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CEP Technical Report No. 36 1996: Status of Protected Area Systems in the Wider Caribbean Region
Country Profiles


Area 800 sq. km.

Summary Table

No. of
Protected Areas (PAs)
PAs with Marine or Coastal Zones Extension
Category I 0 0 0
Category II 2 1 7,760
Category III 0 0 0
Category IV 0 0 0
Category V 0 0 0
Categories VI-VIII 3 3 8,036
Biosphere Reserves 0 0 0
World Heritage Sites 0 0 0
Ramsar Sites 5 2 1,940
Total (1) 9 5 17,646

(1) Totals have been adjusted to avoid double counting areas that are classified in 2 or more categories.


Policy and Legislation

Until 1 January 1986 the Netherlands Antilles consisted of six islands, Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. From 1 January 1986, Aruba became an autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which now comprises The Netherlands, The Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba.

Protected areas legislation passed by the central government of the Netherlands Antilles (in Curaçao) has in the past provided the basis for measures in the dependent territories. Responsibility for the environment is now being devolved, which creates the need for each island government to develop its own legislation. Marine protected areas legislation was published in 1978, but never came into force (PB 1976, No. 157).

Bonaire Island government has passed several ordinances dealing with the conservation of marine resources. An island ordinance (AB Bonaire 1967, No. 7) was published to establish terrestrial parks, but is not in force. In 1985 the Marine Environment Ordinance was passed which incorporates existing marine legislation, and provides for comprehensive management regulation with regard to fisheries, coral reefs and the vulnerable Lac Lagoon. This Ordinance has been amended during 1992 to included user fees, licensing of tour operators and total ban on marine turtle catching (AB Bonaire, 1991 No. 8, 21, 22).

The existing marine conservation legislation in Curaçao is the Reef Management Ordinance, Curaçao (1976), No 48. This applies to all island waters and forms the basis for the establishment of Curaçao Underwater Park. The ordinance prohibits spearfishing and the breaking of corals. The ordinance also provides for the introduction of island resolutions to provide further protection. A draft Island Ordinance on Nature Reserves has been submitted to the Curaçao Island government, to provide a general framework for the designation of areas on land or underwater as parks or protected areas; this draft awaits discussion in the island council. A similar ordinance on marine reserves exists at central government level.

Saba Marine Park was designated by the island government on 25 June 1987, through the Marine Environment Ordinance (AB Saba 1987, No. 10) and its accompanying island resolutions. In addition to a zoning plan, overall park regulations exist in all zones of the park, prohibiting nearly all spear fishing, taking of coral, anchoring in coral and dumping waste. This Ordinance and its resolutions also provide for licensing of tour operators and a visitor fee system. The ordinance was amended in 1991, to introduce yachting fees and to raise the existing visitor fees.

International Participation

Conventions & Treaties

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 1992)

Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention, 1983)

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, 1973)

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS, 1982)

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Migratory Species, 1972)

Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971)

Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife for the Wider Caribbean (SPAW, 1990)

Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage, 1972)

Programmes & Associations

Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA, 1967)

Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP, 1981) and its Specially Protected Areas & Wildlife Programme (SPAW, 1990)

UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB, 1972)


Administration and management of protected areas used to be the responsibility of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation (Stichting Nationale Parken Nederlandse Antillean (STINAPA), with headquarters in Curaçao and established in 1963. The aim of the organisation is to promote nature conservation through acquisition of land, establishment of parks, and education. Due to decentralisation of responsibility for the environment, today all islands of the Netherlands Antilles have their own independent conservation NGO. In Bonaire this is STINAPA Bonaire; in Saba, the Saba Conservation Foundation; in St. Maarten, STINAPA St. Maarten; and in St. Eustatius, STINAPA Statia.


The Netherlands Antilles comprises two groups of islands. Bonaire and Curaçao are referred to as the "Leeward Islands", although they lie geographically within the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba, which lie 900 km north of the Leeward group are referred to as the "Windward" group, although geographically they lie within the Leeward Islands. The island of St. Maarten is divided territorially between the Netherlands and France.

The reefs off the south-west coasts of Bonaire and Curaçao generally have a common profile. The main features are a submarine terrace extending 50-100 m from the coast to a 8-12 m deep drop-off, and a steep slope from the drop-off to a depth of 50-60 m. The most prolific coral growth is found over this terrace and slope, although individual corals penetrate deeper and are found on a second drop-off at 80 m, which is separated from the steep slope by a sediment-covered terrace.

St. Eustatius is on a relatively shallow bank with St. Kitts and Nevis, and has an inactive volcano at the southern end. Much of the shoreline is rocky and steep with few sandy beaches. Saba is also an inactive volcano and rises steeply to the 870 m peak of Mt. Scenery, with a nearly continuous steeply sloping, eroding shore. Depths exceeding 500 m are found within 1 km of the shore, yet approximately 2 km from the shore two sea mounts rise to a depth of only 30 m. There are few sheltered bays around the rocky coastline and no permanent beaches. There are no wetlands on Saba or St. Eustatius, but St. Maarten has a few large saline lagoons (Scott and Carbonell 1986). A coral reef survey was carried out in 1989 (van 't Hof 1989).


The 9 established protected areas cover more than 17,500 ha, 22% of the land mass of the Netherlands Antilles. Nearly 2,000 ha have been included in Ramsar Wetlands, while 5 additional areas have been established as marine parks, totalling 8,000 ha.

The establishment of terrestrial and underwater parks in Bonaire, Curaçao and Saba has been made possible by funding from WWF-Netherlands, the Prince Bernhard Fund, the Netherlands government and the island governments. Terrestrial parks in Bonaire and Curaçao have a well-established management structure. The underwater parks are managed both by implementation of effective legislation and by preventing accidental damage to the reefs. They are patrolled by staff members who have some law enforcement authority. Of particular concern is spear fishing which, if unchecked, would severely reduce the population of larger fish. Mooring buoys are provided to minimise damage to the reef in protected areas.

Management of underwater parks aims both to maintain their biological value, and to permit the development of their economic potential (fisheries and recreation) on a sustainable basis. Research needs are determined in co-operation with the Caribbean Marine Biological Institute (CARMABI) and other research institutions. The park staff primarily address aspects of park management that require relatively quick answers, while the CARMABI focuses on more fundamental studies that provide baseline data for reef management. Scientific backing for the establishment of marine protected areas has come from CARMABI. The Institute has been engaged in coral reef research since 1957, and a research programme on coral reef management has been conducted by the Institute since 1971. Most work has been done on Curaçao.

The situation at Bonaire Marine Park also appears favourable. Diving is reportedly growing 10% annually; 17,000 divers visited the island in 1991. Planning, research and initial management were supported by 3 year, US$319,000 project, leading to the development of resource and visitor monitoring , mooring system, and field research station.

Following a marked decline in management capacity due to inadequate funding and institutional support, local legislation was revised, establishing an annual US$10 diving fee and making the area self-supporting. The economics of the area are very positive; while annual operations and capital expenditures are under US$700,000, government tax income totals US $8.7 million, park fees US$190,000 and private sector revenues US$23.4 million. (Dixon et al 1993).

Co-operative management with dive companies and divers has reduced impacts, but even so appreciable impact has been detected (diver surveys and photo-analysis around mooring sites). Coral diversity is lowest at mooring sites with heaviest use, and decreases farther away from moorings. Threshold level for degradation appears between 4,000-6,000 dives per year. Many of the individual dive sites, and the park itself may be approaching their carrying capacity. Further use could cause significant degradation. However, adequate diver education and control of pollution could feasibly permit sustainable use at twice 1992 levels.

Tourism is being developed among the islands and is an increasingly important source of revenue, diving tourism in particular enjoying strong growth. The attraction of the coral reefs depends on their unspoiled nature; consequently, if the diving industry is to develop, the quality of the reefs must be sustained. This need to maintain natural resources is reflected in an increase in active reef management.

Dixon et al (1993) report that the funding strategy for Saba Marine Park includes user fees, souvenir sales and donations. In 1988 US$10,000 was generated by these sources. There are 35 dive sites within Saba Marine Park. Total diving related expenditures in the local economy were estimated at US$1-1.5 million, and in 1992 the area became economically self-supporting. Five thousand divers were expected by 1994 .

In 1981, STINAPA St. Maarten published proposals for a protected area that would include both Dutch and French territory. The recommendation emphasises protection of natural beauty of the French side (Les Deux Frères) and protection of the cultural heritage on the Dutch side (Belvedere). The recommendation suggests that the Parc Naturel de Guadeloupe or any French foundation should own the French part and that STINAPA should own the Dutch part. Administration would be by one bi-national management committee with two sub-committees (Kristensen and Vliegen 1981). Funding was secured during 1991 for the establishment of a land park in the Belvedere area (Sybesma, pers. comm., 1991).

Backhuis (1984) identified lack of regulation on ground water management as a problem facing conservation on Curaçao, loss of land to industry and urbanisation, and loss of wildlife on all islands. Lack of development planning for tourism, agriculture and industry are also the main threats to natural areas and wetlands identified by de Boer (1986). A draft Island Development plan is under review (1992) and hopefully will be passed in the near future.


Caribbean Marine Biological Institute (CARAMBI), PO Box 2090, WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao (Tel: 9 624242/624705)

Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation (STINAPA), PO Box 2090, WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao

Saba Conservation Foundation, c/o Administration Building, The Bottom, Saba (Tel/FAX: 4 63348)

STINAPA Bonaire, PO Box 368, Bonaire Saba Conservation Foundation, The Bottom, Saba

Department of Public Health and Environment Hygiene, Heelsumstraat z/n, Curaçao Tel: (599-9) 655-300 Fax: (599-9) 612-154



Bakhuis, W.L. (1984) Bonaire and Curaçao. In: Wood, J. (Ed.), Proceedings of the workshop on biosphere reserves and other protected areas for sustainable development of small Caribbean islands. National Park Service, Atlanta. 190 pp.

de Boer, B.A. (1986) Netherlands Antilles. In: Scott, D.A. and Carbonell, M. (Eds.), A directory of Neotropical wetlands. IUCN, Cambridge and IWRB, Slimbridge, UK. 684 pp.

IUCN (1987) Directory of wetlands of international importance. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. 445 pp.

Kristensen, I. and Vliegen, J. (1981) Concept bi-national reserve Saint Maarten/Saint Martin. Unpublished report. STINAPA.

Scott, D.A. and Carbonell, M. (1986) Directory of Neotropical wetlands. IUCN, Cambridge and International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, Slimbridge. 684 pp.

UNEP/IUCN (1988) Coral Reefs of the World. Volume 1: Atlantic and Eastern Pacific. UNEP Regional Seas Directories and Bibliographies. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK/UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya. 373 pp.

van 't Hof, T. (1984) Bonaire Marine Park: an approach to coral reef management in small islands. In: McNeely, J.A. and Miller, K.R. (Eds.), National Parks Conservation and Development. Proceedings of the World Congress on National Parks, Bali, 1982. 825 pp.

van 't Hof. T. (1985) Saba Marine Park. A proposal for integrating marine resource management. STINAPA, Curaçao.

van 't Hof T. (1989) Towards conservation of the marine environment St. Maarten/St Martin. Report of a preliminary reef survey prepared for STINAPA St. Maarten. (Unseen)


not available


Name of area IUCN & National Mgmt. Categories Presence of Marine or Coastal Zones Area
Year Established
Christoffel (Curacao) II NP   1,860 1978
Washington Slagbaai (Bonaire) II NP YES 5,900 1969
Subtotal 2   1 7,760  
Bonaire VIII MP YES 6,000 1979
Saba VIII MP YES 1,000 1987
Curacao VIII MP YES 1,036 1983
Subtotal 3   3 8,036  
Washington Slaagbaai IV R YES 90 1980
Gotomeer IV R   150 1980
Lac IV R   700 1980
Pekelmeer IV R   400 1980
Klein Bonaire Island IV R YES 600 1980
Subtotal 5   2 1,940  




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Preface | 1. Introduction | 2. Relevant Issues... | 3. Status of Protected Areas Systems | 4. Conclusions... | 5. References | Country Profiles

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