PHILIPSBURG – The Nature Foundation is worried about the current situation of the Great Salt Pond and has carried out a four-month long pilot study assessing the social and ecological status quo of it.
The study’s aim was to enhance movement away from stagnation “Get it Rollin”, by gaining overview into the salt pond’s situation. Gaps in knowledge about the pond were identified through social inquiry with locals and experts, and enhanced by literature study. The study was performed by master student Margot van Malenstein from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
The pond’s ecological situation, meaning its food webs and water quality, is thought to be degraded. Leakage of chemicals from the Dump, situated amidst the pond, together with a multi-source influx of untreated wastewater, compromises the water quality. Additionally, the burning of waste, including plastics and tires, causes toxic fumes to emerge. The pond suffers under human impact and vice versa. Exact measurements or assessments of the pond’s status quo are low in number or lacking.
People see the Dump growing and smoking more every year. The fumes are irritating the mucus of the eyes, nose and mouth when inhaled, suggesting there are harmful chemicals in the smoke. Numerous reports of cancer cases have been filed in the area, but upon questioning health risks emerging from the pond, Nature Foundation was informed nobody had made a spatial-temporal correlation between cancer cases and the areas affected by the Dump’s fumes. Monetary reasons are mentioned for stagnation towards resolving the pond’s issue. Reports for waste separation systems and waste-to-energy installations date back to the 1980s, however, nothing has been done so far to initiate waste treatment.
Shipment of waste for processing and the waste-to-energy project are more than needed and action is required. Options for action are diverse and could be executed side by side. Another way to look at it is through the input side: Big progress could be made in waste reduction by initiating recycling for plastic, glass and metal. Less use also results in less waste. For example, Bangladesh, China, Taiwan and Rwanda banned plastic bags and many European countries have bans or charges on plastic bags. Many islands in the region are debating to follow this example. Another method to halt the Dump’s growth is giving value to plastics, which is expected to change collective behavior, and has the effect of less plastic ending up in nature or on the Dump.
The report of the Nature Foundation underlines the importance of how different actors, aspects and solutions could come together and can be acted upon in the short and long term. For instance, a strategic planning team involving all stakeholders could be installed to deepen the project, execute some incentives, or undertake serious action.
Communication is key, was the conclusion of this pilot study. “The advice is to initiate action groups having similar concerns and strengthening and bundling knowledge. Local communities could appoint a sustainability leader, and should be empowered by facilitating their needs. The government should be pushed to undertake serious environmental risk assessments, and report openly about it. A first step to mitigation of the situation is understanding where to take action in a system. Any action undertaken in planning a fruitful future should be communicated well between all stakeholders, including the people of St. Maarten and the government. Any decision made should have included and weighed the voice of the people,” commented master student van Malenstein.