or St-Martin (French – see under French Antilles). The island is shared amicably by the Dutch, who have the southern 37 sq km of the island, and the French, calling their half Saint-Martin, who own the northern 52 sq km, an arrangement settled by the 1648 Treaty of Mount Concordia.
The salt ponds in the south of the island attracted the Dutch and during the early 19th century the island enjoyed modest prosperity. With the abolition of slavery however, the population declined, as did the salt exporting industry. In the last 20 or so years the island has flourished once again, this time as a beach holiday destination.The Dutch side of the island has the main airport and seaport and the majority of tourists. There are no border formalities, only a modest monument erected in 1948, which commemorates the division of the island three centuries earlier. The west part of the island is low-lying and mostly taken up by the Simpson Bay Lagoon, which provides a safe anchorage for small craft. The lagoon is separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land on which the airport has been built. The rest of the Dutch part is hilly and dry and covered with scrub, although it can quickly turn green after rain.
The French side is noticeably Gallic and few speak English.
The population has mushroomed with the tourist boom: the 1950 St Maarten census gave the total population at 1,484. While many of the residents were formerly ex-patriates who returned to their island, there is a large proportion who have come from other Caribbean islands to seek work. Few people speak Dutch, the official language, although Papiamento has increased with the migration of people from the ABC Dutch islands. Nearly everybody speaks English and there is a large Spanish-speaking contingent of guest workers from the Dominican Republic.