Michelle van Leijsen

Benthic habitats of the Saba Bank


Habitat mapping is crucial for understanding habitat connectivity and for spatial planning, environmental management, conservation, and targeted research, including long-term change monitoring. However, such information has been lacking for many Dutch Caribbean islands, especially regarding marine habitats. This study used 2144 georeferenced images from different surveys to develop habitat models predicting the distribution of habitat types within the Saba Bank National Park. The habitat models link environmental factors to species or habitat occurrence, enabling predictions in unsurveyed areas with known covariates. Machine learning techniques (Random Forests, Gradient Boosting, and weighted K Nearest Neighbor) were applied to interpret and predict ten habitat types over the Bank. Three models were created for each technique: 1) utilizing only geographic coordinates; 2) incorporating covariables such as depth, distance to the edge of the Bank, Topographic Position Index (TPI), and Terrain Ruggedness index (TRI); 3) a combination of the previous two models. All models performed well, accurately predicting habitat types between 67 and 74% of the georeferenced images. However, the most natural representation occurred with models combining geographic and covariate variables. Predicted habitats include coral reef, patch reef, gorgonian reef, sargassum fields, cyanobacteria-dominated fields, Lobophora fields, Neogoniolithon- Lyngbya habitat, other macroalgae fields, sand with a mix of species, and bare sand. Habitat distribution appears to be related to the main currents in the area and depth, with coral reefs occurring mainly along the southern and eastern edge of the Bank, with gorgonians and other soft corals dominating there the shallow areas. Macroalgae, including fields of Sargassum, dominate the back-reef area. Extensive sand plains dominate the center of the Bank, and along the north-western and northern edge of the Bank, between 40 and 60m depth Lobophora fields can occur. In the south-eastern back reef area a number of mounds built up by the coralline alga Neogoniolithon occur. The Luymes Bank, the northeastern part of the Saba Bank, was the only area that was not correctly predicted, indicating that additional field-based observations are needed to refine results in this area.

Data type
Research report
Research and monitoring
Report number
Geographic location
Saba bank