The end of The Saba Bank Expedition 2018

By: Erik Meesters · 30 November 2018
Category: Saba Bank
The research team (photo Erik Meesters)

The research team (photo Erik Meesters)

Day 6. Back in Sint Maarten

Friday 23 November. We are back in Sint Maarten. It was a terrific expedition, a great group of people and a fantastic crew on board of the Caribbean Explorer II. Sarah, Brett, and Kirsten the divers from the Explorer accompanied each group on every dive and made sure we all got back on board in one piece. They feel as much as expedition members as all others and I’m grateful for all their help.

We have been able to assess every planned location even though conditions on the Bank were harsh (just have a look at some of the videos where we try to get back on board!).

Healthy reefs

Shark in the background between the soft corals on the Saba Bank (photo Oscar Bos)

We visited 12 different locations on the bank and every team carried out their research. Now it’s back to the Netherlands to analyse the collected data and write our reports. At this point there is little that can already be concluded except that the Saba Bank is an amazingly healthy place. On almost every location we observed big groupers and sharks, animals that are mostly absent on most islands in the Caribbean. The reefs look healthy and corals are growing and slowly regaining lost cover. Protection and continued monitoring will help to safeguard the biggest and most diverse Nature Park of the Netherlands.

Thank you all for following the 2018 Saba Bank expedition!

 

Queen puller fish (photo: Jean Philippe Mareshal)

Barracuda (photo: Oscar Bos)

Silk shark at the ascent, hidden behind the bubbles (photo Oscar Bos)

Yellowfin grouper (photo: Jean Philippe Mareshal)

Yellowfin grouper (photo: Jean Philippe Mareshal)

 

Erik Meesters

Erik Meesters

I have been working on coral reefs since 1987, which means I’ve seen the reefs change tremendously. Where the water was once so clear you couldn’t see it, it is now always filled with floating particles limiting the amount of light that reaches the corals on the bottom. I started my professional career on Curacao and Bonaire, but have also worked in Indonesia, Hawaii, Tahiti, and the Maldives. My main interest is in the health and recovery of coral reefs and nowadays I work mainly on the reefs of the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands and on the Saba Bank, the largest protected nature area of the Netherlands. Currently I work on coral restoration (www.rescq.eu), cyanobacteria on coral reefs, and large scale assessments. The threats that reefs face are everywhere similar though local pressures may differ from place to place. Where chronic pressures such as pollution, eutrophication, and overfishing often lead to a gradual decrease in coral health, we are now faced with unprecedented decreases in coral reef quality and health by the impacts of climate change. The return rate of hurricanes and storms appears to be on the rise and episodes of extremely warm sea water cause massive bleaching, wreaking havoc and turning flourishing reefs into graveyards overnight. My research group at Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) studies in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) the long-term development of the reefs of Bonaire and Curacao since 1973 and currently has the longest time series of data of a modern reef in the world. The work of our research group has recently received internationally recognition by awarding one of our publications with the ‘Best 2017 Paper Award’ from the editorial board of the journal Coral Reefs. The question which is often asked, is not whether coral reefs will survive, but should be whether humanity will survive. Healthy coral reefs are among the most amazing places in the world. They will survive with or without humanity (corals are on earth already 240 million years, while we are here only a meager 200 thousand years), but it is on us to decide whether we will be there to see it. If we don’t decrease our impacts on our environment we are unlikely to become as old as corals (another 239.8 million years!).

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