The Great Salt Pond is the reason why the Dutch settled on Sint Maarten in 1631; the salt collected from the pond was the main source of income for over 300 years, selling it as an export to both Europe and the Americas. Remains of the salt production era can still be seen when the water level is not too high and the walls of the salt pans are visible.
Currently this Important Bird Area is not used for salt production, but the walls which formed the salt pans still remain and—during winter and spring when water levels are lower—birds happily take advantage of these rocks sticking out above the surface. Birds use the 17th century rock walls to rest, nest (e.g. Black-necked Stilts), and feed from.
Other animals that can be spotted here (unfortunately all invasive): Green Iguanas, Red-eared Slider pond turtles, fish such as Tilapia.
There are several viewpoints around the pond for viewing the numerous Great and Snowy Egrets, fishing Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigate Birds, Black- and Yellow-crowned Nightherons, Green Herons, American Coots, White-cheeked Pintails, Common Gallinules, Pied-billed Grebes, Black-necked Stilts and, during Summer, lots of Laughing Gulls and other terns and gulls.
This is a great site to visit for a couple of hours! If you’re arriving via cruise ship, walk from the cruise ship terminal toward Philipsburg, keep following the main road and you will run into a roundabout with a statue of a freed slave in the middle. From there, it’s a great view on the east side of the pond, you can then also see the island (with sanitary landfill) in the middle of the pond which is blocking the view of the rest and greater West side of Great Salt Pond.
For that part of the pond: keep on walking along the main road (Pondfill Road, officially known as Walther Nisbeth Road) and pass the Salt Pickers roundabout, then view from the sand parking lot lining the south bank of Great Salt Pond, behind the parked cars.
Other viewpoints require a car or taxi to get there, including the canal between Fresh Pond and Great Salt Pond and from the sand strip behind the Sint Maarten Zoo (both on the north side of the pond).
Binkie van Es, born in the Netherlands and a 34-year resident of Sint Maarten, is a trained guide and very active bird conservationist. He sits on the board of the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation, is Vice Chair of the Board of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, and heads the Dutch Caribbean Bird Conservation Initiative in partnership with Vogelbescherming Nederland and Birdlife International. He is also active as an educator with Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Sleuth program and is the regional validator for eBird.
Binkie offers private tours through his business, Sint Maarten Birding, maximum 3 persons with larger groups by special request only. His tours will, at a minimum, cover all the sites mentioned on the Caribbean Birding Trail and will contain many stories about the history and culture of the island. He loves showing off “his” island and birds!
Ilja Botha of Seagrape Tours also visits this pond on their 3.5 hour tours of a maximum of 6 guests.