Soil and construction materials dumping at the Tent Reef Beach has been the topic of great concern raised by all the dive business operators on Saba with the island government over the last few months. While such discussions have been kept outside of public debate, the lack of resolve, and the absence of any government response prompted the business operators to share their concerns publicly and to invite the independent review of Coastal Geo-morphologist researcher Dr. Jennifer Rahn. She submitted her assessment report to the island government in early June and recently made the finding publicly available.
In early May, the Saba Dive Operators forwarded a letter to the Executive and Island Council of Saba, formally alerting the officials that in the Tent Bay area, in recent months, “Windward Roads has been using the seashore on the south side of the island to store the excavated materials from the construction area at the harbour,” the letter reads in part. The letter alerts to the threat of storms or swells that could lead to the washing into the sea of the sediments and construction debris which would “smother the already recovering corals and sponges, thus threatening a vital habitat. The unsightly area is now also becoming a new dumping ground with an abandoned vehicle, rugs, debris, etc.”
The letter also reminds that Tent Bay is home to Saba’s popular dive sites, Tent Reef Deep, Tent Reef, Tent Reef Wall and Tedran with water flows into Ladder Bay. The letter stresses the imminent danger of sediment runoff and the tenuous situation of the marine sanctuary it threatens. The man-made environmental stress may endanger the coral habitat and the future of eco-tourism on Saba; 20 per cent of all dives around Saba are on Tent Reef.
The letter, signed by Saba Divers owners Wolfgang and Barbara Tooten, Lynn Costernaro and John Magor of Sea Saba, Cheri and Tony Waterfield of Saba Deep, as well as Clay McCardle of Explorer Ventures, had also been forwarded to Saba Conservation Foundation. Inquiries with the Island Secretary Menno van der Velde, who represents the island government on the board of the Saba Conservation Foundation, have not yet received a response.
Dr. Rahn’s report on the implications of concrete and soil fill being dumped at Tent Reef Beach outlines two main environmental concerns. First, the composition of the soil and road/building materials being dumped, including rebar, pipes and other metals, have very different physical properties compared with the natural landscape’s volcanic rock.
While the landfill is for the most part above the high tide level, 10 percent of sediments, states the report, “will soon be incorporated into the seashore sediment system and eventually reach Tent Reef.”
The report notes that the dumped soil is very loosely compacted and piled high with a steep slope which is unstable and will eventually collapse from increased moisture from rainfall or the undercutting by large waves. The report documents visible fault lines within the dump deposit, with one 3-meter fault line observed in the seaward edge of the dumped soil. The second most worrisome assessment is the major environmental impact of this dumping as the unconsolidated sediments wash into the sea, harming the habitat of the coral reef through major deposits and sediment turbidity.