photo: Oscar Bos

THE BOTTOM – The Saba Bank and the coral reef around Saba, one of the largest reefs in the world, has had to deal with anchoring, algae growth, aggressive fish species and coral bleaching in recent years. Only eight percent of Saba Bank was stable in January 2018 , according to Ayumi Kuramae, Saba Bank Official and Scientific Coordinator of the Saba Bank Management Unit.

But there is progress. Twelve coral trees from the Saba Bank Management Unit are doing well. “The coral trees are very important to us, because we want to plant it on the reef later this year. We use this to make the reef climate-proof, “says Kuramae.

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By Esther Henry

The Saba Conservation Foundation receives help from students of the University of Wageningen and the Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies (IMARES). The students implement the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) in order to evaluate the coverage and health of the coral reef around Saba.

The students observe the amount of fish and the ‘benthos’ coverage, which can give an idea about the health of the reef. The Saba Bank is 2,200 square kilometers in size, so the results will take a few months to come.

Surveying the Saba Bank is a challenge
“We are currently working on the coral reef around the island. Then we continue with the Saba Bank. It is more difficult to survey the Saba Bank because it is in deeper water, the sea is normally a bit rougher and diving can be more dangerous, “says Kai Wulf, Park Manager of the Saba Conservation Foundation.

“With the help of the Dutch Coast Guard, we have the problem of tankers that anchored at Saba Bank under control. We have not had a single case of illegal anchoring at Saba Bank last season. That is good progress, “says Wulf.

Photo: Oscar Bos

The local fishermen must take into account the available amount of fish or lobster. Red catfish are almost extinct in various Caribbean regions, so the fishermen focus on other types of sea bass. “We try to inform the fishermen about where the fish spawn (lay eggs) and why it is important that these locations are protected. They form a buffer for the fish population, which can be fished again in the future, “says Wulf.

New threat
“Unfortunately, there is a new coral disease, the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. The disease has already been reported in St. Maarten, but fortunately not yet on Saba”, says Wulf.

The disease was observed in St. Maarten in October last year. The germ of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease can be taken on, for example, the diving equipment of a diver. People can go diving in Florida and pick up the bacteria there and take it to the Caribbean.

“We have advised diving schools to have their guests perform a mild bleach treatment on their diving equipment,” says Wulf.

Some threats are difficult to combat, Kuramae says. “Not only because we only have a small capacity for such a large area, but also because these threats come from neighboring islands or come from sea currents from far, which fall outside our local legislation.”

Photo: Hazel Durand

The King’s Leap
The Saba Conservation Foundation, together with King Willem-Alexander, officially renamed part of the Saba Bank into “The King’s Leap”. In December 2017, during a visit to Saba, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima took a dive to view the Saba Bank.