Saturday 19 April 2014
 
 

Scientists Discover New Species

Marine Treasures Found on Caribbean's Saba Bank

On February 14, 2006 Conservation International (CI) announced the results of a two-week expedition in January and impressive findings of new species of fish, seaweed and other ocean life at little-studied Saba Bank Atoll, a coral-crowned seamount 250 kilometers southeast of Puerto Rico in the Dutch Windward Islands. Scientists from CI, the Netherlands Antilles government and Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History found scores more fish species than previously known in the region and vast beds of diverse seaweed, including a dozen or more possible new species.

“We discovered a new species literally every day we were there,” said Michael Smith, director of CI's Caribbean Biodiversity Initiative as stated in a press release. Among the apparent new fish species found were two types of goby, while the total number of fish species recorded reached 200, compared to fewer than 35 before the expedition.

The unprecedented richness of marine life and vulnerable status of the atoll's coral beds make Saba Bank a prime candidate for designation as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) under the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Mark Littler, marine botanist of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, declared Saba Bank the richest area for seaweeds in the Caribbean basin, including as many as a dozen new species along with commercially valuable species that will facilitate the creation of economic activity zones under PSSA designation.

Netherlands Antilles include a group of five islands divided geographically into the Windward Islands (northern) group (Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten) and the Leeward Islands (southern) group Curaçao (Bonaire and Curacao ). Most people are familiar with the islands of Curacao and Sint Maarten. A Spanish expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda discovered the island of Curaçao for Spain in 1499, and it remained under the Spanish until the Dutch took control in 1634. Sint Maarten was first colonized by the Dutch in 1631, but within two years the Spanish invaded and evacuated the settlers. From 1636 to 1648, the island went through many battles between the Dutch, French and the British, but in 1648, a partition line was drawn between the Dutch and French. The island is now shared; its southern portion is named Sint Maarten and is part of the Netherlands Antilles; its northern portion is called Saint-Martin and is part of Guadeloupe (France). Saba, the smallest island was first discovered by Columbus but it was colonized by the Dutch in 1640. Saba, a volcanic island remains rugged and isolated. The island is a favorite of scuba divers and those looking for an isolated and beautiful place to vacation.

In nine dives, a single roving diver recorded approximately 50 species of sponges including Aiolochroia crassa, pictured here. Some sponges are the habitat for gobies that live in their interior spaces. This photograph was taken on the seafloor at one of the research sites of the Conservation International Marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) expedition to Saba Bank Atoll, Netherlands Antilles, Caribbean Sea , January 2006.

Image by Robert Thacker-Copyright. Courtesy of Conservation International

Image by Paul Hoetjes, Courtesy of Conservation International

Paul Hoetjes, marine biologist with the Ministry of Nature Affairs for the Netherlands Antilles (MINA), called the expedition crucial to getting the area protected to benefit local populations.

Funding for the expedition came from the Netherlands Ministry of Traffic and Water Management, Royal Caribbean's Ocean Fund, and Conservation International. The Saba Island community including the Saba Marine Park staff provided logistical support.

To read the Press Release and learn more about this expedition and Conservation International visit:http://www.conservation.org/>

The seamount rises from the dark, abyssal depths. Its crest in the shallow water reached by light bears vast expanses of rich marine life. Seafloor at one of the research sites of the Conservation International Marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) expedition to Saba Bank Atoll, Netherlands Antilles, Caribbean Sea, January 2006.

Image by Diane Littler-copyright. Courtesy of Conservation International

A species of goby (Lythrypnus sp.) completely new to science, collected from the seafloor at one of the research sites of the Conservation International Marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) expedition to Saba Bank Atoll, Netherlands Antilles, Caribbean Sea , January 2006. Image by Jeffrey T. Williams, Copyright-Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of CI.

 

 

Images in this section kindly loaned to Biotrends by Conservation International for use with this section. For any questions related to images shown here, contact Conservation International.

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