Published on Sunday, June 3, 2018

Saba: a pristine island paradise with big eco-ideas

Saba is a truly unspoiled tropical paradise that has been beautifully maintained and thoughtfully developed over the centuries.

Saba is one of the most visually stunning and lovingly conserved places on earth. Contained within its pristine five square miles is a unique combination of natural and manmade wonders. Like a magnificent green emerald soaring 5,000 feet from the sea floor (3,000 above sea), Saba is a truly unspoiled tropical paradise that has been beautifully maintained and thoughtfully developed over the centuries.

Although indigenous Caribbean people passed to and fro for thousands of years, the first permanent settlement was established by 17th century pioneers, the ancestors of today's population. Beyond what was necessary for survival, the island has been virtually untouched until the 21st century. And yet Sabans have thrived while also developing a global reputation as a world class eco destination. The tourists who venture here tend to be discerning travelers who enjoy the regenerative powers of nature combined with a relaxed yet sophisticated "off the grid" tranquility.

Sabans have been into self-sufficiency and sustainability for centuries, long before it became fashionable. Living in such a remote part of the world, it was important to insure a continuation of scarce resources whether food, fuel, water or other supplies. It is even more so now as populations grow and resources become more unpredictable and expensive.

Working in harmonious unity, today's Saban community is expanding their efforts to reach the highest level possible to maximize the island's sustainability. The island is committed to a "Clean, Green and Safe" experience for both locals and visitors.

While sustainability is a centuries long effort on Saba, the island's formal plans began in 1987 with the establishment of The Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), an NGO whose mission is to preserve and manage Saba's natural and cultural heritage. Concurrently, the coastline and waters of Saba were declared a national marine park. The island focuses on conversation and education to preserve their natural legacy. For the past 16 years, a Sea and Learn event is held every October to educate visitors and locals on Saba's natural wonders and to enhance environmental awareness.

Above sea, the local microclimate has produced extraordinary wonders including the protected Elfin forest atop Mount Scenery. The result is a photographer and hiker's paradise. Even the local vernacular blends sensitively into the natural scenery; an exquisite twist on traditional Caribbean design mixed with Old World architectural styles.

Visitors can even stay in a cottage and meld into the flow of life. As tourism is Saba's main industry, the island recognizes the symbiotic relationship between thoughtfully developed design, effective sustainability and the island's economy. Continued self- sufficiency efforts are paying off with positive rewards including increased jobs, expanding tourism and a healthier lifestyle.

With its excellent weather and abundant sunshine, combined with modern horticultural techniques, Sabans have become even more food independent with the creation of organic, hydroponic farms that dot the peaks. The sea is also a reliable and excellent source of food for the island. The Saban fishing banks are some of the most abundant and protected in the region.

In the area of power, the Saban government plans to transform the island into 100% sustainability in the energy sector with the goal of eventually eliminating reliance on fossil-fuel generated electricity. 40% renewable electricity is targeted for 2020. Currently reliant on one diesel power electric plant, a public/private partnership between the Dutch Government and Saba Electric Company NV is focused on upgrading the current power plant into a more energy efficient and clean operation as well as insuring it is less vulnerable to the whims of nature. The partnership developed the first solar system on island. Projected estimates are that it will generate 20% of Saba's energy. The next step is a second solar plant and potentially a wind turbine.

2018 begins the next phase of building an even more resilient, healthier Saba. Financed by the Netherlands, Saba's government will upgrade building methods to create even greater resilience. The harbor and airport are being upgraded, made safer and more environmentally compatible. Waste management and water management will be improved using higher environmental standards. Clean water is essential to Saba's on going survival; the focus is expanded water capacity, access and quality. A new water bottling plant will ensure a continued supply of affordable, high quality drinking water.

Saba's recycling facility will be elevated to higher environmental standards. Equipment used to burn non-recyclable waste is being replaced with improved equipment as well as moving the facility to a less intrusive area. A new recycling campaign focuses on redesigning the final waste separation at the landfill to reduce the need to burn. The results mean an even more pristine air quality and stewardship of the land and sea.

Both the government and local population are focused on a more sustainable lifestyle combined with preservation of the island's unique natural and manmade heritage while moving into the future with new, more sophisticated tools. Saba is a small island imbued with traditional respect for one's environs combined with a sophisticated world view and very big, yet doable, eco-ideas. It's a place where you can truly live safely off the grid while maintaining the ability to connect to the world at a whim.

Saba is a Top100 Sustainable Destination

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