Great Salt Pond is the largest pond on St. Maarten/Martin and borders the capital Philipsburg. The pond is bordered on all sides by busy roads and pollution from the urban area and landfill is a major concern.
Laughing Gulls congregate at this site prior to the breeding season. The highest recorded population was 5,800 individuals. Based on BirdLife’s Caribbean Laughing Gull population estimate of 15,000 individuals, this congregation represents a significant portion of the regional population. It is not clear if this occurred historically or if the gulls now assemble to feed from the landfill.
The only species confirmed to breed at this site is the Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus (estimated 50 pairs).
Non-bird biodiversity: Not applicable.
Habitat and land use
Great Salt Pond has a high salinity (27-38 parts per thousand) so there is little visible vegetation in the pond. The border is primarily roadside grass and urban landscape. It was previously used for salt extraction and remnant rock walls remain, which are now important roost and nesting areas. Its primary use now is as landfill and land reclamation.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Pollution leaching from the landfill caused ecological collapse in 2006, and possibly other years, resulting in a massive midge infestation which plagued Philipsburg. The government began an intensive six week pesticide application to alleviate the infestation. Trash from the landfill and town is blown into the pond. Fires at the landfill occur several times a year.
Land “reclamation” is used to create parking areas, carnival grounds, and other facilities within the pond.
Water levels are artificially raised and lowered using seawater, which can result in flooded nests and altered salinity levels.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Weekly or monthly population counts have been conducted every winter since 2001 by Environmental Protection In the Caribbean (EPIC). In 2004, a census was conducted during the spring and summer months as well.
Great Salt Pond is unprotected and not near a protected area.