Saba made the headlines in the Netherlands on Thursday with the news that Dutch marine biologists during their research of the Saba Bank discovered a section of coral reef that was in a surprisingly good state.
Scientists of Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and the Netherlands Institute for Maritime Research NIOZ did extensive research of the sea surrounding Saba, including the Saba Bank, late February this year. They found a coral reef in a remote part of the Saba Bank that was in exceptionally good state.
The scientists are on board the RV Pelagia, a Dutch research ship that is on a seven-month mission to research a large part of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea as part of the Netherlands Initiative Changing Oceans (NICO) expedition.
Marine biologist, researcher and ecologist Erik Meesters, who led the expedition to Saba together with his colleague Fleur van Duyl of NIOZ, shared the good news. “We have grown accustomed to only bad news where it comes to the health of the coral reefs, so this discovery on the Saba Bank is very special. It is terrific news.”
According to Meesters, the wide ridges where hard and soft corals grow show a beauty that was comparable to the coral reefs of 50 years ago when the bleaching of corals due to the higher temperature of the sea water didn’t yet exist.
“The corals don’t have any form of damage and look super healthy. This gives us hope that there are more of these areas in the world where corals are still doing well,” said Meesters.
The reef the scientists found measures more than 10 kilometres in length and one kilometre in width. Corals were found up to a depth of 107 metres, which is an indication that the seawater is very clear, allowing sunlight to enter the deeper water. “We thought we knew the Saba Bank, but the fact is that large areas were never researched,” said Meesters.
The WUR-NIOZ team researched a total of 10 areas on the Saba Bank, an atoll measuring about 40 by 60 kilometres. “In many places in the world the coral is not doing so well. We don’t know if this particular area of the Saba Bank is so beautiful because it wasn’t affected by the warmer periods or because it recovers better here. More research is needed to establish this,” said Meesters.
Researchers think the remote position of the Saba Bank, away from pollution, contributes to the healthy condition of the corals in this area.
As part of the NICO expedition, researchers also shot the first-ever images of the deep sea at Saba. The videos showed animal life in the deep sea surrounding the island. A large diversity of fauna was captured at a depth of 1,400 metre, including huge woodlice, conger eels and sharks living in the dark.
The Saba Bank is a very special place. In 2010, the Dutch Government declared the Saba Bank a Protected Area and it has been registered as such in the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) protocol of the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean.
In addition, the Saba Bank received the designation of a Particular Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2012 and was acknowledged as an Ecological or Biological Significant Area (EBSA) at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Although these were big steps forward towards the protection of this precious coral reef ecosystem, they do not alleviate the pressure caused by global warming and ocean acidification. The NICO expedition ends late July 2018. Several other islands were visited as part of this expedition, including Curaçao and St. Maarten.
The Daily Herald.