2013 Features
by Scott Kinyon (Sea Saba) with thanks to Dr. Jennifer Rahn
Rising from the depths like the towers of an ancient citadel, Saba’s pinnacles and seamounts serve as sanctuaries for diverse marine life.  The dramatic landscape of these sentinels of the deep provides food and shelter for a wide range of species.  Coral and sponges decorate their steep slopes, mollusks and crustaceans inhabit their crevices,  

and multitudes of fish swim nearby attracting larger predators.  As ecological microcosms they are scientifically fascinating and play a vital role as breeding and feeding grounds, cleaning stations, and migration waypoints for pelagic creatures.  However, even to the untrained, non-scientific eye this ecological significance manifests itself in a majestic and colorful display of life.  Saba’s Third Encounter dive site exemplifies this breathtaking imagery.  It is difficult to describe the thrill of swimming through the deep and watching The Needle emerge from the blue water and crystallize in your vision.  Sea Saba’s long-time friend Tom Greenway filmed a wonderful video that helps visually capture this dramatic experience.

 

Knoll, Seamounnt and Pinnacle diagramWhile we commonly refer to all of Saba’s seamount dive sites as “pinnacle” dives, The Needle is the Saba Marine Park’s only true pinnacle, while the others are (as per the diagram to the right) either a knoll or seamount. However, regardless of what they are called, each site is loaded with life and has a unique character and topography. Some might dispute that Shark Shoals' prolific peaks share some features of pinnacles but are really the summit of a seamount whereas Man O' War Shoals is characteristic of an underwater knoll.

     
Saba is home to several seamount and knoll dive sites.  You can read about each of these sites in detail on our page 30+ Sites in Detail.  The adjacent image shows the results of sonar scans of Saba and its neighboring seamount.  This helps give a sense of the sheer slope of the island, the seamount, and the deep chasm in between them. This height above the seafloor contributes to the health and biodiversity of Saba’s marine ecosystems.

  Saba's Seamounts as viewed by sideband sonar
     
Seamounts and upwellings   Ocean currents interact with the vertical topography to create complex current patterns conducive to diverse forms of life.  Strong localized currents and upwellings can lead to increased biomass of plankton, which in turn attracts other fish and larger predators.  Seamounts have been shown to have high levels of biodiversity, and some seamounts around the world are home to unique biological communities and endemic species.
     
Pinnacles and seamounts gain their dramatic shapes due to volcanic activity and erosion and often occur along tectonic plate boundaries (such as the Lesser Antilles where the Caribbean Plate and the Atlantic Plate meet, creating a subduction zone) or in mid-plate hotspots (for example, Hawaii).  Some seamounts are volcanoes that have yet to reach the surface and become islands while other seamounts are old islands that have since eroded away to become re-submerged. Thus, these now silent features were born from violent movements of molten rock.  It is just one of the many wonders of Saba that so much life and beauty has emerged at these sites of ancient chaos.  

deep sea trench

 
     
just another Sea Saba Difference...
55 Sharks in one month...but who's counting? We are!
written by Scott Kinyon; special thanks to Torsten Glocke & Martin de Graaf
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Caribbean Reef Shark courtesy Betsy Diggers while diving Saba early 2013
photo courtesy Betsy Diggers, Saba--January 2013
  100 feet below the surface you hover above one of the twin peaks of Shark Shoals, delighted by the vibrant sponges and corals while a school of jacks hunt amidst a plethora of fish. Suddenly you feel a rush of excitement as the sleek, silent shape of a Caribbean Reef Shark emerges from the blue...
You watch its predatory motion through the water, fascinated by its beauty and its power...Shark sightings can be a highlight of your dive and on Saba, particularly at our pinnacle dives, they are a fairly common occurrence.  How common, you may ask?  This question has spurred some recent investigation.

Sea Saba is committed to environmental awareness and exploration, and we enjoy serving as your ambassadors to the underwater world.  We fulfill our vision for environmental education through our sponsorship of Saba’s annual Sea & Learn event various course offerings including our National Geographic course, PADI Underwater Naturalist course, REEF Fish ID & Surveying, Sea Saba’s unique Saba Eco Immersion program, and more.  Occasionally, we also have the opportunity to collaborate with important research projects to expand our understanding of the local environment.


  Saba Hotel & Dive Site Map - Sea Saba
image courtesy Larry Every, former Sea Saba employee, now working for the Dutch Antillean Coast Guart as a navigator. This is the front side of the dive log that Sea Saba prints out for its clients. The backside details each dive.
 

A little over a year ago Sea Saba dive instructor Torsten Glocke (a.k.a. the Germanator) utilized his IT expertise to design a database for us to log every dive we do each day.  We now give a free individualized dive log to each customer upon checkout, which you can look forward to on your next visit.  However, the information in our dive database has also proved useful in other ways.

Since 2011 IMARES (Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies) on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and in close co-operation with the Saba Conservation Foundation, the local government, and Saba fishermen, has conducted a fish and fisheries research program in the coastal waters of Saba and on the Saba Bank.  In order to assist IMARES, Torsten modified Sea Saba’s database to track each individual shark sighting.  Combining this data with footage from stereo baited remote underwater video (sBRUV), IMARES gains valuable information about the abundance of sharks on Saba and their behavior.  The graphs below give us a glimpse of this by showing the average number of sharks seen at each of Saba’s dive sites per dive.

Dr. Martin de Graaf explains the work of his program:  “In 2011 IMARES (Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem studies) on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and in close co-operation with the Saba Conservation foundations, Saban local government and Saba fishermen, started a fish and fisheries research programme in the coastal waters of Saba and on the Saba Bank. The research programme consists of several components. A port sampling program was established in 2012 to record basic information on the commercial fishery on the Saba Bank (catches, species composition, fishing effort, length frequency of landed fish and lobsters). A study to determine the distribution and abundance of conch on the Saba Bank using a towed video array started in 2013. The fish communities



between 15-100 m deep around Saba were studied in 2012 using stereo baited remote underwater video (sBRUV). At present sBRUV is used to record the species composition and abundance on the Saba Bank. When possible, local knowledge and initiatives are used to provide more information to existing scientific programs. One example is the database of maintained by Sea Saba which records unusual fish and critter sightings.  In co-operation with IMARES the Sea Saba database has been modified slightly to ensure a robust registration of shark sightings by divers around Saba. In addition to the sharks recorded by the sBRUV, the shark observations registered by Sea Saba dive staff provides researchers with simple and robust information on the long term distribution and abundance of sharks.”
Nurse Shark image courtesy Kevin Stokell, Saba--April 2013
image courtesy Kevin Stokell--shot on Saba: April 2013
  For more information on the fish and fisheries research programmes please contact Dr Martin de Graaf
Research Scientist (Tropical) Fish and Fisheries, Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies
IMARES, PO Box 68,
1970 AB IJmuiden,
The Netherlands
e -mail: martin.degraaf@wur.nl,
tel: +31 (0) 317 486826

Just a fluke or maybe a 'telltail' sign?
Saba's recent whale sightings and what it might mean
shim shim shim shim shim
Humpback whale and calf by John Magor

It’s the winter season on Saba--when we hear what seafarers once named ‘the sirens of the sea’.  Long before man had the ability to explore inner space, he was beguiled by the sounds that reverberated through the hulls of ships. 

Humpback on Silver Bank by John Magor We tell our divers these whale songs belong to the straggler singers and can be heard up to 7 miles away… but when the songs thunder through your chest, it’s obvious they’re closer. Thus has been the case this ‘season’ on many a day with loads of singing and wondrous surface displays—more than in recent years.

Images courtesy John Magor, Tom Greenway and Ann and Kevin Wilson

The months of January through April are when you have a chance of hearing and maybe seeing humpback whales while diving the Saba Marine Park.  Saba is on the migratory route with known calving grounds found off the shores of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and as far south as The Grenadines.  Of the 81 species of cetaceans, only Humpbacks sing and only males are crooners.  As our island is surrounded by deeper waters, the whales we encounter are thought to be the stragglers-- males not in the running for mating but hanging out down south for the winter: learning, waiting, and hoping.  Once considered on the brink of extinction, Humpback whales are now considered a positive environmental story with numbers still far from pre-hunting levels but increasing 10-fold in 50 years since protection was put in place. 



Humpbacks have territories on both sides of the equator but are not known to cross it.  Our Northern Atlantic Humpbacks spend summers gorging themselves in rich feeding grounds from Maine to Newfoundland to Norway.  Not all North Atlantic humpbacks migrate but those that do, travel to the Caribbean for the winter months to give birth and/or mate. Dedicated females are drawn to the warmer, shallower Caribbean waters where the trade-off of less food also means fewer predators and less energy used to teach her 14-foot newborn how to be a whale: breaching, tail lobs, fin slapping, spy hopping and buoyancy control (you didn’t think we were the only mammals that had to learn buoyancy control, did you?).  The Silver Bank, 80 miles north of the Dominican Republic, is the most prolific calving ground to observe this phenomenon**. 

  Humpback whale breaching on Silver Bank by Tom Greenway

Humpback tail slapping display on Saba image courtesy of Kevin Anderson's
 
In February and March 2013, sightings off Saba, St. Maarten and St. Barths of multiple whales, mothers with calves and orcas (a main predator of newborn Humpbacks) has sparked enthusiasm and more questions.  With increased populations will Humpbacks reclaim abandoned calving grounds?  Some believe that the Saba Bank once served as a calving ground for Humpbacks.  Is this increase in sightings a sign of their return, and can we expect to see even more Humpbacks around Saba in the future?   Monitor this site for updates and visit Sea & Learn on Saba for more on naturalist Tom Conlin’s participation in this year’s event.  For now, get out on the water and hope to have your own encounter.

**John and Lynn took this bucket-list trip in early March 2013.  Our advice:  be sure to choose the correct operator. We chose Explorer Ventures—not just because we have an established relationship with their sister boat that frequents Saba waters but because it’s the vessel chartered by Tom Conlin and his team of Aquatic Adventures.  Tom is simply the man for humpbacks—recognized by scientists and whale protection agencies…he wrote the guidelines for whale watching and interaction on the Silver Bank.  Tom shares his 22+ years of knowledge and passion with guests to understand how to ‘be one’ with humpbacks.  He also has customized tenders outfitted specifically for the whale charters.  Explorer Ventures runs a comfortable, professional vessel with accommodating crew who work together to complement the team of naturalists.   

My Island, My Heineken
Think Green; Drink Green
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We align Sea Saba with those who care about the environment and a sustainable future.  When we choose our friends and business associates, and even the beer we drink, we think green. 

We’re in the “happy business” and though some may consider what we do as merely fun in the sun, and not “real” work, there’s something about a cold beer after a day of diving that’s hard to describe to others. So whether your job is swimming with sharks or avoiding their land-dwelling cousins, you deserve a cold one at the end of the day.

Now we have ammunition to support the just cause of enjoying a 5 o’clock brew. It only makes sense that the nature island of Saba has long been associated with a company that is dedicated to environmental protection and long-term sustainability.  For some, it’s enough that James Bond drinks Heineken (when he’s not enjoying a martini, that is) but our connection to this brand goes deeper than subliminal advertising in a Hollywood blockbuster.
  Heineken brick bottle used for house building
Most people do not think of beverage selection as an environmental decision, but those 7-ounce bottles represent more than just a favorite Caribbean beer…Heineken has made a global commitment.  International endeavors by the brewing company include lowering CO2 emissions in its breweries, supporting health projects and education in African countries, and even a plan for reducing alcohol abuse.

  Samford beach measuring
Samford compass navigation  
Locally, the annual Heineken regatta draws thousands to nearby St. Maarten.  The slogans of each year’s event (Meet You There; Serious Clean Fun; My Island, My Heineken) are on bracelets that sell for $3 and benefit St. Maarten Nature Foundation. 

What is it about those 7-ounce bottles? Throughout the Caribbean, Heineken was not only the beer of choice, but for a long time the only beer available.  Often, North Americans do not respond well to the lack of beer choices here as they are not fond of the Heineken they find at home.  However, the 7-ounce Heinies we drink on Saba are a Pilsner beer whereas the Heineken available in the USA is a lager—which Americans find to be “stinkier”.  When we moved to Saba, locals proudly boasted that the island had the highest per capita consumption of Heineken in the world.  With breweries in more than 70 countries Heineken employs 65,000+ people to produce 139.2 million hectoliters or almost 4 billion gallons of beer (or in numbers some can understand better, the longest version ever of “92 billion bottles of beer on the wall”).  As an eco-conscious reader you may wonder…what happens to all those bottles?  In addition to more traditional recycling, Heineken is a pioneer in finding creative uses for its empty bottles, by crafting useful bottle shapes.  Above you can see the image of a house made from empty Heineken brick style bottles.

Heineken Trivia

Pilsners are bottom-fermenting. There are two categories of beer, ales (top-fermenting) and lagers (bottom-fermenting).

In the early years of Heineken, the beer won four awards, which are still mentioned on the label of the beer bottles:




Jo Bean Glass on Saba uses recycled Heineken glass
 
More locally, we on Saba have found our own way to reuse the distinctive green glass.  Local glass artist Jo Bean has also commemorated our island’s affection for Heineken through her artful use of glass from discarded Heineken bottles in her creations.  The Beach Bottle Bead Project uses recycled bottle glass to make beautiful beads and jewelry.  Don’t miss her Heineken glass beads, jewelry, and scupltures on your next visit.

To help us celebrate  our commitment to think (and drink) green, you can purchase a proud Saba Heineken t-shirt, tank top or long sleeve shirt, only at Sea Saba.  But for this limited time only, order before May 31, 3013 and we’ll ship your shirts directly to your mailing address for the purchase price--Ladies ribbed tanks $24; Mens tank tops or tshirts $24; Unisex long sleeve tshirt $34-- + shipping fees ($3 per item USA, $6 per item for our European and Canadian customers). 

25% of all proceeds go toward the purchase of more Heineken beer.




  Sea Saba Heineken tank top
Just a fluke or maybe a 'telltail' sign?
Saba's recent whale sightings and what it might mean
shim shim shim shim shim
Humpback whale and calf by John Magor

It’s the winter season on Saba--when we hear what seafarers once named ‘the sirens of the sea’.  Long before man had the ability to explore inner space, he was beguiled by the sounds that reverberated through the hulls of ships. 

Humpback on Silver Bank by John Magor We tell our divers these whale songs belong to the straggler singers and can be heard up to 7 miles away… but when the songs thunder through your chest, it’s obvious they’re closer. Thus has been the case this ‘season’ on many a day with loads of singing and wondrous surface displays—more than in recent years.

Images courtesy John Magor, Tom Greenway and Ann and Kevin Wilson

The months of January through April are when you have a chance of hearing and maybe seeing humpback whales while diving the Saba Marine Park.  Saba is on the migratory route with known calving grounds found off the shores of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and as far south as The Grenadines.  Of the 81 species of cetaceans, only Humpbacks sing and only males are crooners.  As our island is surrounded by deeper waters, the whales we encounter are thought to be the stragglers-- males not in the running for mating but hanging out down south for the winter: learning, waiting, and hoping.  Once considered on the brink of extinction, Humpback whales are now considered a positive environmental story with numbers still far from pre-hunting levels but increasing 10-fold in 50 years since protection was put in place. 

Humpback Whale on Silver Bank by John Magor

Humpbacks have territories on both sides of the equator but are not known to cross it.  Our Northern Atlantic Humpbacks spend summers gorging themselves in rich feeding grounds from Maine to Newfoundland to Norway.  Not all North Atlantic humpbacks migrate but those that do, travel to the Caribbean for the winter months to give birth and/or mate. Dedicated females are drawn to the warmer, shallower Caribbean waters where the trade-off of less food also means fewer predators and less energy used to teach her 14-foot newborn how to be a whale: breaching, tail lobs, fin slapping, spy hopping and buoyancy control (you didn’t think we were the only mammals that had to learn buoyancy control, did you?).  The Silver Bank, 80 miles north of the Dominican Republic, is the most prolific calving ground to observe this phenomenon**. 

  Humpback whale breaching on Silver Bank by Tom Greenway

Humpback tail slapping display on Saba image courtesy of Kevin Anderson's
 
In February and March 2013, sightings off Saba, St. Maarten and St. Barths of multiple whales, mothers with calves and orcas (a main predator of newborn Humpbacks) has sparked enthusiasm and more questions.  With increased populations will Humpbacks reclaim abandoned calving grounds?  Some believe that the Saba Bank once served as a calving ground for Humpbacks.  Is this increase in sightings a sign of their return, and can we expect to see even more Humpbacks around Saba in the future?   Monitor this site for updates and visit Sea & Learn on Saba for more on naturalist Tom Conlin’s participation in this year’s event.  For now, get out on the water and hope to have your own encounter.

**John and Lynn took this bucket-list trip in early March 2013.  Our advice:  be sure to choose the correct operator. We chose Explorer Ventures—not just because we have an established relationship with their sister boat that frequents Saba waters but because it’s the vessel chartered by Tom Conlin and his team of Aquatic Adventures.  Tom is simply the man for humpbacks—recognized by scientists and whale protection agencies…he wrote the guidelines for whale watching and interaction on the Silver Bank.  Tom shares his 22+ years of knowledge and passion with guests to understand how to ‘be one’ with humpbacks.  He also has customized tenders outfitted specifically for the whale charters.  Explorer Ventures runs a comfortable, professional vessel with accommodating crew who work together to complement the team of naturalists.