Preliminary Assessment of Sponge Biodiversity on Saba Bank, Netherlands Antilles
Background: Saba Bank Atoll, Netherlands Antilles, is one of the three largest atolls on Earth and provides habitat for an extensive coral reef community. To improve our knowledge of this vast marine resource, a survey of biodiversity at Saba Bank included a multi-disciplinary team that sampled fishes, mollusks, crustaceans, macroalgae, and sponges.
Methodology/Principal Findings: A single member of the dive team conducted surveys of sponge biodiversity during eight dives at six locations, at depths ranging from 15 to 30 m. This preliminary assessment documented the presence of 45 species pooled across multiple locations. Rarefaction analysis estimated that only 48 to 84% of species diversity was sampled by this limited effort, clearly indicating a need for additional surveys. An analysis of historical collections from Saba and Saba Bank revealed an additional 36 species, yielding a total of 81 sponge species recorded from this area.
Conclusions/Significance: This observed species composition is similar to that found on widespread Caribbean reefs, indicating that the sponge fauna of Saba Bank is broadly representative of the Caribbean as a whole. A robust population of the giant barrel sponge, Xestospongia muta, appeared healthy with none of the signs of disease or bleaching reported from other Caribbean reefs; however, more recent reports of anchor chain damage to these sponges suggests that human activities can have dramatic impacts on these communities. Opportunities to protect this extremely large habitat should be pursued, as Saba Bank may serve as a significant reservoir of sponge species diversity.