Before 10 October 2010, Sint Maarten was known as the Island Territory of Sint Maarten (Dutch
: Eilandgebied Sint Maarten
), and was one of six island territories
) that constituted the Netherlands Antilles
Sint Maarten has the status of an overseas country and territory (OCT) and is not part of the European Union
On 6 and 7 September 2017, the island was hit by Category 5+ Hurricane Irma
, which caused widespread and significant damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Sint Maarten had been inhabited by Amerindian
peoples for many centuries, with archaeological finds pointing to a human presence on the island as early as 2000 BC.
These people most likely migrated from South America.
The earliest identified group were the Arawak
people who are thought to have settled around the period 800 BC – 300 BC.
Circa 1300-1400 AD they began to be displaced with the arrival of the more bellicose Carib
Arrival of Europeans
The 1633 Spanish capture of Saint Martin, as painted by Juan de la Corte
It is commonly believed that Christopher Columbus
named the island in honor of Saint Martin of Tours
when he encountered it on his second voyage of discovery. However, he actually applied the name to the island now called Nevis
when he anchored offshore on November 11, 1493, the feast day of Saint Martin. The confusion of numerous poorly charted small islands in the Leeward Islands
meant that this name was accidentally transferred to the island now known as Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten.
Nominally Spanish territory, the island became the focus of the competing interest of the European powers, notably France
and the Netherlands
. While the French wanted to colonize the islands between Trinidad
, the Dutch found San Martín
a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam
(present day New York
) and New Holland
. Meanwhile, the Amerindian population began to decline precipitously, dying from introduced diseases to which they had no immunity.
The Dutch built a fort (Fort Amsterdam
) on the island in 1631; Jan Claeszen Van Campen became its first governor
and the Dutch West India Company
began mining salt
on the island. Tensions between the Netherlands and Spain were already high due to the ongoing Eighty Years' War
, and in 1633 the Spanish captured St Martin
and drove off the Dutch colonists. At Point Blanche, they built what is now Old Spanish Fort to secure the territory.
The Dutch under Peter Stuyvesant
attempted to wrest back control
in 1644, but were repulsed.
However, in 1648 the Eighty Years' War ended and the Spanish, no longer seeing any strategic or economic value in the island, simply abandoned it.
With Saint Martin free again, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements.
Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius
, while the French came from St. Kitts
. After some initial conflict, both sides realized that neither would yield easily. Preferring to avoid an all-out war, they signed the Treaty of Concordia
in 1648, which divided the island in two.
During the treaty's negotiation, the French had a fleet of naval
ships off shore, which they used as a threat to bargain more land for themselves.
In spite of the treaty, relations between the two sides were not always cordial. Between 1648 and 1816, conflicts changed the border
sixteen times. The entire island came under effective French control from 1795 when Netherlands became a puppet state
under the French Empire
until 1815. In the end, the French came out ahead with 53 km2
(20 sq mi; 61%) against 34 km2
(13 sq mi; 39%) on the Dutch side.
To work the new cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations the French and Dutch began importing large numbers of African slaves, who soon came to outnumber the Europeans.
The slave population quickly grew larger than that of the land owners. Subjected to cruel treatment, slaves staged rebellions, and their overwhelming numbers made it impossible to ignore their concerns. In 1848, the French abolished slavery
in their colonies including the French side of St. Martin. Slaves on the Dutch side of the island protested and threatened to flee to the French side to seek asylum. The local Dutch authorities then freed the colonies' slaves. While this decree was respected locally, it was not until 1863 when the Dutch abolished slavery in all of their island colonies that the slaves became legally free.
After the abolition of slavery, plantation culture declined and the island's economy suffered. In 1939 Sint Maarten received a major boost when it was declared a duty-free
port. In 1941 the island was shelled by a German U-boat
during World War II
Tourism began growing from the 1950s onward, and Princess Juliana International Airport
became one of the busiest in the Eastern Caribbean. For much of this period, Sint Maarten was governed by business tycoon Claude Wathey
of the Democratic Party
The island's demographics changed dramatically during this period as well, with the population increasing from a mere 5,000 people to around 60,000 people by the mid-1990s. Immigration from the neighbouring Lesser Antilles, Curaçao
, the Dominican Republic
, the United States
, and Asia
turned the native population into a minority.
Sint Maarten became an "island territory" (eilandgebied
) of the Netherlands Antilles
in 1983. Before that date, Sint Maarten was part of the island territory of the Windward Islands, together with Saba
and Sint Eustatius
. The status of an island territory entails considerable autonomy summed up in the Island Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles
. During this period Sint Maarten was ruled by an island council, an executive council, and a Lieutenant Governor (Dutch
) appointed by the Dutch Crown.
hit the island in 1995, causing immense destruction and resulting in 12 deaths.
Effects of Hurricane Irma
The port in Sint Maarten after Hurricane Irma
Damaged buildings in the wake of Hurricane Irma
Ground view of Hurricane Irma's damage
made landfall on 6 September 2017, causing extensive damage. 4 deaths were ultimately reported; there were 11 serious injuries out of a total of 34.
Princess Juliana Airport was extensively damaged but reopened on a partial basis in two days to allow incoming relief flights and for flights that would take evacuees to other islands.
By 8 September, "many inhabitants [were] devoid of basic necessities" and looting had become a serious problem.
Reports on 9 September indicated that 70% of the infrastructure on the Dutch part had been destroyed.
A survey by the Dutch Red Cross estimated that nearly a third of the buildings in Sint Maarten had been destroyed and that over 90 per cent of structures on the island had been damaged.
The Prime Minister of the Netherlands told the news media on 8 September that the airport in Sint Maarten was ready to receive emergency flights and that aid, as well as police officers and military personnel, were on their way.
The Prime Minister of Sint Maarten had already asked the Dutch government for extended relief assistance which began to arrive on 8 September. The government issued a Tropical Storm Warning on 8 September since the Category 4 Hurricane Jose
The government of the Netherlands was sending aid, as well as additional police and military, since looting was a serious problem. A statement by the Prime Minister summarized the situation on 8 September. "We've lost many, many homes. Schools have been destroyed. We foresee a loss of the tourist season because of the damage that was done to hotel properties, the negative publicity that one would have that it's better to go somewhere else because it's destroyed. So that will have a serious impact on our economy."
At the time, preparations were being made as Hurricane Jose
approached the island.
Government estimates on 9 September indicated that 70 percent of houses were badly damaged or destroyed; much of the population was living in shelters pending the arrival of Jose. Thankfully, this second hurricane did not have a significant impact on the island.
Widespread looting had started and a state of emergency was announced; some 230 soldiers from the Netherlands were patrolling. Additional Dutch troops were expected.
By 10 September, some 1,200 Americans had been evacuated to Puerto Rico
from Sint Maarten by military aircraft during a time of looting and violence. On that date, Royal Caribbean International
said that the company was sending its Adventure of the Seas
to Saint-Martin and to St. Thomas to provide supplies and to offer evacuation services.
The ship arrived on the island on 10 September with water, ice, garbage bags, clothing and canned food, and evacuated 320 people.
By 11 September, King Willem-Alexander had already arrived in Curaçao and was scheduled to visit St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba.
When King Willem-Alexander visited Sint Maarten for the first time post-hurricane, he was shocked by the destruction. He immediately called for support from the European Union so the island could recover swiftly. Later in the month, it was revealed that the EU would allocate €2 billion in emergency funds for immediate disaster relief to restore basic essentials on Sint Maarten, such as drinking water and sanitation.
In addition to the EU's contribution, Red Cross, the government of the Netherlands, and Dutch citizens of the mainland pitched in (via donations and crowdfunding) to raise money for the devastated island.
Post hurricane rebuilding
On 10 October 2017, Princess Juliana International Airport re-commenced commercial flights
using temporary structures, pending repairs.
A report in late March 2018 indicated that the airport was able to handle some flights and some service had resumed from the US, Canada, and Europe. A new departure lounge was being used during rebuilding of the original facility. The General Aviation building was being used for passengers arriving on the island.
A little over a year after Hurricane Irma, St Maarten's cruise industry had recovered to the extent that in 2018, more than 1 million cruise passengers visited the island.
Telecommunications, including Wi-Fi, had been restored on the island, 95% of customers were receiving electricity and drinking water was readily available on the island. Some tourist accommodations were open, with 27 operating and 36 said to be ready sometime later this year. Cruise ships were arriving; a full 14 were accommodated the week of February 18, 2018.
Detailed map showing Sint Maarten
Government and politics
Map of the European Union and the UK (prior to the latter's departure) in the world with overseas countries and territories and outermost regions
The beach policy (as of 1994)
views the beach from the perspective of being an ecosystem service for recreational activities. This is because the economy on Sint Maarten is tourism driven and many tourists come to the island to enjoy the 37 beaches on the island. The policy has three main points: the beach must be usable for everyone, developments that negatively affect recreative use will be prevented, and beaches should be protected against human influences that could impair their recreation function. The policy's main purpose is to protect the recreational value of the beach. The laws fail to consider the protection and ecological value of this habitat in regard to protecting nesting sea turtles
, preserving the beach line, or preserving the plants that live in and along the beach line.
The hillside policy, as of 1998,
is mainly concerned with residential development. On the hillside, only residential development is permitted, certain hillsides with important “visual impact” are protected and conserved for their general landscape. A natural park is projected for the following hills: Cole Bay Hill, Sentry Hill, St. Peters Hill, Concordia Hill, Marigot Hill, Waymouth Hill and Williams Hill. The policy stated that the main objective was to conserve and maintain the green hillside and restore any natural habitats if needed. However, as of 2020, these natural parks have not yet been established.
In 1978, the government of the Netherlands Antilles
installed a Research Committee on the Windward Islands
: Commissie van Onderzoek Bovenwindse Eilanden
) to investigate claims of corruption in the island government. Even though the report issued by this commission was damaging for the island's government, measures were not put into place to curb corruption, arguably because the government of the Netherlands Antilles depended on the support of Wathey's Democratic Party in the Estates of the Netherlands Antilles
. In August 1990, the public prosecutor of the Netherlands Antilles started an investigation into the alleged ties between the island government of Sint Maarten and the Sicilian Mafia
, and in 1991 the Court of Audit
of the Netherlands Antilles issued a report which concluded that the island government of Sint Maarten was ailing.
In the government and parliament of the Netherlands, the call for measures became louder. With Dutch pressure, the government of the Netherlands Antilles installed the Pourier
Commission tasked with investigating the state of affairs of the island government of Sint Maarten in December 1991. Its report concluded that the island was in a severe financial crisis, that rules of democratic decision-making were continuously broken, and that the island government constituted an oligarchy
. In short, the island government failed completely according to the report. After long negotiations, the Kingdom government
enacted a General Measure of Kingdom Administration (Dutch
: Algemene Maatregel van Rijksbestuur
) in early 1993, placing Sint Maarten under direct supervision of the Kingdom. Although originally meant for one year, the Order-in-Council for the Kingdom was eventually extended until 1 March 1996.
Though much has changed since, allegations of criminal activities continue to plague Sint Maarten. In 2004, the Minister of Justice of the Netherlands Antilles asked the Scientific Research and Documentation Centre (Dutch
: Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum
(WODC)) of the Dutch Ministry of Justice to conduct research into organized crime in Sint Maarten. The report concluded that money laundering
and cocaine trade are widespread on Sint Maarten. It also alleged that money from the island was used to finance Hamas
, its associate Holy Land Foundation
, and the Taliban
Sint Maarten is home to many distinctive plants such as hibiscus
, yellow sage (seen on the flag), flamboyant trees
, mahogany, and cacti. An estimated 522 wild plants are present, mainly being seed plants and a few ferns. The Calyptranthes boldinghgii
and Galactia nummelaria
” and it is suspected that they have already gone extinct. Much of the hilltops are semi-evergreen seasonal forests which are rare in region.
The categorization of native, introduced, and invasive plant species is not as well documented for the island. Some of the introduced plant species include: manila grass (Zoysia matrella
), Spanish bayonet ( Yucca aloifolia
), Singapore almond (Terminalia catappa
), true aloe (Aloe vera
). Some of the native species are west Indian holly (Tunera ulmifolia
), spiny amaranth (Amaranthus spinosus
), bell pepper (Capsium pulcherrima
), salt heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum
), bay rum tree (pimento racemose
), and sourbush (pluchea carolinesis
). One of the invasive species on the island is crowfoot grass (Dactyloctenium aegyptium
Mullet Pond, a section of the inland lagoon Simpson Bay Lagoon
, is home to 70% of Sint Maarten's mangrove population on the Dutch side of the island. Mangroves
are a nursery for many young fish and during hurricane season they provide coastal protection. The area, however, is at risk due to dredging, tourism activities, and the yacht industry on the island.
Mullet Pond is the 55th Ramsar site
and therefore protected according to the Ramsar Treaty, a global commitment to protect ecologically significant wetland areas.
The effects of climate change
are felt on Sint Maarten. According to the Netherlands Antilles Coral Reef Initiative the coral reefs were fragmented due to a temperature rise to 30 °C in 2005.
20 years ago, the sea grass beds were much larger. Natural disasters (hurricanes), development, and a tourism-based industry caused a significant decrease over the years. The seagrass beds
are important for anchoring the sand in place as well as hurricane protection.
Without the seagrass bed sand can easily be moved by a hurricane resulting in the loss of beaches or sand accumulates in one area, impacting marine life.
Catholic Church St. Martin of Tours in Philipsburg
In the 2011 Netherlands Antilles census, the population of the island territory was 33,609.
In the 2017 census the total population of the country was 40,535.
- Philipsburg (1,894 inhabitants)
- Lower Prince's Quarter (10,833 inhabitants)
- Cul de Sac (8,588 inhabitants)
- Cole Bay (7,194 inhabitants)
- Upper Prince's Quarter (4,595 inhabitants)
- Little Bay (Fort Amsterdam) (5,581 inhabitants)
- Simpson Bay (1,142 inhabitants)
- Lowlands (708 inhabitants)
English is the everyday language of communication in Sint Maarten, and also the first language of native Sint Maarteners.
A local English-based dialect
or creole is spoken in informal situations by Sint Maarteners between themselves. Most Sint Maarteners learn Dutch as a second language, and only use it when communicating with other Dutch speakers.
The government uses the Dutch language when communicating with the Dutch government and also formerly did so with the Netherlands Antilles government.
Local sign language uses both Dutch and English.
There were English-medium and Dutch-medium schools on Sint Maarten, and the Dutch government policy towards St. Maarten and other SSS islands promoted English medium education.
As per the 2001 census there were far more Spanish speakers than Dutch speakers, amounting to 14.8% and 4.2% of the population, respectively. Sint Maarten is a polyglot
society, most are simultaneously bilingual
in Dutch and English, and among them are also speakers of Spanish and French. Linguist Linda-Andrea Richardson stated in 1983 that Dutch was a "dead language
" in Sint Maarten.
Many tourists come to use Sint Maarten's beaches.
Sint Maarten, along with Curaçao
, uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder
as its currency. The economy is heavily dependent on tourism, either from long-stays or day-trippers from the many cruise lines
that dock in the Philipsburg
Harbour; around 80% of the workforce is employed in this sector.
Some limited agriculture occurs, however most food is imported.
In 2014, St. Maarten had more gaming machines per resident than any other country in the world.
Hurricane Irma severely affected the economy in 2017. In a 2019 report, it was revealed that the island's GDP had dropped by 4.7%, with an increase in inflation.
This drastic hit to the economy was due to lessened tourism, real estate, trade, and business activities.
Courthouse on Sint Maarten
Sint Maarten's culture is a mix of African, European and North American influences. Ank Klomp wrote in Saint Martin: Communal Identities on a Divided Caribbean Island
that Sint-Maarten lacked a Dutch cultural identity.
An annual regatta
is held over three days culminating in the first weekend in March. Among the leading cultural artists of the island are Isidore "Mighty Dow" York (kaisonian
, panman), Roland Richardson (Impressionist
painter), Nicole de Weever
(dancer, broadway star), Ruby Bute (painter, storyteller, poet), Clara Reyes (choreographer), Susha Hien (choreographer), Lasana M. Sekou
(poet, author, independence advocate), Drisana Deborah Jack (visual artist, poet), and Tanny and The Boys (string band music group). The annual St. Maarten Carnival starts in April and ends in May. The Grand Carnival parade that takes place on the Dutch side is the largest parade of the island's two carnivals. The annual St. Martin Book Fair takes place during the first weekend of June, featuring emerging and famous authors from the island, the Caribbean region, and from around the world.
Sport and recreation
The Sint Maarten Soccer Association
was founded in 1986. The organisation is not a member of FIFA
, but became an associate member of CONCACAF
in 2002, and a full member in 2013. The national football team
debuted in 1989, and plays its home games at the Raoul Illidge Sports Complex
, which has a 3,000-spectator capacity. After an initial period of popularity during the 1990s, including an appearance at the 1993 Caribbean Cup
, interest in football declined, with the national team playing its last official match in 2000 (against Dominica
However, Sint Maarten returned to international competition in March 2016, for the 2017 Caribbean Cup qualification
The Sint Maarten Cricket Association is a member of the Leeward Islands Cricket Association
(LICA), which is, in turn, a member of the West Indies Cricket Board
(WICB). With rare exceptions (for instance, the Stanford 20/20
), the national cricket team
plays only against other LICA members, though Sint Maarteners may go on to play for the Leeward Islands team
at regional level and are eligible for both the West Indies
and the Netherlands
internationally. The primary venue for cricket is the Charles Vlaun Cricket Field
. Colin Hamer
was the first Sint Maartener to play first-class cricket
while Daniel Doram
was the first islander to play at international level, debuting for the Netherlands against Ireland in the Intercontinental Cup
in July 2013 at the age of 15, also becoming the first St. Maartener to take a first-class five-wicket haul. In 2016 Keacy Carty
became the first St Maartener to play representative cricket for the West Indies (for the West Indies under-19s
Carty was the man of the final at the 2016 Under-19 World Cup
, and was later described by the prime minister
, William Marlin
, as having "brought the name of St Maarten to international acclaim".
The Sint Maarten Volleyball Association is part of the Eastern Caribbean Volleyball Association
, which hosts championship qualifiers with countries within its zone. Countries that are part of the ECVA are: Anguilla, Antigua, Bermuda, Virgin Islands, Dominica, Dutch St.Martin, French St.Martin, Grenada, Montserrat, Saba, St. Eustatius, St.Kitts, St.Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
Over the past 8 years, volleyball in St.Maarten on a National level has been developing and showing results. In 2016, the Sint Maarten Men's National Team went on to win the championship in their pool for the round 1 World Championship Qualifiers winning the gold along with many individual awards. The local awardees were; Nicholas Henrietta (Best Setter); Leonardo J Jeffers (Best Outside Hitter); Stephan Ellis (Best Middle); Allinton Augustine (Best Defence); Riegmar Valies Courtar (Best Opposite), and Riegmar Valies Courtar (Best Scorer) and MVP
Most Valuable Player.
Tourists watch a low flying plane over the beach
The island is famous for its runway
at Princess Juliana International Airport
, in which landing
aircraft pass within 35 metres (38 yd) of Maho Beach
below, due to the close proximity of the runway to the ocean. The planes appear to land dangerously close to beach goers so the beach and airport have become a popular place for people to view aeroplane landings. In July 2017, a New Zealander died from head injuries after being propelled backwards from a jet engine blast.
Sint Maarten is also known for its festive nightlife, expansive beaches, precious jewelry, traditional cuisines, and plentiful casinos.
Primary and secondary schools
Public schools include:
Private schools subsidized by the St. Maarten government include:
- Hillside Christian School (St. Peters)
- MAC Browlia F. Maillard Campus (Cul-de-Sac) and Rev. John A. Gumbs Campus (Betty's Estate)
- Seven Day Adventist (Cole Bay)
- Sr. Borgia Primary (Philipsburg)
- Sr. Magda Primary (St. Peters)
- Sr. Marie Laurence (Middle Region)
- Sr. Regina Primary (Simpson Bay)
- St. Dominic Primary (South Reward)
- St. Joseph Primary (Philipsburg)
- The Asha Stevens - Hillside Christian School (Cayhill)
Previously residents had to complete secondary studies in Aruba
Prior to 1976 Sint Maarten had two secondary schools: the government secondary school John Phillips School and the Catholic secondary school Pastoor Nieuwen Huis School. Philips was both a MAVO/ETAO school while Huis was a MAVO school. The foundation Stichting Voortgezet Onderwijs van de Bovenwindse Eilanden
(SVOBE), established on February 20, 1974,
was created as the neutral governing body for a new school created by the merger of Phillips and Huis schools.
MPC, the merged school, opened on August 17, 1976.
The Caribbean International Academy
, founded in 2003 is a preparatory private boarding and day school on the island of St. Maarten. Catering to children from Kindergarten to Grade 12, CIA is also the only school offering Canadian/Ontario High School Diploma (OSSD) and 90% of their graduates go on to attend universities in Europe, Canada and the United States.
Learning Unlimited Preparatory School (LUPS) is an American accredited institution, that established a Caribbean location in St.Maarten in 1991.
The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Colleges and universities
Most residents who attend tertiary institutions do so in Curaçao and/or European Netherlands.
Philipsburg Jubilee Library in Philipsburg
was the most prominent library in Sint Maarten. However, after Hurricane Irma hit the island in 2017, the library was forced to shut down. As of February 2019, Philipsburg Jubilee Library still lacks the funding necessary for it to be rebuilt,
but has recently reopened in a temporary location until further notice.
Princess Juliana International Airport
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