New national park protects Saba’s precious nature, artifacts

Protected animals species such as the Saba black iguana, the bridled quail-dove, the red-billed tropicbird, the Audubon shearwater, the brown trembler bird, the red-bellied racer snake, bats and hummingbirds, but also the mountain mahogany tree and the artifacts of Mary’s Point and Plum Piece are now enjoying a protected status in the newly established Mt. Scenery National Park.

Since a few months, Saba has a new, expanded terrestrial nature park which covers some 25 per cent of the island and measures about 350 hectares, consisting of dry tropical forest, tropical rain forest and cloud forest with a wide variety of orchids and ferns. The park includes the most pristine areas and is regarded as the most bio-diverse part of the island. Saba’s underwater nature is already protected through the Saba Marine Park which surrounds the island.

This aerial of Saba shows the boundaries of the Mt. Scenery National Park which covers some 25 per cent of the northern part of the island.

Landowners keep rights

It is important to note that the National Park does not infringe on the rights of the land owners. People were assured of this during the two town hall meetings that were held in August 2018. Also, the National Park does not impede any ongoing economic activities such as small-scale agriculture. Future developments in the park are possible after an Environmental Impact Assessment has concluded that the activities are not harmful to nature.

The Mount Scenery Nature Park covers the area around the top of the Mt. Scenery above the 550 meter altitude line, along the eastern border of the 35 hectares park area owned by the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), also known as the Muriel Thissel Park, to the waterline at the north coast and in the west of Troy Hill along the deepest line of the so-called Island Gut directly south of Well’s Gut until the waterline by Well’s Bay. The area immediately borders the Saba Marine Park along the North coast.

The steep hills of the North coast with in the back Mt. Scenery.

Saba’s pristine nature in the northern area of the island, located in the most inaccessible part due to the steep slopes and deep ravines was proclaimed national park when the Island Council approved the “Island Ordinance for the establishment of the National Park and protection of animal, plant species and artifacts” on September 18, 2018. Per that same date, the island ordinance became effective.

The establishment of the park ensures effective management and conservation of the biodiversity and the ecosystem by appointing the SCF as the managing organization and by providing legal tools to enforce the protection of this exceptional piece of nature. SCF will work together with the Saba Archeological Center (SABARC) for the archeological heritage in the area, on the basis of a contract with the Public Entity Saba.

Economic value

The nature park represents a considerable economic value because an important part of eco-tourism relies on the nature on and around Mt. Scenery, which is covered with rich vegetation, its cloud forest and wide variety of orchids, ferns and the rare mountain mahogany.

But, it also has an important role to preserve Saba’s cultural values due to the location of the old deserted Mary’s Point village. The settlement, 13 ruins of the foundations of houses and small agricultural plots, was abandoned 80 years ago because of its remoteness, inaccessibility, erosion and poor access to water. The area has been reclaimed by nature and is now home to several endangered species, including the Audubon shearwater, and endemic species such as the Saba black iguana and the Red-bellied racer snake. The park includes the important Plum Piece archaeological site with the oldest Archaic Indian remains of Saba and possibly of the entire Caribbean.

The ruins of a cistern at Mary’s Point are part of the archeological heritage that has a protected status in the national park.

By legally establishing the nature park, the Public Entity Saba wants to secure and preserve this particular area, while at the same time maximizing the economic value of this extraordinary piece of nature, the dramatic landscape and the cultural-historic aspect of the area which, due to its inaccessibility, virtually does not allow other uses.

Given the fragile nature and archaeological heritage, and considering the increasing number of tourists walking the trails and climbing the Mt. Scenery who sometimes taking plants such as orchids and ferns, the government found it important to protect the area.

Sustainable tourism

Saba wants to regulate the responsible use of nature and accessibility to archaeological heritage, to strengthen sustainable tourism, while protecting endangered or special plants and animals, archaeological sites and artifacts. By establishing a national park, Saba also fulfills international requirements and treaties for the protection of biodiversity.

Orchids (in photo), ferns and the mountain mahogany are among the protected plant species in the national park.

Park management focuses primarily on maintaining biodiversity, promoting sustainable use and protecting cultural and historic locations, with the aim to protect the unique richness of the area and making it possible to use the park in an appropriate way that can be both recreational and commercial.

The new legislation sets a number of rules for the national park. It is now forbidden to cut down trees without a permit, and to damage, remove or destroy the vegetation in the park. It is also not allowed to hunt or disturb animals, unless one has a permit to do so. Without a permit it is prohibited to carry out excavations at the archeological sites or to remove artifacts. Building roads or erecting buildings is not allowed without a permit of the Executive Council. Small, sustainable agriculture in the park is encouraged in the National Park. Economic activities that were already present in the area at the time the legislation was passed remain intact.

Several projects are involved for a total amount of US $855,000. The National Park project, amounting to US $270,000 and financed through the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK), will start in 2019. Paid from these funds will be the trail from the top of Mt. Scenery to the Hell’s Gate lookout point, the trail to The Bottom lookout, the training of two trainee park rangers, the excavations at the Amerindian site near Mary’s Point, the website and trail map.

Trail upgrading

The Hiking Trails project, which was concluded in 2018, focused on the upgrading and restoration of the Mt. Scenery trail, and included new steps and the installation of several hundred meters of railing. The total budget for this project was US $475,000, also financed through the EZK Ministry.

The North Saba National Park Phase 1 project, financed by the European Union (EU) for an amount of US $110,000 and also completed in 2018. This project included the upgrading of the Mary’s Point trail by placing wooden logs as steps, rope railings and the clearance of the old trail.

Also part of this third project was the drafting of a management plan for the park, organizing information sessions for the stakeholders, developing of legislation, the rehabilitation of the archeological village Mary’s Point, the placing of information signs and the printing of folders of the Mary’s Point trail and the village itself.

Two information sessions were held in August 2018, one in The Bottom and one in Windwardside, both of which were well-attended and counted on the active participation of the public and politicians. Two specific information sessions took place during the Central Committee meetings.

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