Island of Saint Martin (Caribbean)

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Island of Saint Martin (Caribbean)

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 15:27

Saint Martin is an island in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. It lies at the northern end of the Leeward Islands group in the Lesser Antilles. The southern third of the island is tied historically and administratively with the Netherlands, and the northern two-thirds with France.

Island of Saint Martin

Saint Martin is an island in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. It lies at the northern end of the Leeward Islands group in the Lesser Antilles. The southern third of the island is tied historically and administratively with the Netherlands (Sint Maarten), and the northern two-thirds with France (Saint-Martin).

The island of Saint Martin is located south of Anguilla, separated from the British territory by the Anguilla Channel. Saint Martin is northwest of Saint Barthélemy, separated from the French territory by the Saint-Barthélemy Channel.

Other neighboring islands include Saba and Sint Eustatius "Statia" (Dutch), as well as Saint Kitts and Nevis (independent, formerly British). Except for Nevis, all these islands are easily visible on a clear day from St. Martin.

The island of Saint Martin extends about 12 miles (19 km) from north to south and about the same distance from east to west, including a narrow looping sand spit that extends westward from the hilly main part of the island. The island's total area is approximately 87 sq km (34 sq mi) and is divided roughly 60/40 between France and the Netherlands.

The northern and slightly larger French part comprises the Collectivity of Saint Martin (est. population 37,000) and is an overseas collectivity of France. As part of France proper, the French part of the island is part of the European Union.

The southern and slightly smaller Dutch part comprises Sint Maarten (est. population 41,000) and is one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The main cities are Philipsburg on the Dutch side and Marigot on the French side. The largest settlement on the entire island is Lower Prince's Quarter, on the Dutch side.

A local English-based Creole language is spoken on both sides of the island. However, the primary industry of the island is tourism.

Saint Martin location map

Saint Martin location map


Christopher Columbus was the first European to see the island on November 11, 1493, during his second voyage to the Americas. The island became the focus of the competing interests of the European powers, notably France, Britain and the Netherlands.

In Columbus' time, the island was populated, if at all, by Carib Amerindians. The former Arawaks had been chased by the Caribs from the north coast of South America a short time before the arrival of the Spaniards who followed in Columbus' wake.

The Dutch began using the island's ponds for salt in the 1620s. Then, still at war with the Dutch, the Spaniards captured St. Martin in 1633. One year later, they built a fort (now Fort Amsterdam, near Philipsburg) and another artillery battery at Pointe Blanche to assert their claim and control access to the Great Bay salt pond.

The Caribs' territory was not completely conquered until the mid-17th century when most of them perished in the struggle between the French, English (later British), Dutch, Danes and Spanish for control of the West Indies islands around the Caribbean Sea. Meanwhile, the Caribe Amerindian population began to decline precipitously, dying from diseases brought by the Europeans.

A massive influx of enslaved Africans took place in the 18th century with the development of sugarcane plantations by the French and Dutch. Slavery was abolished in the first half of the 19th century.

On some of their territories, the British imported Chinese and South Asians to replace enslaved people. Thus, St. Martin and the other islands are populated by a mixture of Amerindian, European, African, Indian and Asian peoples.

On March 23, 1648, the Kingdom of France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide the island of Saint Martin between their two territories with the signing of the Treaty of Concordia.

Map of the island of Saint Martin

Map of the island of Saint Martin


Saint Martin's Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and casinos. The island's French side is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and French and Indian Caribbean cuisine.

English is the most commonly spoken language, along with a local dialect. The official languages are French for Saint-Martin and Dutch and English for Sint Maarten.

Other common languages include various French-based creoles (spoken by immigrants from other French Caribbean islands), Spanish (spoken by immigrants from the Dominican Republic and various South American countries) and Papiamento (spoken by immigrants from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao).


Saint Martin is a volcanic and mountainous island. Its highest point is Pic Paradis, on the French side at 424m (1,391 ft). The island's coastline offers a wide variety of landscapes; some rugged and ringed with coral, others made up of white sandy beaches interspersed with sea grapes, coconut trees and palm trees.

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, provide coastal protection. The area, however, is at risk due to dredging and tourism activities. As a result, Mullet Pond has been a Ramsar site since 2016.

The island of Saint Martin is home to many distinctive plants, such as hibiscus, yellow sage (seen on the flag), mahogany and cacti. In addition, an estimated 522 wild plants are present, mainly seed plants and a few ferns.

The Calyptranthes boldinghgii and Galactia nummelaria are "island-endemic," and it is suspected that they have already gone extinct. Much of the hilltops are semi-evergreen seasonal forests rare in the region.

The categorization of native introduced and invasive plant species is not as well documented for the island. However, some of the introduced plant species include manila grass (Zoysia matrella), Spanish bayonet (Yucca aloifolia), Singapore almond (Terminalia catappa), and 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 sour bush (pluchea carolinesis). One of the invasive species on the island is crowfoot grass (Dactyloctenium aegyptium).

The Saint-Martin National Nature Reserve, whose aim is to preserve the ecosystems and natural biodiversity of the plant and marine life on the island, is located in the northeastern part (French portion) and covers 3,060 ha (7,561 acres).


The island of Saint Martin has a tropical savanna climate, with a dry season from January to April and a rainy season from August to December. The average yearly rainfall is 1,047 mm (41.2 in), with 142 days of rain.

Temperatures remain steady throughout the year, with an average mean temperature of 27.2 °C (81 °F). The average sea temperature is also 27.2 °C (81 °F).