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Unraveling the mysteries of the Saba Bank

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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For the first time on the Saba Bank, an expedition team was able to successfully assess the shark diversity by attaching five satellite tags and confirming pregnancy stages by ultrasound of two species of sharks. This research advancement resulted in assessing 56 sharks, including 16 Tiger sharks with one confirmed early-stage pregnancy, and the first tagged male in the region. These details indicate that the Saba Bank’s important role in the shark populations of the North-Eastern and wider Caribbean Region have yet to be unlocked. This information is crucial to better protect sharks within the Dutch Caribbean’s Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary as well as beyond.

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) along with the Protected Area Management Organizations of the Dutch Caribbean: Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), Nature Foundation St. Maarten (NFSXM), St. Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA), STINAPA Bonaire, the Aruba National Parks Foundation (FPNA), the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and World Wildlife Fund for Nature- The Netherlands (WWF-NL) led a team on the Saba Bank in collaboration with Arizona State University, University of Groningen, Beneath the Waves and funded by the Biodiversity Fund of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature- The Netherlands (WWF-NL) .

This week-long ocean research expedition aimed to understand the stages of the reproductive cycle of tiger sharks on the Saba Bank. Tadzio Bervoets, Director of DCNA and expedition leader adds: “It is critical to collect the data necessary to advance the conservation actions for species of sharks in the Caribbean Region and with the data collected over the last week we have been able to get a clear picture of the important role the Saba Bank plays.”

This expedition built upon previous research and expertise from collaborating scientists.

Throughout the week, the team was able to deploy five satellite tags on the dorsal fin of tiger sharks which will allow tracking of the animals over an extended period of time. The ultrasounds which were taken using high technology imagery to determine the maturity and pregnancy stage supported by Brooke Anderson, Ph.D. candidate of Dr. James Sulikowski’s Lab, Arizona State University show that the Saba Bank is a reproductive area for IUCN Near Threatened listed species tiger and the IUCN endangered listed Caribbean Reef Shark. One of the female tiger sharks was confirmed with an early stage pregnancy and boasted a total length of 251cm. This multidisciplinary research approach is necessary for taking the first steps in understanding the reproductive life cycle for the species in the region.

One of the mysteries which resulted was the first tagged male on the Saba Bank sized at 306 cm and later named Maestro Angelo. While it is common to find females, it was surprising to encounter male tiger sharks during the research. Due to the lack of research done previously on these sharks on the Saba Bank, it became evident as to why there is a need to emphasize the importance and need for scientific research into these species.

Expeditions brought forward by the protected area management organizations, such as this one, support the necessary research needed for data-driven management solutions. These results will be used to help steer future research activities, inform local governments on the significant impact these species and their habitats have on ecotourism, and ultimately strengthen conservation policies. Ayumi Kuramae, Saba Bank Management Unit Officer shared the importance of this study:

“Through previous tagging expeditions it was clear that the tiger sharks tagged on the Saba Bank can travel as far south as Grenada, crossing many nations’ borders. This shows the importance of protecting the species not only in our waters, but region wide. Seeing male and female tiger sharks together of different life stages, shows us that protection of these species in our water is vital since we may be protecting the future generation of tiger sharks in the region. A decrease in the number of sharks can affect the overall fish stocks which leads to a disturbed natural balance in the sea. Saba, for example, highly depends on fisheries and dive tourism as part of the local economy which also relies on a healthy fish stocks. Thus, understanding the role of these apex predators is extremely important.”

After gazetting, the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary will encompass the exclusive economic zone waters of the Saba Bank along with Saba, Bonaire and Statia. This sanctuary has the intention to provide a safe place for these animals, but without supportive data and knowledge, it is difficult to ensure they receive the appropriate protection measures. In order to survive, tiger sharks may use the Saba Bank as a key habitat for different stages of their life cycle but are known to travel to other regions during different life stages, making them a transboundary species. This expedition will help identify where larger, multi-national marine protected areas across the Caribbean should be to protect these species during their whole life cycle.

For more information about the work of the DCNA visit their website by clicking here

Images: Daniel Norwood

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and they are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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Blue Marine Foundation launches new partnership with Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance

Caribbean DTA Team

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Ocean charity makes initial grant of $90,000 to marine parks on six Dutch Caribbean islands. Award will fund projects including coral protection, and training youth marine rangers.

Ocean conservation charity Blue Marine Foundation has announced it is awarding $90,000 in funding to support marine conservation in the Dutch Caribbean. A range of projects run by protected area management organisations on six islands will each receive a grant of $15,000. The funding is the first step in a longer-term partnership to support the islands and help secure sustainable financing through the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) Trust fund.

To improve ocean governance, Blue Marine uses a combination of top-down intervention and bottom-up project delivery to help local communities at the front line of conservation. It will work together with the DCNA to help marine-park organisations protect the unique and threatened biodiversity of the Dutch Caribbean.

The new partnership is an important development in the successful management of marine conservation parks in the Dutch Caribbean. The UK-based charity has established a small-grants fund to provide rapid access to support for critical conservation projects run by marine parks.

The individual projects and their local partners are:

Unique ecosystems on the islands are vulnerable to threats such as feral livestock causing sedimentation on reefs, and invasive species, including lionfish and coral diseases. They are also at risk from overfishing, climate change, coastal development, erosion and the build-up of harmful algae caused by waste water.

The islands of the Dutch Caribbean are also home to important “blue carbon” habitats – ocean ecosystems such as seagrasses, mangroves and other marine plants that suck up and lock away carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. Seagrass is so efficient at this it can capture and store carbon dioxide up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.  The management and protection of these blue carbon habitats is vital in the fight against climate change.

Current marine conservation measures in the islands include a 25,390 square km mammal and shark sanctuary- Yarari sanctuary- across the Exclusive Economic Zone of Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius. All six islands have inshore Marine Protected Areas ranging in size from 10 to 60 sq km.

Blue Marine’s Senior Project Manager Jude Brown commented: “Having recently visited two of the islands, I witnessed first-hand how special this region is. Diving the waters off Saba I saw huge Tarpon swimming amongst shoals of blue tang, and hawksbill turtles feeding on the seagrass beds. I also witnessed the challenges these islands are facing from coral disease to issues with coastal development. It is an exciting opportunity to work in the Dutch Caribbean, bringing expertise and funding from Blue Marine to join with the wealth of knowledge already on the islands, to work together to protect the important marine life arounds these islands.”

Tadzio Bervoets, Director of the DNCA commented: “The Dutch Caribbean consists of the Windward Islands of St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius and the Leeward Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. The nature of the Dutch Caribbean contains the richest biodiversity in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The diverse ecosystems are a magnet for tourism and at the same time the most important source of income for residents of the Dutch Caribbean. Nature on the islands is unique and important but it is also fragile. The coming week we will be in The Netherlands to present a Climate Action Plan for the Dutch Caribbean to emphasize the urgent need for a climate smart future for our islands.”


Photo: Coral reefs in the Dutch Caribbean- Photo credit: Naturepics: Y.+T. Kühnast- all rights reserved

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Dominica’s Secret Bay unveils new amenities

Caribbean DTA Team

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Secret Bay, Dominica’s exclusive six-star, all-villa, Relais & Châteaux rainforest resort and residences, has unveiled a first look at three new amenities inspired by biophilic design – Mouben Welcome House, Gwiyavye’ Lap Pool & Bar and Zing Zing Lounge. The architecturally stunning amenities are the first undertakings being introduced as part of the 10-year-old, award-winning resorts’ multi-year, master plan. This evolution – spread over 40+ acres of coastal land – allows for an array of new amenities, more private villas, and the introduction of a for-sale residence program, all while lowering the resort’s overall density and granting guests the utmost in the luxury of time and space.

The new amenities being unveiled at this time include:

Mouben Welcome House – Mouben Welcome House is both an architectural feat and the new resort hub where guests jumpstart their transformative journey. Modern in design and organic by nature, the structure features a porte-cochere for seamless entry and a fleet of electric vehicles to transport guests to their villas, as well as effortless access to Secret Bay’s beachfront, and the forthcoming funicular and Bwa Denn: Food, Art & Brewery. The Welcome House features the new Adventure Concierge Desk, where guests can arrange an array of life-altering island experiences—a service that is also available in-villa. Secret Bay will continue to have a “no front desk” concept, allowing guests to check in and out directly from their villa.

Gwiyavye’ Lap Pool & Bar – While each villa has its personal plunge pool, the Gwiyavye’ Pool & Bar serves as an elevated oasis for all guests to enjoy. The relaxing oceanfront destination features an in-nature lap pool for guests to use at their own leisure, a cantilevered deck with lounge chairs to soak up the warm Dominican sunshine and a spacious, full-service bar handcrafted with Guyanese Greenheart wood. Enveloped in lush rainforest landscape, the space offers spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea amid an orchard of guava trees.

Zing Zing Lounge – An extension of Secret Bay’s existing gourmet Zing Zing restaurant, the Zing Zing Lounge is a more casual offering that serves up specialty curated cocktails by expert mixologists paired with authentic Dominican bites. The Bar & Lounge is open daily from 5pm to 10pm.

“Secret Bay is continually evolving to meet the needs of our guests and stand out as a superior resort experience,” said Dinesh Kissoon, General Manager of Secret Bay. “We’re thrilled to bring these new experiences to Secret Bay and continue to raise the bar for excellent hospitality.”

In addition to these three new amenities, the masterplan of intimate amenities also includes a funicular, an art barn and a microbrewery, all slated for completion in early 2023.

Tucked away on the unspoilt “Nature Island” — one of the Caribbean’s most sparsely populated, environmentally conscious and culturally rich countries — Secret Bay has been praised for its ability to effortlessly capture the luxury of time and space along with its artful fusion of high design, local craftsmanship, commitment to sustainable development through numerous green and eco-friendly initiatives and its reputation for authentic guest experiences custom-curated to personal preference. 

Part of Secret Bay’s elevated experience is delivered in the form of its culinary offerings, including a “no-menu” concept at the innovative Zing Zing restaurant. Similarly, the Gommier Spa, a three-walled, treetop retreat designed especially for couples, focuses on local and sustainably sourced products for treatments. Other amenities include dedicated villa hosts, on-call concierge, chefs and guides and two secluded beaches.

Nightly rates at Secret Bay start at $897 USD. Secret Bay is located in Portsmouth, Dominica and can be reached at (+1) 767.445.4444 or info@secretbay.dm or online at http://secretbay.dm/.

The Residences at Secret Bay provide vacation home buyers with the rare opportunity to own a residential-style villa managed and marketed by one of the world’s most acclaimed sustainable luxury all-villa boutique resorts. Pricing for The Residences at Secret Bay starts at $1,490,000 USD for whole ownership or $208,000 USD per share for citizenship investors. For more information, visit www.secretbay.dm/residences. For a consultation, please email residences@secretbay.dm.

www.secretbay.dm

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