Saba reefs incur limited damage after hurricanes

After the passage of hurricanes Irma and Ma­ria, staff of dive operators Saba Divers, Sea Saba and Explorer Ventures are as­sisting Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) with the assessment and immediate restoration of impacted coral reefs in Saba and Saba Bank National Marine Parks.
Their efforts are being sup­ported by Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), World Wildlife Fund WNF and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The divers were very re­lieved when initial results indicated that Saba’s deep reefs coped surprisingly well with the storm surges. Also, the shallow nearshore areas only suffered limited dam­age.

Divers are moving a massive elkhorn coral branch with a lift bag to an adequate location where it will have a good chance of survival. (Saba Conservation Foundation photo)

Photos taken at key sites, in depths between six and 20 metres (20 to 65 feet) display healthy intact reef. More ex­posed reefs, like Diamond Rock, revealed some sec­tions with wave impact, while minimal effects could be ob­served around Green Island to the north.
History has proven the vola­tility of reefs to change, but also its remarkable ability to recover.

Large shifts of sand exposed ancient limestone structures, but did not affect the integ­rity of the reef base. Storm induced coral regeneration and nutrient redistribution can benefit reefs along with clearing areas for new colony generation.

Subsequent decreased wa­ter temperatures also ac­celerate coral growth. The divers measured that water temperature dropped from 28.8 Celsius to 27.7° Celsius (84F to 82F).

The initial assessment and coral-restoration works, in­volving reattachment of bro­ken coral fragments to the bottom substrate and trans­fer of smaller fragments to the undamaged coral nurs­ery, comprise phase one of the project.

Extensive surveying of 50 representative sites in the Saba National Marine Park and 25 sites on the Saba Bank, according to standards as set forth by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Net­work (GCRMN) and com­paring them to assessments of the previous years are planned for phase two.

To further improve resil­ience of the reefs, phase three includes intensified

removal of the invasive lion-fish, utilizing innovative traps in depths scuba divers can­not reach, as well as dive and yacht mooring maintenance or replacement, wherever needed.

Simultaneously, SCF staff, trail cleaners, interns and volunteers are well on their way clearing Saba’s historic trail network. The path to the top of Mount Scenery has almost been restored, as well as large parts of other promi­nent tracks and scenic views. It is envisioned to have all major trails reopened before the start of the upcoming tourism season in November. Moreover, attempts are be­ing made to preserve monu­mental trees in the nature reserves, by properly pruning broken branches and sealing off cuts, to speed up their healing and regrowth pro­cess.

Most of the special and mountain mahogany trees arc still standing and doing well after the storms. Fur­thermore, the establishment of tree nurseries is an ad­ditional proposed option to aid rejuvenation of Saba’s unique cloud forest, SCF said.

The Daily Herald.

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