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September 2021    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 47, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Sea Saba, Juliana’s Hotel, SABA, DWI

fishy waters and fine dining

from the September, 2021 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver,

Why would a diver go to all the time and trouble to travel to a tropical island that doesn't have any beaches? And you might think taking a non-diving spouse might be asking for trouble. Well, it's an easy call. Saba is a small, picturesque isle with a dense selection of Caribbean fish and critters, and a well-staffed and well-run dive operation. Its residents live hundreds of feet up the side of the mountain, mostly in quaint villages, and a tourist can sample the culinary arts of several European-trained chefs that could make a non-diving spouse happy. What's not to like?

On my July trip to Saba, I saw so many hawksbill and green turtles that I soon stopped videoing them, unless I saw one chomping on coral or eelgrass, or wrestling, which they actually did. Southern stingrays seemed just as common, and I spotted several Caribbean reef octopuses and one common octopus. Decent video material.

The Bottom is at the bottom of a craterAt the initial briefing, our divemasters mentioned they often see Caribbean reef sharks in the distance -- so watch for them. Karen, my dive buddy, nervously asked what she should do if we saw sharks; should she leave? Well, it turned out that there were only a few dives where we didn't see one, and Karen soon felt comfortable swimming with them, as apprehensive divers quickly do. On one dive, three seven-foot reef sharks swam around and between us for most of the dive. It was good video material, but why were they behaving so? Our divemaster kept looking out into the blue (and he later told me he was concerned that there might be a big tiger shark threatening the reef sharks - maybe we were their cover). Near the end of the dive, in the 84°F water, I spotted a large yellowtail hiding under a rock with a bleeding gash on its side, apparently from a bite. Perhaps that's what the reef sharks were looking for.

The reefs of Saba are typically old lava flows covered with encrusting corals, sponges, and healthy sea fans, with sand patches in between. While there was some coral disease, it is reportedly "stable and not bad." On my dives, I seemed to have encountered the whole gamut of Caribbean marine life: tarpon, horse-eyed jacks, Atlantic spadefish, barracuda, grouper, large yellowtails, and bonito were fairly common. On every dive, I saw Queen, French, and gray angelfish, along with an occasional rock beauty. And plenty of parrotfish, tangs, queen triggerfish, black durgons, yellowtails, goatfish, and sand tilefish (and their houses of rubble), grunts and wrasse. I could easily locate pike blennies in their holes, but only once spotted a sailfin blenny....

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