons for the declining biodiversity. A ministerial decree established specific rules for the St. Martin Nature Reserve to preserve these habitats.
Unless you have a dispensation, you cannot do the following within the boundaries of the St. Martin Nature Reserve:
– interfere with, disturb, harm, or remove animals, eggs, broods, litters, or nests;
– pick, destroy, introduce, or remove plants;
– hunt, fish (with rods, nets, or traps), use any type of gun or spear, or gather any creatures, dead or alive;
– leave behind any product or item that may damage the quality of the water, air, soil, or site, or harm the fauna or flora in any way;
– leave behind litter of any kind;
– disturb the tranquility of the site with any type of noise;
– camp in a tent, vehicle, or any other type of shelter; – harm the natural habitat by lighting a fire anywhere other than at the facilities provided for that purpose, or by making any inscriptions other than for the purposes of public information or Nature Reserve management;
– use water skis or sea scooters in any part of the Nature Reserve;
– pick up minerals, fossils, or archaeological remains;
– fly over the Nature Reserve at an altitude of less than 980 feet.