As of October 2nd, 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 about 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 24 m (~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.
Written by Paul Hoetjes, Policy Coordinator Nature Conservation and Fisheries
Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland