On January 17th, 2022, Mark Zagers, Managing Director of the Saba Electric Company (SEC), officially handed over the keys to Peter Johnson, President of the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), the new tenant of the old power plant at the Fort Bay harbor. Also present were commissioner, Bruce Zagers, other SCF board members, resident researchers, and staff. After the handover, the group toured and inspected the newly renovated facility.
Due to climate change, overfishing, coastal development and other stresses, coral reefs worldwide are drastically in decline and scientists are racing to save the “rainforest of the sea” from extinction. The facility will provide novel opportunities to conduct coral reef research at an ideal location, adjacent to the Saba Marine Park and near the Saba Bank. The project was initiated in collaboration and with the support of the island government.
Kai Wulf, managing director of the SCF, explained: “Our plans are to enhance the building to provide a controlled environment, so-called mesocosms, to grow and study reef organisms, to better understand and control factors that impact and promote their wellbeing, with the aim to develop practical solutions to restore marine ecosystems.”
Services provided by Saba’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems are vitally important to the island’s fisheries and tourism industries, with an estimated total economic value of US $29 million per year (TEEB Study, Wolf’s Company 2014).
For example, by cultivating and restocking Diadema sea urchins, important herbivores decimated in the Caribbean by a viral disease during the early 1980s, algae growth that is now smothering and choking corals could be vastly reduced. Scientists may also be able to develop new techniques to propagate stony coral that is more resilient to rising ocean temperatures and C02 induced acidification.
Successful research and coral restoration practices could bring much publicity and elevate Saba’s visibility internationally. Additionally, the research facility will create a new form of sustainable tourism for Saba, attracting scientists, students and coral reef restoration practitioners to the island. These visitors usually stay for longer periods and often bring family and friends, contributing substantially to the economy of the island. Further benefits will not just include guided tours, but could also provide career options for local students interested in marine biology and engage interested residents in meaningful citizen science.
The finalization of the building modifications approved by SEC and full operational capacity depends on the ability of the SCF and its partners to raise the necessary funding.