Researchers on the third-largest atoll in the world, the Saba Bank in the Netherlands Antilles, have discovered and collected two new species of soft corals (gorgonians) and documented severe anchor damage with the aid of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from Seabotix. Experts from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami collected 40 species of soft corals, seventeen of which were collected using the ROV.

The SeaBotix LBV200L is rated to 200m (656 ft.) and includes fiber optic video, LED lighting, and powerful brushless thrusters. An optional grabber arm was used to collect the deepest new soft coral species at 70 m (230 ft.), a depth that would be impractical to explore using conventional diving techniques. Shelley Lundvall, Project Coordinator for the Saba Bank project, said, “The LBV (ROV) has helped us explore the deeper areas of the bank that nobody has seen before. We have also been able to add to the species diversity of gorgonians found on the Saba Bank”.

The ultimate goal of the research is to receive official recognition of the Saba Bank as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in order to regulate international shipping that occurs within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Netherlands Antilles. A management plan is now being drafted with the goal of enforcing existing and new regulations to protect the incredible diversity of Saba Bank marine life.

Another discovery emphasised the importance of the PSSA designation: “One of the most dramatic moments was when we found an anchor and chain scar on the bottom…The ability to document the damage done by these large ships is critical in getting the Saba Bank designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area”, commented Shelley.

The video of this significant damage, as well as the actual recovery of the soft corals can be seen at www.youtube.com/slundvall

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