Towards sustainable management of the Saba Bank


The main conclusion from this study is that the Saba Bank is particularly important for several reasons:

  • It is an important and unique ecosystem in relatively pristine condition.
  • The coral reefs of the Saba Bank are relatively remote from intense human impact and may not only provide important scientific information on the status of reefs in relatively unspoiled condition, but are also a reserve of biodiversity for the region.
  • It has potential for increase in economic importance: the reefs of the Saba Bank are potentially a resource for dive-tourism and an essential resource for fishing.
  • It is of considerable economic and social importance.

Some important findings of the study are listed below:


  • The total surface area of the Saba Bank is about 2200 km2.
  • Extensive coral reefs can be found along large parts of the edge of the Saba Bank. The reefs appear healthy and support a rich biological community.
  • Saba Bank constitutes the largest actively growing atoll in the Caribbean and possibly the third largest atoll in the world.
  • Saba Bank forms a regionally unique ecosystem that is relatively pristine, characterized by high biological diversity and productivity.
  • The Saba Bank is likely a source of fish and coral larvae, supporting the coral reefs of islands in the region.


  • The primary users of the Saba Bank are the fishermen from Saba. Fishermen from neighboring Caribbean islands also fish on the Saba Bank. The waters over the bank are also used for passage by oil tankers, freighters, cruise ships. Some tankers anchor on the bank while waiting for permission to enter St. Eustatius' harbour.
  • Overfishing and anchoring were distinguished as having (potentially) the most severe effects on the Saba Bank and its resources
  • Presently, economic benefits are only derived from fisheries. Additional benefits could be generated through diving and sport-fishing on the Bank.


  • New regulations (e.g. National Law Nature Conservation and Protection, National Law on Environmental Management, National Law Maritime Management) are in the process of becoming legislation. Combined with an effective coast guard, these laws should enable the Netherlands Antilles to manage the sustainable use of the natural resources of the Saba Bank.

Management Recommendations:

  • Develop a management plan to preserve this unique marine habitat.
  • The creation of an exclusive fishery zone that completely encloses the Saba Bank would offer the Netherlands Antilles ample opportunity to regulate harvesting of the Saba Bank's natural resources.
  • The installation of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) would further increase the opportunities for management.
  • Fill in the main gaps in knowledge, which include information on reef and species distributions, data on major ecological processes, ship anchoring and traversing frequency, use of the bank by other islands and most importantly stock and catch data of commercially used species.
  • An integrated management approach of Saba Bank is recommended because it better addresses the problems inherent to a multi-use area.

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