News - March 1, 2011

BES islands

Back in 1839, some wheeling and dealing between King William 1 and the then recently formed Belgian government led to the Netherlands gaining South Limburg and its chalk hills. This added the hazel dormouse, the fire salamander and the fly orchid to the biodiversity of the Netherlands.

Now we can add coral reefs, mangrove swamps and tropical rain forests to the list, because as of 10 October 2010, the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, St Eustacius and Saba are autonomous Dutch municipalities. Covering a total of 328 square kilometres - slightly more that the area of the Wadden Sea island of Vlieland - the islands add little to the national territory but a great deal to its biodiversity: 10,000 species at one blow. So the year 2010 can be written in thick felt pen into the annals of Dutch nature conservation. Years such as 1906, 1990 and 1992 (marking the establishment of the first Dutch nature reserve, the adoption of the Nature policy plan and of the European Habitat directive respectively) pale in comparison.
The implications of the accession of the BES islands for nature management are not to be sneezed at either. The Netherlands is now responsible for nature conservation in these three municipalities. Currently plans are being drawn up for an appropriate nature policy and management. Later this year I hope to make my first field trip to the islands as vegetation researcher. Species such as the Caribbean flamingo and the green iguana take some getting used to. Perhaps we should make the hummingbird our national bird.