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Minister: Increased tourism budget key to St. Maarten’s tourism product development

POND ISLAND - With the 2018 budget discussion upcoming in a few weeks, Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher is hoping to secure an increase in the tourism budget to meet the various goals of government as laid out in the governing program and re-invigorate St. Maarten’s tourism product,

Avoiding mentioning details of a plan she said has been worked out between her cabinet and the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau led by its Head Rolando Brison, the Minister said serious budget adjustments are being made to form the basis between now and 2018 as to how government can achieve success and boost St. Maarten’s tourism product. To this end, she explained, the (STB) has identified various crucial activities to be executed within the tourism source markets.

The American market

Currently the American market accounts for over 63% of stay-over arrivals, and similar numbers exist for the Cruise market. “It is consequently the destination for which we have the most international airlift arriving into the country, with direct flight to key hubs such as JFK, MIA and Philadelphia. To remain competitive within this market, we have an urgent need for increasing the marketing efforts in this region,” the Minister said. The three main ways in which these marketing efforts will be focused are:

  • Through marketing efforts of our marketing firm (MMGY Global)
  • Through the proven marketing results of online leading online resellers such as Expedia and Trip Advisor
  • Through cooperative marketing efforts with key stakeholders such as the Airport, Harbor and Hotel Associations and international stakeholders

“To only rely on the marketing firm alone to promote the destination will not likely yield positive results. We need a more comprehensive approach to marketing what is by far the most critical tourism market we have. An increase is American marketing budget will be the difference in either being able to grow in the market with new, proven, (cost) effective marketing possibilities, or just not realizing growth within the market,” the Minister said.

Canadian Tourism

The Canadian market is St. Maarten’s fastest growing market in 2016, growing from 44,000 to 57,000 Canadian travelers. Much of the marketing efforts, the Minister said, have been through airline partners, and they have been instrumental in helping the destination have a larger foothold in Canada. “In terms of budget, we will look at repeating our efforts with airline partners, but also using our North American firm to do a broader marketing campaign surrounding the efforts of the airline partners. This should yield to yet another year of growth, since Airline capacity is expected to be up from 2017 to 2018,” the Minister said.

European Tourism

The Minister said the European market has been making some great strides in 2017. The new marketing firm, AviaReps, had hit the ground running, “we have had a physical presence in Benelux at events for the first time in several years, and we are poised to have several new airlines operating out of Europe for us. Most of the budget goes towards our marketing firm, though some funding is also reserved for additional route development for the region.”

Latin American Tourism Budget

It is the opinion of the STB that the Latin American budget situation has been a case of putting the cart before the horse. The Minister said that millions have been invested into this market, but little or nothing was done in terms of route development and creating an actual business plan for how that market should be developed sustainably for St. Maarten.

“We have no direct connection to any of the larger airports in Latin America, with our sole connection to Latin America being Copa through Panama, which is only the 11th busiest airport in Latin America. With this in mind, the budget will reflect contracting a cost-effective firm to develop a business plan for that region, while maintaining Copa Airlines and targeting new airlift.

Caribbean Tourism

Arrindell-Doncher stressed that the effect of Caribbean tourism on the economy is often underestimated. Numbers show that close to 30% of traffic through the airport is from within the Caribbean.

“While we do subsidize Carnival and other events, we do need to do our part from the tourist office itself for promoting the destination surrounding these events. Also, while our brand has been used for global purposes, the brand we currently have does not necessarily speak to our Caribbean travelers. St. Maarten’s geographic location, more relaxed VISA requirements compared to the US, and competitive shopping sector makes it the best place for Caribbean residents to vacation. A new brand campaign will be geared towards increasing this,” the Minister explained.

The Minister also said that information gathered at the stakeholder session in June as well as tourism stakeholder’s comments about the product, was used in finalizing the plan forward. This session, an initiative of the STB, gave stakeholders direct access to St. Maarten’s marketing firms and provided a platform for exchange of information and key actions that should be executed.

“There are specific plans for each market that I simply cannot divulge at this point in time. Tourism, because of our competition in the region, must be approached strategically as well. It is good to note that stakeholders and Ministry TEATT are on the same page when it comes to the fact that an increase in the tourism budget is necessary. Hopefully we get there this year,” she said.

Minister Arrindell-Doncher added that product development is a very important part of overall activities, as marketing to a segment without having an adequate product will not result in repeat traffic. Some of the items in product development are:

  • Tourism Awareness
  • Hosting of Guests
  • Trainings and Certification
  • Customer Service/Service with a smile
  • Tourism Exit Surveys
  • Instagram/Facebook influencers marketing campaign
  • Youth Programs
  • Small Promoters Funds – Low Season Events
  • Lifestyle and Fashion Events
  • Sport Tourism – Summer of Sports events
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SUCCESSFUL INFO SESSION HELD FOR POTENTIAL STUDENTS SEEKING STUDY AT HAN

POND ISLAND - On Thursday, July 20th, 2017, Ms. Denica Daniel a representative of HAN HUNTU, held an information session for potential students.

HAN HUNTU is an organization started for Dutch Caribbean students interested in pursuing their studies at the University of Applied Sciences of Arnhem & Nijmegen (Hogeschool Arnhem en Nijmegen (HAN)).

The event was facilitated by the local chapter of Unified St. Maarten Connection and the University of St. Martin.

During the information session Ms. Daniel provided an overview of the support HAN HUNTU offers to students and answered questions about registering at the respected municipality (gemeente) upon arrival, opening a bank account and securing insurance.

This information was extremely valuable for "free mover" students, who do not have the support of the Department of Study Financing to assist them in regulating these issues.

For more information about HAN HUNTU and their different activities, you are invited to visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hanhuntu/​.

You can also view the following YouTube video for a sneak peek into the life of a Dutch Caribbean student attending HAN:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRQ2nxZLB0M​.

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Chamber selects Baker as new Executive Director

PHILIPSBURG - The Chamber of Commerce St. Maarten (COCI) welcomes as its Executive Director Mr. Anastacio Baker. The vacancy was placed for an internal round of applications.

Mr. Baker was selected out of this process, based on the recommendation made by the external selection committee tasked with the application process. Mr. Baker assumed the position as of July 1st, 2017; after tendering his resignation as member of the COCI Board of Directors.

Mr. Baker who formerly held the position of Manager of the Quality Assurance Department at the Princess Juliana International Airport for 13 years, after having incorporated this division, is known to be passionate in his work.

Having served on the COCI Board of Directors, with excellent performance records by his Safety and Security committee, and on the COCI executive Board, Mr. Baker is no stranger to COCI and its stakeholders.

Mr. Baker an experienced business person himself, knows all too well the difficulties businesses face when trying to advance to the next level. As expressed by Mr. Baker himself: “I am a good listener, great planner and one who can relate to the cries of the business sector. I will communicate extensively with our members in the community and formulate actions needed to address the issues brought to COCI. This is how I envision that COCI empowers, propels, supports and guides businesses towards success.”

The COCI Board of Directors is therefore confident that the knowledge and expertise of Mr. Baker, and his dynamisms in whatever he undertakes will positively contribute towards the further development of the institution.

The President of COCI is quoted saying: “The Executive Director has his work cut out, for in addition to his own action plan, he has an extensive program developed by the COCI Board to execute. We are very pleased that he has taken on the challenge.”

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Minister of TEATT Arrindell-Doncher returns with delegation from Caribbean Telecom Conference

PHILIPSBURG - Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Telecommunication and Transportation (TEATT) Melissa Arrindell-Doncher, accompanied by supporting staff from her cabinet, the tourism authority and Bureau Telecommunications and Post St. Maarten, attended the 33rd Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition of CANTO, which took place from 16th to the 19th of July in the Dominican Republic.

CANTO is Caribbean's premier Telecommunications event that caters to ICT professionals, regional governments and regulators, and were going under the theme: “Reimagining ICT as a tool for Growth & Development”.

During the conference, a wide variety of international telecom experts gave lectures on a wide variety of Telecom topics such as: Safe City & Smart City concepts, Digital Economy, broadband development, 5G deployment, global technology trends, content development and challenges & opportunities in the Caribbean region.

A large Telecom trade exhibition formed integral part of the CANTO convention, whereby vendors from all over the world showcased their state of the art products & services.

Minister Arrindell-Doncher participated in a wide variety of sessions, panel discussions, round-table-discussions, lectures, and was in particular truly amazed by the SMART City & SMART Tourism concepts.

The minister had had the opportunity to conduct face to face meetings with key players in the global Telecom Industry, and they’ve indicated that they are all willing provide assistance to St. Maarten.

The Minister stated: “I recognize the need for St. Maarten to make ongoing efforts to further enhance communication services on the island, and safeguard our precious tourism product by utilizing same technology.

“Top ICT services are needed to cater towards our tourists, and at the same time will allow us to collect more data from our tourists. This data is vital for our cruise conversion programs, and will eventually have a positive effect on our economic growth.

The minister continued; "we were very pleased at what we were able to achieve from our presence at CANTO. From being able to support our local regulator in the regional discussions, convening with my fellow ministers across the Caribbean to discuss new telecommunication trends and policies, and the potential business opportunities we were able to explore for the country with huge telecom companies; we know what come back to St. Maarten with great prospects for better telecommunication in St. Maarten.

The Director of BTP, Mr. Anthony Carty – also present at the CANTO conference - outlined that Telecom regulators have an important roll to play in accelerating broadband development in their respective nations.

“It’s our task to promote and advocate new technology solutions, and to advise and support the Minister of Telecoms by all means. The mere fact that 44 regulators from the Caribbean attended the conference – an all-time record at CANTO – illustrates that we are all taking our roll very serious, and making ongoing efforts to provide guidance to the industry.

“We must realize that only by working together we can achieve great things, and I’m therefore pleased with the active involvement and participation of the Minister, her cabinet, the Tourism director, and the Staff, Management & Supervisory Board of our Telecom providers.

“They were all present during the CANTO forum, and we had the opportunity to have several in-depth discussions and strong debates on how to improve communication services on our great island”.

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SGP leader ‘sounds the alarm’ about Dutch euthanasia in US newspaper

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Wall Street Journal has published an article by Kees van der Staaij, leader of the fundamentalist Dutch Protestant party SGP, headlined ‘In the Netherlands, the Doctor Will Kill You Now.’

In the article, which is behind a paywall, Van der Staaij makes a plea for people in other countries to speak out against euthanasia and the way the boundaries of the law are being stretched in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands legalised euthanasia in 2002 for those suffering deadly diseases or in the last stages of life, Van der Staaij writes. ‘Not long after the legislation was enacted, eligibility was expanded to include those experiencing psychological suffering or dementia.

Today pressure is mounting on the Dutch government to legalise a euthanasia pill for those who are not ill, but simply consider their lives to be ‘full’. Van der Staaij is referring to draft legislation proposed by potential coalition partner D66, which wants to introduce assisted suicide for people who consider their lives to be complete.

The measure, which is opposed by many doctors, is likely to be central in the ongoing coalition formation talks. In the article, Van der Staaij goes on to refer to several controversial euthanasia cases in the Netherlands.

The article ends with a call to action. ‘The Dutch government often speaks out when human rights are under pressure in other countries,’ writes Van der Staaij. ‘Now the fundamental right to life is under pressure in the Netherlands, it is time for others to speak out against Dutch euthanasia practices.’

Fundamentalist

According to the Volkskrant, the Wall Street Journal describes Van der Staaij as an MP but does not mention that he is a member of the SGP. Van der Staaij says on the party website that he is thankful for being given such a platform in the US.

‘We want to show that the so-called ‘strong boundaries’ [around euthanasia] do not exist,’ he said. ‘The Netherlands is evidence of this. What was considered unthinkable by pro and anti-campaigners 10 to 15 years ago has now become a reality… this is an alarm.’

Other languages

More articles in other papers are planned and the party has appealed on its website for translators into German, Spanish and French. The Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij is the most orthodox of Holland’s fringe Christian parties and has three seats in the 150-member parliament.

The party believes that the country should be governed ‘entirely on the basis of the ordinances of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures’. The SGP does not believe women should play an active role in politics and is also against homosexual rights, abortion and euthanasia. (DutchNews)

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DATES SET FOR 2018 SXM FESTIVAL. WORLD’S LEADING ELECTRONIC MUSIC ESCAPE

PHILIPSBURG/MARIGOT - SXM Festival, one of the world’s leading electronic music escapes, reveals the dates for its 2018 edition. Returning for the third year on March 14-18, 2018, SXM Festival will continue to grow its reputation of forward-thinking underground bookings fused with a magical design aesthetic and the paradise setting of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten.  

In its short but impactful lifespan SXM Festival has seamlessly created some of the most talked about memories on the global house and techno circuit. Attendees have been treated to seminal moments like an oceanfront sunrise session with Lee Burridge, a Jamie Jones marathon nestled into the island’s rich jungle, VIP villa sessions overlooking the Caribbean with Behrouz and Blondish, beachside triumphs from the likes of Richie Hawtin, Black Coffee, and Ricardo Villalobos on The Ark, SXM’s iconic mainstage – and many more unforgettable occasions.  

The SXM Festival has also already had a huge impact on the island. Supported by both the French and the Dutch tourism offices, the festival has clearly helped promote the destination globally thanks to a new flux of 6000 young affluent professionals from which 3591 international travelers and over 68 media outlets generating over 250+ international and local press articles covering its 2017 edition. 

Since 2015, the festival has captured over 3.3M views on Facebook and generated in 2017 close to 220M international impressions recording a total PR value evaluated at an impressive USD $900,000.  

The festival span across both the French and Dutch side with 10 spectacular venues including Happy Bay, Refuge, Sky Beach, Tantra, Layla’s, Sandy Line Villa, a boat Party, Mercure Hotel, Dirty Sanchez & Three Amigos.  

Beyond the location, it is the production and aesthetic mastery created by over 30 international and local visual artists and designers which creates this truly immersive experience.

Every detail is drenched in an artful and calculated approach, offering a look and feel positioned where history (much of the decor is inspired by the art of the indigenous Caribbean people, The Tainos), technology, and nature meet. From the organic mainstage appearing as though it is growing from Happy Bay This is the carefully curated vessel through which the SXM Festival voyage is charted.  

Through the impeccable production and delivery of the festival, the organization team enrolled a number of local sponsors such as Delta Petroleum, CC1 and Antillean Liquors no name a few and hired over 177 local workers and volunteers. It is estimated that this high caliber festival had an impact of USD $ 14M, stimulating business for restaurants, hotels and many more local businesses.   

The festival incurred over USD $700 000 in expenditures from more than 40 local companies for artists & media hotel accommodations, as well as staff, artist & media meals, shuttle services for attendees and finally subcontracting, equipment & machinery rentals and materials purchases. 

It is the collision of world-class curation and the unique destination of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten that defines the SXM Festival experience.  

Get 40% off! 5-day and weekend passes for SXM residents will be available October 1 at the Mercure Hotel in Nettle Bay.

music fest inside

sxm fest inside 2

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General Audit Chamber describes appointment of directors for public entities as worrisome

PHILIPSBURG - The follow-up audit report regarding administrative appointments for public entities was submitted to Parliament today by the General Audit Chamber.

The report entitled ‘Administrative Appointments: an audit into the legitimacy and integrity of administrative appointments of directors’ presents the findings of an investigation into the legitimacy and integrity of administrative appointments of directors for 20 entities, including government-owned companies, various public foundations and other related entities that are part of the collective sector of St. Maarten.

As part of this audit, the General Audit Chamber reviewed the persons who occupy positions as directors or C-level management during the period from January 2015 through May 2017. Actions of the respective minister(s), acting in the capacity as shareholder representative, in terms of the appointment procedure, was the focal area of the audit.

The objective of administrative appointments is the placement of the most qualified persons in suitable positions, according to the General Audit Chamber. This in particularly important in terms of government-owned companies, as these are valuable assets, representing millions, to government. In other words, there is a lot at stake.

“Like our previous report on administrative appointments which focused on the appointment of supervisory board members, our findings portray a worrisome picture”, according to the General Audit Chamber.

Based on the entities investigated whereby the appointment procedure of the National Ordinance Corporate Governance is applicable, the report states that between January 2015 and May 2017, only one appointment was made in accordance with the rules and in keeping with principles of transparency.

The audit also reviewed whether the required advice from the Corporate Governance Council (CGC) was provided and the extent to which that advice was followed. For the 23 directors reviewed by the audit, advice from the CGC was found for seven cases. The respective minister acting in the capacity of shareholder representative, deviated from the advice of the Corporate Governance Council in four of the seven cases.

Moreover, the General Audit Chamber reports that they were unable to establish whether the minister provided a reason, in writing, for not following the CGC-advice. In their report, the General Audit Chamber notes that the four appointments in question, occurred after the published their first report on Administrative Appointments in October 2016.

As part of the audit, the General Audit Chamber also investigated the security screenings that are required for directors. The report states that all screenings were initiated and completed.

Information gathering continues to be challenging, according to the General Audit Chamber. Only two Annual Reports for fiscal year 2015 were made available to the General Audit Chamber. The audit encompassed 20 entities, in other words, 90% of the Annual Reports requested were not made available for the audit.

“We find this disappointing. In 2017, annual reports from fiscal year 2015 should be available and it is up to the respective ministers to change this situation”. The General Audit Chamber seeks to contribute to the improvement of administrative appointments, and with that, the financial-management of the country. This is not possible if information is absent.

In the recommendation section of the report, the General Audit Chamber suggests a complete re-evaluation of the system used for administrative appointments. To live up to the rules of good governance, the system must contain strong safeguards that compel compliance, transparency and integrity.

The General Audit Chamber goes on to stress the importance of transparency in the process of appointments, and concludes by stating that information regarding an appointment must be available at all times.

The report ‘Administrative Appointments part 2: an audit into the legitimacy and integrity of administrative appointments of directors’ is published in both English and Dutch and is available on the website of the General Audit Chamber (www.arsxm.org).

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DP Leader: “We must make ‘smarter’ use of expert forums that examine critical issues”

PHILIPSBURG - The sixth annual Governor’s Symposium “ICT Governance – Shaping our Future” was again timely and on the mark, Leader of the Democratic Party (DP) Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams said in a press statement on Friday.

“The organization was impressive, as was the lineup of speakers.

“More and more these and other like symposiums however leave me with a disconcerting afterthought and the governor’s 2017 symposium was no exception in this regard.

“Without a doubt, these symposiums continue to examine topics, timely and relevant for St. Maarten, the region and beyond.

“In some instances, like that of this year’s “ICT Governance, shaping our Future” the topic was not only timely, it is URGENT!

“As I mentioned, the speakers were well chosen and I was proud of our own speakers, who on such a level, amongst the other distinguished speakers, presented themselves well and represented their country admirably.

“My disconcertment stems from the feeling that after the initial exhilarating digestion and the appreciation expressed by all, we are left with: “What can/will we do with the information as shared by those in the know?”

“ICT governance is one of those areas for which a collective and common vision, policy or governance strategy is KEY.

“I noted the general consensus at the symposium on the topic of ICT legislation and I agree that this is paramount, however legislation must be grounded in a vision with objectives, and constantly measured and monitored. This “guard” can never be let down.

“Evidently in our case, there are limitations to what we can accomplish and how rapidly we can react to technological changes and threats. Proper ICT governance will tax our human and capital resources even more and will “compete” for allocation of our scarce resources with other governance priorities.

“Long term planning and prioritizing are therefore paramount, and I therefore continue to stress on the national development plan for St. Maarten. I hope that at least this 2017 symposium will lead to a reexamination and some (re)allocation of resources to ICT governance from a more general and country-wide perspective.

“We also need to build solid partnerships in those areas where we will come up short, just because of the sheer magnitude of the ICT realm. Research and development is one of the areas where we can align ourselves with other players in the (global) market,” the MP said on Friday.

MP Wescot-Williams added, “As a reminder, the five previous topics of the Governor’s symposium were: (recommendations are available online) 2012 – National Heritage: Historical, Cultural and Economic importance; 2013 – Sustainable Development - Challenges for St. Maarten as a small Island Caribbean Nation; 2014 – Education for Democracy; 2015 – Governance: the value of Checks and Balances; 2016 – Securing National Development.”

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TelEm Group reminding businesses to be on guard against PBX hackers

POND ISLAND - TelEm Group is re-released a new public service brochure warning businesses to be on their guard against unscrupulous hackers who are breaking into company PBX systems and globally running up millions of dollars in international phone calls without the businesses becoming aware until they receive a bill weeks later.

According to TelEm Group, the hackers are constantly scanning for PBX systems all over the world using hardware and software with automated scanning routines that operate 24/7.

Once a system is found and penetrated, the hackers and users “mine” the information from the found PBX system to re-sell to third parties, or use the PBX equipment itself to make international calls or allow others to make international calls.

The hacking and fraud that is being committed goes unnoticed, sometimes for many weeks, until the PBX owner receives a bill at the end of the month and discovers that bill to be extraordinarily high.

TelEm Group hopes that with the re-issuing of its “Protect Yourself” brochure and also by inviting businesses in to talk about the problem, those who use PBX systems will be more aware of the threats posed to their PBX equipment and how best to protect themselves against the fraudsters and hackers.

The brochure is called “Protect Yourself from PBX Fraud” and has already been sent to businesses in the past. It outlines the problem of PBX fraud and how that fraud is being committed by hackers.

The brochure gives advice on the best practices that businesses can follow to protect themselves and seeks to further assist business owners with a Frequently Asked Questions and Answers section.

“We are very keen to remind our business customers of the need to protect their businesses from PBX fraud by making themselves and their personnel aware of the dangers out there and some of the simple steps they can take to protect themselves,” said TelEm Group, Manager, Marketing and Sales, Grisha Marten.

She said awareness and protection is especially important for the business owner because once a fraud is committed, it is the business itself that is liable for any bills incurred from the fraud, because it is the owner’s own responsibility to secure their PBX equipment from such fraud, and not TelEm’s responsibility.

“The brochure is packed with useful information that anyone can use, but business that are still concerned can call 546-0100 to make an appointment to talk about that concern or they can use the same number to just get further information,” said Ms. Marten.

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Nature Foundation Partners with Ocean Explorers to Host International Women’s Dive Day

COLE BAY - Last Saturday the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation partnered with Ocean Explorer’s Dive Center to host PADI International Women’s Dive Day.  Women’s Dive Day is an international initiative aimed at closing the unnecessary gender gap that currently exists within the scuba diving community and the contribution and importance of women to the scuba diving industry is celebrated and recognized. 

The Nature Foundation partnered with Ocean Explorers Dive Center in organizing specialty dives in order to celebrate the day. Participants were educated about coral restoration and research initiatives organized by the Nature Foundation. 

Participants went scuba diving and learned about the Coral Restoration efforts of the Nature Foundation as a part of the three year Restoration of Ecosystem Services and Coral Reef Quality (RESCQ) project funded by the European Union Best 2.0 Program. 

The project will restore Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (A.  cervicornis) corals by establishing coral nurseries to grow coral fragments and transplant corals at selected restoration sites. 

Until the 1980’s Acropora coral species dominated the near shore zone of many Caribbean islands, including Sint Maarten, with cover estimates of up to 85%. However, these coral reef zones have almost disappeared from most islands in the region due to diseases, climate change and habitat destruction. 

Acropora corals are currently listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems and Species. The loss of corals has had large negative effects on biodiversity, biomass of fishes, and coastal protection as well as a significant decline in the attractiveness of shallow near-shore coral reefs. 

“The dive ladies visited the Coral Nursery on the dive site ‘The Bridge’ and learned about cleaning and research efforts to maintain the nursery and its corals. On the second dive we conducted initial coral mapping of Elkhorn corals in the Man of War Shoal Marine Park.

This type of research is very valuable to recolonize and recover corals on the reefs of St Maarten” commented Nature Foundation Projects Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

The Nature Foundation would like to remind that Scuba divers need to keep their distance of the coral nursery without supervision of the Foundation as the corals are very fragile and easy to damage.

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