I am no longer a resident of Sint Maarten; I now live on Bonaire. But I am a born and bred Simaatin man and although I am not physically there, my spirit and my navel string still are. So seeing the cloud that now hangs over my island grow darker and gloomier upsets me. It keeps me awake. And at night my dreams are wafted by the smell of greed instead of that of the morning dew on the leaves of the July Tree.
Undoubtedly Sint Maarten is teething. But these growing pains are now accompanied by a fever. And nowhere is that burning malaise more evident than on how we treat our environment; that which makes our island the special, incredible place that it is.
Sint Maarten is lagging, she is falling behind. Falling behind in how we manage our natural resources, how we respond to a changing climate, and how we address our social ills in the face of this climate challenge. We are failing in how we protect and conserve the coral reefs and mountain forests and seagrass beds that make our island one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean.
Bonaire is beautiful but it is a dessert. I miss the green golden sunrise on the Sint Maarten hills, the dawn sunshine so bright it makes your eyes hurt as it heals your soul. But that same sunlight hasn’t been healing us as a Nation. We still depend too much on fossil fuels; on the big generators that sporadically provide electricity. Solar is a renewable resource, one that shines on our soil almost daily. The initial investments to move towards sustainable energy might be a pinch, but the benefits in the long run much outweigh those initial costs. I am in some position to comment; after two years on the Board of Directors of our utilities company trying to push it towards sustainable energy I failed. Failed not because of want of trying but because, as Bob would say; politricks.
Another painful point is the conservation of our beaches and coasts. I remember the first time my mother gifted me a diving mask and I stuck my seven year old head in the sea. The mind-blow I received from seeing a world so different yet familiar to my own has set me on the path I currently walk. Yet we seem to have a flagrant disregard for our most important resource. What is occurring on Kim Sha is a prime example; constant water quality issues and popular party spots building structures without the proper permits. Yet we all want pictures with wings on Instagram.
We are loosing our critical terrestrial and marine ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. Ecosystems that provide essential goods and services to our economy. If there is one thing the exercise of the past two years has shown us is that we are ill-prepared to face what is coming, what this changing world driven by an already changed climate will bring. Ill prepared in terms of conservation, economic resilience, social safety nets and simply caring for our land, people, heritage and culture.
During my nine years working on the island I have constantly, sometimes daily, been offered ‘help’ if I would do a ‘favor’. Naturally I have always refused, but whenever this happened it broke my heart. It eroded my soul. Especially when you realize that this modus operandi has been perpetuated by my own people.
It is unfortunate that, even with the millions of dollars which were made available after Irma; which, again, was a Climate Change driven event; struggling nature and social organizations are treated as an afterthought. Well, maybe with the exception of well-positioned photo-ops in the local media. There have been times when we have had to go without salary for months because of non-payment of our subsidies. And we were fortunate enough to work for an organization that was actually able to provide salaries. Many can’t. But if you compare this to the level of financial support which is given to entities that do not contribute to the sustainable development of our country, then I am worried. Not only do visitors to our shores have a holiday but many entities which can contribute financially to our environmental and social wellbeing are also on holiday, albeit one centered on their tax contribution to the country’s coffers. Money which could go to the establishment of a Climate Change Bureau, or towards the implementing of a circular economy that would effectively eliminate the need for single use plastics. Or for amending laws to include Environmental Impact Assessments for all large developments. But I am known to be a dreamer, though I hope not the only one.
It always appears as if Sint Maarten is falling behind the rest of the region, the rest of the world. We are too caught up with our own insecurities as a people; being reactionary to external threats, wether real or imagined, instead of responding to our existential ones. Irma will happen again. And her successor will be worse. Irma was worse than Luis.
Having said all of that I do consider myself fortunate. Fortunate to have contributed to my island. Fortunate to have worked on protecting the species that call our land and sea home, communicating their importance to my people. Fortunate to have introduced children to the wonders of our nature. But mostly I am fortunate to have worked and to still work with my people and the wild places and wildlife that make Sint Maarten Sint Maarten. Although I am worried about the direction the island is moving towards my heart is still. Still because of the energy, passion and compassion, and drive that I see now on Sint Maarten. My Sweet Sweet Sint Maarten. And it is my hope that this fire will continue to burn, burn not like the one that still burns at the landfill, but like the one that I know still burns in my people’s souls.
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