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The Dutch Antilles
Debrot, A.O.; Sybesma, J. (2000). The Dutch Antilles, in: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 1. Regional chapters: Europe, The Americas and West Africa. pp. 595-614
In: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) (2000). Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 1. Regional chapters: Europe, The Americas and West Africa. Pergamon: Amsterdam. ISBN 0-08-043207-7. XXI, 934 pp., more

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Document type: Review


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  • Debrot, A.O.
  • Sybesma, J.

    The six islands and offshore Saba Bank which make up the Dutch Antilles lie in the Caribbean Sea. The principal marine littoral habitats are coral reefs, seagrass beds, algal beds, mangroves and salt ponds, all of which have been only partially inventoried and mapped, so that few baseline data exist for most islands. Only scattered documentation exists on marine pollution loads and resource use pressure. Nevertheless, indications are that the current magnitude of coastal development and industrial pollution in Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten have already reached such proportions that large tracts of reef and related coastal habitats are being rapidly degraded. Major problem areas identified for the various islands are: pollution caused by oil refineries; sewage discharge and eutrophication of coastal waters; beach tar and litter contamination; erosion due to overgrazing and poor real-estate development practices; overfishing; municipal landfills which form a long-term threat; and unregulated coastal urbanization. Several islands have extensive areas which are vulnerable to hurricane wave damage and long-term sea-level rise. Governmental efforts towards a more coherent environmental development policy only began in 1992 with the Rio Conference. In 1996 the Netherlands Antilles Ministry of Public Health and Environment published a framework for environmental policy, and in 1998 a legal frame-work was established for nature management and conservation. Recent decades have seen significant advances, particularly in nature conservation, which have largely been driven by "governmental NGO" national park management foundations. Nevertheless, on the whole, current environmental legislation remains deficient and fragmentary and fails to adequately address most major issues. Also, government investment in environmental matters remains minimal, notwithstanding high GNPs and standards of living by regional comparison. None of the islands have as yet developed any vision of the greater issue of population size which drives most economic, infrastructural and environmental problems. A recent assessment by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) identifies the establishment of good governance as the main priority for the implementation of sound environmental policy in the Netherlands Antilles. This is followed by institutional capacity building, and policy and legislation development, whereby public awareness and participation are recommended as key elements of strategy. The chance that the various problems will effectively be dealt with in the near future differs between islands. We predict that the less populous islands (Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire) where population pressure is less, the economies are simpler and more ecotouristically oriented, and where government is less complex, show the greatest promise in being able to deal effectively with environmental issues. We further predict that issues such as rampant coastal urbanization, fishing pressure and pollution by the petroleum sector (and other large enterprises) are not likely to be dealt with effectively in the foreseeable future on most islands, notwithstanding the many management plans and the various initiatives towards policy development in these areas.

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