Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Saba Bank now a Marine Protected Area

There is cause for celebration in the Caribbean - a new MPA is born!
Saba Bank is larger than many of the islands in the region.
Press Release: As of October 2 the Netherlands Antilles passed and published a National Decree (2010, no. 94) designating the Saba Bank as "a protected area in the sense of art. 4 of the SPAW Protocol". The decree prohibits anchoring (by tankers and other large ships) on the entire Bank, both in territorial waters and in the EEZ, with a few exceptions such as hydrographic survey vessels, salvage vessels, search and rescue vessels, and fishing boats from Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Maarten with a permit to fish on the Bank. The Coastguard of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba will be enforcing this prohibition.
With an ocean area of ~2,500 km2 this makes the Saba Bank the fifth largest marine protected area in the Wider Caribbean after the Seaflower Marine Protected Area (Colombia) with 65,000 km2; the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic with 25,000 km2; the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (USA) with 9,840 km2; and the Alacranes Reef National Park (Mexico) with 3,338 km2. Average depth of the Bank is about 80 ft, and there are extensive coral reefs on the eastern and south-eastern edges. New species of fish, gorgonians and seaweeds have been discovered on the Bank which has been found to be among the richest areas of the Caribbean in seaweed diversity. Much of the area and its biodiversity still remains to be explored. The Bank is suspected to be an important foraging area for sea turtles and may be important to marine mammals such as humpback whales.

An application for Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) status has been sent to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) by the Netherlands to be discussed at the next meeting of the environmental committee of the IMO in the spring of next year. PSSA status will allow further regulation of international shipping to protect the Bank.

The designation follows on a scientific volume called "Biodiversity of Saba Bank" at PLoS One, an online scientific journal from Public Library of Science. The collection characterized submerged habitats on Saba, and identified many new species. The PLoS One collection undoubtedly contributed to the success of this marine protected area effort.

Aquanautix was involved in the MPA designation for Saba Bank since January 2006 with Conservation International, under Drs. Mike Smith and Sheila McKenna of CI's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. For more information see these links below:

Online collection at PLoS One
"Biodiversity of Saba Bank"

Underwater video of anchor damage by Shelly Lundvall

Saba Bank in Google Earth

3D fly-through of unexplored (!) topography in the Northeast quadrant

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