Flora and fauna (in detail)
Flora and Fauna
St. Maarten has a wide variety of different habitats which determine the flora and fauna of the island. The main ones included here can be divided into marine and inland areas. The marine areas are the salt ponds and the lagoons, mangrove swamps, coral reefs, sea grass beds and sandy shores.
The salt ponds were originally linked to the sea which is why mangroves are around them. They are now hostile environments for flora and fauna due to factors such as pollution, destruction of the mangroves, fluctuation in salinity levels, depth and temperature. Even so some flora and fauna survive. Examples are Red mangrove and Seaside Lavender, fish such as White Mullet and a variety of birds such as the |Brown Pelican and Snowy Egrets.
The mangrove ecologically very important, are woody plants that grow in loose and muddy soil in tropical tidal waters. The highly salt tolerant Red Mangrove roots help to prevent beach erosion by trapping and stabilizing sediments. In addition they act as a nursery for young fish. Mangroves are found at the south shore of Simpson Bay lagoon and around some salt ponds. Replanting has been carried out at Little Bay pond.
Coral reefs develop from polyps that are tiny, soft flowerlike animals that together form colonies. They extract minerals from the sea and develop hard skeletons. New polyps develop and attach to these. The skeletons are the basis of coral reefs which are important because as well as having a community of their own, they protect the main shoreline from the waves.
Sea grass beds grow at the bottom of sandy bays and between coral reefs. The grass grows and reproduces by means of rhizomes which lie just below the sand. The grass blades grow up and fibrous roots grow down making a mat that holds it in place. It requires sunlight and cannot tolerate cloudy water for long periods. It controls erosion therefore the water stays clear. This helps coral polyps which have a symbiotic relationship with algae. Algae need light and if the sea grass is destroyed they die and then the polyps die and there ceases to be a reef community. In 1995 hurricanes damaged both coral reefs and grass beds which are now recovering.
There are numerous sandy beaches that have been built up by wave action. Plants such as Sea Grapes and Beach Morning Glory are found here with birds such as Sandpiper and Frigate bird.
Inland close to the coast are dry areas such as thorny scrub, examples being Cacti, Acacia and Cotton. The hill sides provide a wide variety of habitats ranging from the original vegetation such as Gum Trees, Bromeliads and Orchids in the highest areas to low grade secondary scrub land on the lower slopes. Birds and animals vary from hummingbirds and sand kestrel to lizard and iguanas.
For further information about the nature and environment of St. Maarten, contact the Nature Foundation or EPIC. These are organizations on St. Maarten that are involved in protecting and preserving our islands Nature.
Things to look out for
You can discover the island’s environment without attending one of the organized hiking activities. If you wish to explore the island environment feel free to do so. The island has no dangerous animals or snakes of any kind, but it is wise to be aware that some plants and insects can cause you serious harm. It is generally best to avoid deliberate touching of plants. We recommended that when hiking into the hills, for you to wear long pants and sleeves for skin protection during hikes and walks. Do not hike alone, carry a cellular phone and inform people were you plan to go.
Some plants/trees to look out for are:
A tree that bears apples, which can cause a painful rash when they or you are wet.
Standing under it when it rains is hazardous. The tree has milk which can cause
burns or blisters. Do not eat the apple, swallowing a little bit will cause blisters and swelling in the mouth and throat. Cutting the tree will cause the sap to squirt. If you get in contact with tree, its apples or the milk, seek medical attention.
- Red bush
The Red Bush is a low bush with small green thorny leaves that turn red it can cause scratches and irritations.
The Oleander is an evergreen perennial bush originating from the Mediterranean.
It can reach up to 5 meters of height. It has dark green spear shaped leaves and beautiful white, red or pink blossoms, which bloom the entire year. The characteristic poisoning symptoms are as follows: nausea, vomiting, accelerated heartbeat, and cardiac arrest. Poisoning and reactions to Oleander plants are evident quickly and require immediate medical care.
- Jack Spaniard
The Jack Spaniard is a variant of the wasp. They build their nest on small branches and mind their own business. However provoked, they will sting repeatedly because their stinger is not bared like that of a bee. This wasp can have a nasty sting, which can cause a swelling that can last up to 48 hours. Be extra careful if you are sensitive or allergic to wasps. If the pain continues after 48 hours don’t hesitate to call a physician
A Centipede has a nasty bite. Their poison is injected through two curved claws behind the head. This can be quite painful. Susceptible persons can develop a reaction to the bite like swelling. Anti itch cream can help or antihistamine. The effect of the bite depends on the size of the creature and if you are an adult or child.
Seek medical attention immediately if your baby is bitten.
- Sea Urchin
Sea Urchins are small round little animals that are found in all oceans. Their shell or bodies are covered in large spikes, which can be 3 to 10 cm long (1.2 to 3.9 in). They live mostly on rocky cliffs near the coast and seafloor. They move very slow and feed on algae.
If you happen to get stung:
1. Remove the spines that you received from the urchin if possible
3. Soak it in hot water as hot as you can tolerate for about twenty to forty minutes
4. When you go to bed, wrap the area that was stung with a towel, soaked in vinegar.
- Fire Coral
Fire Corals get their name from the painful stings they inflict on divers. Approximately 50 different species of fire coral have been described. Fire corals form extensive outcrops on projecting parts of the reef where the tidal currents are strong. They are also abundant on upper reef slopes and in lagoons and occur down to depths of 40 meters. Stay away from all corals but if burned, use burn ointment.