New publication helps highlight underwater richness of the Saba Bank

This week, online science publication PLoS ONE released a collection of articles showcasing the incredible richness of marine life of the Saba Bank, a 2,200 square kilometer (850 square mile) coral reef atoll in the Caribbean.

Located southwest of Saba Island in the Netherlands Antilles, the reef has previously experienced damage from oil tankers which drop their anchors, causing damage to both coral and sponges. Efforts are now underway by a number of agencies to have the atoll designated as a “Particularly Sensitive Sea Area”.

A number of the marine Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) surveys were carried out for different taxonomic groups, including coral, algae, sponges and reef fishes. These surveys were undertaken through SCUBA dives and the use of ROVs (remotely operated vehicles). During this work, a number of species thought to be new to science were discovered.

The survey results will help make the case for the region’s protection as the findings show it is both a unique and complex system. The presence of large predatory fish is also a positive sign that parts of the reef system remain healthy and that an intact trophic network is in place.

These articles published by PLoS ONE were written in collaboration with scientists from a number of partner organizations, including CI. The publication’s “open access” nature provides a rare opportunity for non-scientists to access data that can play a key role in marine policy decisions.

Kent Carpenter, director of CI and IUCN’s Global Marine Species Assessment program, said of the survey, “It was a great pleasure to join the fish survey team on this expedition, and to join in the authorship of the articles. Saba Bank has some outstanding beautiful reefs. Unfortunately, healthy reefs are becoming rare in the Caribbean; preserving Saba Bank is well worth the effort.”

While it is hoped that the survey results will help in bringing the area protection, further studies are necessary to enable the design and implementation of a comprehensive zone-use plan for the future.

Edward Lohnes works in CI’s Global Marine program.

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