Don's diary

June 9, 2000


Saba looms into view, rising like a jagged green shark's tooth from the deep blue of the Caribbean.

Our tiny Windward Island Air- ways plane bounces through a steep descent, its wingtips nearly grazing the cliffs before landing on a tiny scrap of runway.


We wind 1,000 feet down Saba's only road, from the cool of Windwardside to Fort Bay, where a wall of noise and heat hits us. This is to be our base for three weeks while we carry out our annual fish and coral survey in the marine park.

Despite its size (only five miles square), the island has one of the best managed marine parks in the world. All ecologists need long-term study sites ý I con- gratulate myself again on having chosen so well.

In the afternoon we plunge into the sea. I am nervous as it is my first dive since perforating an eardrum a year earlier. For- tunately, the eardrum performs beautifully and my wife (and long-term research associate) and I relax into the dive, sur- rounded by throngs of fish.


The weather is unusually calm, and we dive at a site named Hole in the Corner.

The coral reefs look glorious, despite being battered by Hurricane Lenny five months earlier. While much of the island was devastated.

most corals have survived.

The Saba Marine Park has been pioneering the use of zones closed to fishing to protect its remarkable biodiversity since 1987. Surprisingly, most marine parks in the world are open to fishing and provide little real protection.

Britain could learn a thing or two from Saba, part of the reason we are here.


We meet our friend Fiona from the nearby British Virgin Islands. She graduated a year ago with an excellent PhD, but her first job is disappointing.

Instead of grappling with sci- ence, she has been employed as little more than a bucket washer.

Come the evening, champagne at the ready, we present her with a letter offering her a postdoctor- al position researching reef fish- eries in St.

Lucia. She is silent for a few minutes before beam- ing and blurting out a 'Yes'.


Wake up with a cruel hangover but am reminded that breathing compressed air is the best of all hangover cures Saturday.

Spend the day entertaining the locals with my ineptitude at docking the boat amid the crowd of vessels jostling for pier space.


Head for Diamond Rock, a guano-covered pinnacle and one of the island's best dive sites.

Plunging into the water we find ourselves suspended in eerie blue with no means of orientation.

Heading into nothingness, the dark mass of the rock's underwa- ter flank materialises ahead, so too do the dense schools of fish that it attracts.

Protection has tripled the numbers of fish on Saba's reefs, and other marine life is also prospering. Two more weeks of this ý heaven!

Callum Roberts is senior lecturer in marine conservation, University of York.

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