Teens complete YELP summer programme

Teens complete YELP  summer programme

YELP 23 teens preparing frames for coral fragments.

SABA--A small group of youngsters recently completed a PADI Project Aware Coral Restoration course as part of the Youth Environmental Leadership Programme (YELP) summer programme.

YELP is one of the projects of Sea and Learn Foundation based on Saba. The programme focuses on getting Saba’s youth involved in environmental sciences and conservation projects to help them learn the value of teamwork, develop leadership skills and build self-confidence.

This begins by teaching the youngsters how to scuba dive or strengthening their underwater skills if already certified. An additional goal of the programme is to prepare the students for underwater research data collection with a handful of Sea and Learn scientists during the October programme.

Last year the youth project prepared them to dive with scientists at the annual Sea and Learn on Saba programme in October. This year, the youngsters took it to another level.

Specialised training

During a six-week period in the summer of 2022, YELP provided a specialised PADI Advanced Open Water Course for three local teenage divers. In addition to improving their buoyancy, identifying coral and fish species, learning how to navigate underwater and seeing how depth affects diving, the students were trained in various hands-on scientific skills: performing underwater surveys and assessments by using transects, quadrats and callipers.

In July 2023, the teens, under the guidance of local PADI instructor Jarno Knijff, enrolled in the official PADI AWARE Coral Reef Conservation course. Marine Park Ranger Marijn van der Laan helped expand the students’ understanding of the care and propagation of corals by the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) in Saba National Marine Park.

Coral nursery

The PADI AWARE Coral Reef Conservation course took place over three days and consisted of five dives in addition to classroom work. The first day began with an orientation dive where the teens’ skills and comfort levels were assessed, as well as exploration of the coral nursery. This was followed by an information session focused on historical and future reef conservation projects and the care and propagation of coral in the nursery. The remaining dives consisted of hands-on coral restoration techniques.


YELP 23 teens cutting and collecting corals for relocating and out-planting.

During the second day, the teens learned about artificial reefs and the Moreef structures where Van der Laan demonstrated how to fragment larger pieces of coral into smaller ones. Buddy pairs measured the sizes of different fragments. The final day of YELP began with attaching zip ties to frames to prepare for coral out-planting.

Buddy pairs

During the first dive, the buddy pairs took turns cutting or fragmenting pieces of larger coral into smaller pieces and putting them in buckets to be relocated to another nursery. The day concluded with each of the teens out-planting 20 fragments of staghorn coral at one of Saba’s coral nurseries.

Saba has had a coral nursery since 2015. The nursery contains approximately 20 “trees” made of PVC pipe, where critically endangered coral species such as staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) are hung to grow before being transplanted back onto the reef. Because of Saba’s steep topography, it does not have any “real” beaches and the waters immediately surrounding the island plunge to lower depths quite quickly.

This aspect is important, because while corals are indeed animals, they possess tiny plant-like organisms called zooxanthellae, which rely on sunlight to create sugars and fats that the corals need to survive.

Additionally, the triangular shape of the island means that any run-off from storms flows straight into the ocean. This combination, along with other global threats to coral reefs, makes preserving Saba’s corals more difficult, yet crucial.

“It was a pleasure working with young professionals,” Van der Laan said.


YELP 23 teens attaching coral fragments to frames.

The teens’ parents mentioned how impactful the programme was. “Best programme ever,” said one parent. “My son really enjoyed his three days of diving. It was an experience on Saba he will take with him,” said another parent.

The YELP project was a collaboration of Sea and Learn Foundation, Saba Conservation Foundation, Saba Comprehensive School and Sea Saba Dive Center.

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