Student - November 14, 2013

‘Everything that could go wrong, did’

Who? Sanne Koenen
What? Research on the population density of the queen conch on the Saba Bank
Where? Saba

For four months I lived with my research partner Jelmer in a small hut up a mountain. It had one room. Our lighting was provided by solar energy and the shower was heated by the sun. I did not know Jelmer beforehand, but that turned out not to be a problem.

For my thesis I researched the queen conch, a beautiful shell some 30 centimetres long that is heavily fished. Now that the Saba Bank is a protected area, Imares has set up a study with the Saba Conservation Foundation to find out whether the population is recovering. For the purposes of this research I was required to film the seabed. I did that using a camera suspended from a frame under the boat. I also did a diving survey near the harbour so as to observe the mating behaviour of the queen conch, among other things. This meant I quickly had to learn to dive with oxygen cylinders. That was a great experience.

During the research, everything that could go wrong, did. It was one thing after another. Either the engine of our little boat would not start, or we could not switch it off. I had really bad seasickness and one time my life jacket inflated spontaneously while I was diving. Once, during torrential rain, a rock detached itself from the hillside and rolled through the wall of our office. Thankfully, we were not there at the time.

In spite of all that, I had a really good time. We would often have a beer after work, and sometimes more than one. We sometimes ended up doing crazy things, like the time we went skinny dipping in the harbour. One evening I got talking to an acquaintance of a park warden. To cut a long story short, one thing led to another and we started having a relationship. It was a whirlwind, but I thought:  You only live once and I’ve got just four months here on Saba. Thanks to him, I really got to know the island. It’s now over between us and I’m fine with that