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.
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.