Saba Island and Cays

Year of compilation: 2007

Site description
The site is located just off the south central coast of St. Thomas and includes Saba Island plus the smaller Turtledove Cay and Flat Cays, a total area of approximately 14 hectares. The islands are about 2 km S-SW of the western end of the Cyril King airport runway extension. Saba has 2 salt ponds (east and west) with coral rubble shoreline on the northern side and rocky cliffs on the seaward south. The Saba terrain rises to about 80 m while the other cays have very low and flat terrain. A shallow sandbar reaches north to Turtledove Cay. There is a protected cove on the northwestern side of Saba with a small sandy beach. Behind the beach is a relative open, flat area adjacent to the west pond. A nature trail was developed some years ago but has mostly grown over. A bird observation blind is located near the east pond shore and overlooks the pond and vicinity. Offshore of both Saba and Flat Cay are modest sized coral reefs.

Key biodiversity
Islands & surrounding waters Audubon’s Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird, White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Pelican, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, White-cheeked Pintail, Lesser Yellowlegs, Laughing Gull, Sandwich Tern, Royal Tern, Roseate Tern, Sooty Tern, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, Zenaida Dove, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Smooth-billed Ani, Yellow Warbler.

Non-bird biodiversity: The crested anole, Puerto Rican Racer snake, Slipperyback skink, dwarf gecko, and house mouse are also present. Green and Hawksbill Sea Turtles are common in the surrounding waters. There are small coral reef areas in adjacent waters that warrant protection from boat anchoring and terrestrial runoff. Seagrass beds provide habitat for fish, vital for the seabirds.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site is publicly owned by the Territorial government and subject to management and protection by the DPNR. Current use is very limited to diving/snorkeling the coral areas and occasional visitors to the beach. There has been an attempt to develop a birding/nature trail and observation blind but that activity has been abandoned. The municipal sewage outfall that extends southward from the vicinity of the airport releases waste that can flow towards the island, cays, and coral reefs. Saba Island and the cays are fully exposed to the sea to the south and east so there is a natural threat from tropical storms that could damage the coastline and salt ponds. The threat of establishment of exotic plants and animals to the cays is ever present. Boats may run aground during storms, potentially introducing rats. At least one large sailboat has been marooned and abandoned on the shore of Saba Cay causing concern about leaking fuels and oil onto the beach.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Monitoring of the nesting seabirds has been conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Division of the V.I. Dept. of Planning and natural Resources for many years. Predator control of island rats has taken place and post-control monitoring occurs annually before seabird arrivals.

Protected areas
Saba Island and Cays are designated as wildlife sanctuaries by the territorial government of the U.S. Virgin Islands and are managed by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). Entry beyond the beach and bird blind is by special use permit only.

Habitat and land use
Shorelines One beach on Saba is mostly sandy that leads out into some corals on the west. Offshore moorings are available on the leeward sides for day visitors to swim and snorkel the coral areas. Saba island is vegetated by scrub-thorny brush (crab bush, nicker bean) and introduced guinea grass on the north facing slopes, which provides degraded nesting habitat for Sooty Terns. The southern coast is characterized by steep rocky cliffs with suitable nesting habitat for Brown Noddies, Roseate Terns and Tropicbirds. On the leeward side is a dry forest slope. Turtledove and Flat Cays are composed primarily of low vegetation dominated by grasses, sedges and vines. Salt Ponds The two salt ponds on Saba less than 2-3 hectares each with shallow water. Dense shoreline vegetation provides close cover and limits human access. Detailed bird use of the ponds in unknown but only occasional foraging by shorebirds has been observed.

Jim Corven and Judy Pierce

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Saba Island and Cays. Downloaded from on 28/09/2022.