Saba Bank in the Caribbean Netherlands is the largest submarine atoll in the Atlantic Ocean and has some of the richest diversity of marine life in the Caribbean Sea.
Its northeastern side lies about 4.3 km southwest of the island of Saba. It is raised about 1000 m above the general depths of the surrounding sea floor. With a length of 60 to 65 km and a width of 30 to 40 km, the atoll's total surface area is approximately 2200 km², as measured from 11-200 meter depth, 1600 km² of which is shallower than 50 m.
From northeast the bank extends about 55 km southwest, with a least reported depth of 7.3 m located about 15 km southwest of Mount Scenery. A depth of 8.2 m lies about 16 km south of the island. The eastern side of the bank is fringed with a ridge of living coral, sand and rock, nearly 48 km in length. The depths over the ridge range from 11 to 35 m. Westward of this ridge, except for a few 16.5 m and 18.3 m coral patches near the south side of the bank, and a 16.4 m patch near the west end of the bank, the bottom is clear white coral sand with depths of from 21.9 to 36.6 m, gradually increasing towards the edge of the bank, but ending abruptly in depths of 54.9 m. In depths of under 20 m, the bottom can be distinctly seen.
About one third of the Saba Bank lies within the Saba territorial waters, 12-nautical-mile (22 km) zone. Around it is an Exclusive Economic Zone of the Netherlands of 200 nautical miles outside the coastal baseline, which replaced the Economic Fisheries Zone established before the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles.
Ship traffic, related activities and risks
Ship traffic is heavy on and around the Saba Bank. Many freighters, tankers and cruise ships pass through the area. Statia Oil Terminals on neighbouring St. Eustatius is a busy oil transshipment facility with an estimated 100 visiting tankers per month, making it the busiest tanker port in the region. Many of these ships pass over the Saba Bank where they form a hazard to the small fishing boats as well as to the fish traps which are often destroyed or lost by the passing of a big ship. The tankers also frequently anchor on the shallow bank while waiting to unload at the terminal, this is of course highly destructive for the coral reef on the bank, as well as for other bottom types such as conch feeding grounds. In addition there are reports of tank rinsings, oil spills and the emptying of sewage tanks. The presence of the Coast Guard has probably caused these practices to diminish, but the bank should be declared an off limits to large ships and especially to anchoring. At present legislation to this end is lacking but is being worked on.
At present there is no appreciable recreational diving being done on the bank. Reportedly there is one live-aboard dive boat that visits the bank now and then. In the future however, as information on the bank's spectacular reefs becomes more widely available, dive tourism on the bank will become a highly valuable resource, especially as reefs elsewhere deteriorate increasingly.