Saving Saba Bank: Policy Implications of Biodiversity Studies


This paper provides a context for the results of recent biodiversity surveys of Saba Bank.

Recent biological surveys of corals, fishes, and algae emphasized habitat diversity and the relative richness of the marine flora and fauna. These assessments formed the basis for a management plan to protect Saba Bank’s biodiversity and a draft proposal seeking Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) status for the Bank. The intention of the PSSA proposal is to protect the benthic habitat on Saba Bank from anchor damage. It is hoped that this collection will serve as a knowledge baseline and provoke further research in the area.


Meesters et al, 1996: review of existing knowledge and quick field survey of Saba Bank.

  • This study confirmed that Saba Bank is of great interest, both geologically and biologically.
  • This study confirmed that the area is a regionally unique ecosystem, relatively pristine and remote from human influences, with high biological diversity and productivity.
  • The study highlighted threats from overfishing and anchoring by large tankers.
  • Meesters recommended further study of Saba Bank, improved legislative instruments, including international instruments, and enforcement to control current and future activities as well as capacity and awareness building.

This study formed the basis for the N.A government’s policy for Saba Bank. Lack of resources and capacity delayed implementation of this policy.

Dilrosun, 2000: first in-depth fisheries catch assessment that provided solid data about the state of the Saba Bank’s fisheries.

  • This study concluded that no new fishing permits should be issued until a long-term fishery monitoring program was in place.
  • The study emphasized the need for effective enforcement of existing regulations.

This study had immediate effects on Saba Bank policy; the island government of Saba declared a moratorium on fishing permits and a capacity building effort to strengthen the Coast Guard’s enforcement of existing regulations began.

Several studies were requested so as to demonstrate that the Saba Bank satisfies all the criteria that the International Maritime Organization requires for the area to become a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA)

2006 Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) of Saba Bank: the aim was to produce appropriate and realistic conservation recommendations.

  • This survey really demonstrated the richness of the Saba Bank’s biodiversity.
  • Many new species were reported, and Saba Bank was found to have a uniquely diverse marine macro-algal flora.
  • The expedition brought worldwide publicity for Saba Bank and helped to earmark Dutch development funding for further study of the Bank.

2007 high-resolution bathymetric GIS map of Saba Bank

  • The map was produced using the Navy’s sonar data within a Geographic Information System (GIS) framework.
  • The map formed the basis for further study of Saba Bank.

2007 Second Fisheries Assessment: the goal was to assess the crustacean and gorgonian fauna of Saba Bank.

  • Two undescribed octocoral species were discovered
  • Two different shallow water gorgonian habitats were distinguished

The number of anchoring tankers and the damage caused by them was documented through a vessel monitoring system and the report of a few cases.

Saba Bank Management Plan Draft

  • In-depth description of Saba Bank’s biodiversity.
  • More data on the use being made of the Bank.
  • Better idea of the habitats present on the Bank.

A PSSA status proposal has been drafted and is currently being finalized.

New legislation to regulate international shipping in the waters of the Netherlands Antilles, needed in order to submit a PSSA proposal to the IMO, was passed. This legislation also makes it possible to declare the area an EEZ (another requirement for the PSSA proposal). The process is underway and is expected to be finalized in 2010. The anchoring prohibition will also be extended to the whole of the Bank in 2010.

Management Recommendations:

  • Further study and monitoring of the Bank’s biodiversity and use will be required to guide the Bank’s management in a feedback loop.
  • Interaction of biodiversity research and policy development is essential to developing effective management of biodiversity and public support.
  • Carry out further research into the various habitats of the Bank, about which far too little is as yet known. To date, only a very small part of the huge area has been adequately sampled.
  • Another priority is a study of marine mammals on Saba Bank to determine their presence and use of the bank. Anecdotal evidence suggests that humpback whales may use the Bank for calving, and sperm whales may find prey around the steep edges of the Saba Bank platform. Other areas of research that would contribute to more effective management include further studies of conch (Lobatus gigas) and lobster (Panulirus argus) populations, and sea turtles’ use of the Bank. Socio-economic studies would also be welcome. 

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