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Island of Saba

Date of Submission: 17/08/2011
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Ministry of Education, Culture and Science
State, Province or Region:
Saba (Caribbean)
Coordinates: N17 38 W63 14
Ref.: 5628
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Saba is an extinct volcano in the Caribbean Sea. Its exceptional natural setting and relative isolation have created a distinctive island community. Saba has noteworthy marine and terrestrial ecosystems and a variety of species.

The cultural environment has been created by the peoples who have successively inhabited the island. Their settlements are an immediate result of the social structure embedded in the island's historical and physical conditions. The cultural environment consists of four principal elements:

  • archaeological remains of pre-ceramic and ceramic Amerindian sites and historic European settlements;
  • traditional villages whose vernacular architecture exhibits the typical structure of grown settlements;
  • Saban cottages with their cisterns and family cemeteries;
  • characteristic infrastructure consisting of step roads, historical trails and water catchment installations.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The geomorphology and the major variations in temperature, rainfall and humidity create different conditions for a variety of flora in different vegetation zones. These natural factors were instrumental in the creation of Saba's exceptional cultural environment, which is not found elsewhere in the Caribbean region. Saba's vernacular architecture and terraced farmlands are also unique. The significance of Saba's marine ecosystem is due to the wide diversity of species, coral communities and bathymetric features that reflect the volcanic origin of the island. The topography and presence of seamount pinnacles and reefs provide a broad range of marine habitats.

The Saban terrestrial natural ecosystem is tremendously rich and diverse and in many places still completely pristine and unspoiled.

Criterion iii: The European colonists created a settlement on this desert island. It still exists today and has a unique historical infrastructure.

Criterion iv: Saban villages consist of characteristic Saban cottages. These dwellings exemplify Caribbean regional architecture with its distinctive infrastructure, gardens, private water reservoirs and family cemeteries.

Criterion v: Saba's population has adapted to the environment. The original village structure has remained intact and mainly consists of typically Saban houses and churches, within a street pattern adapted to the island's topography and local forms of land ownership.

Criterion x: The quality of the biodiversity in the sea and on the land is exceptionally high and is protected by National Park status.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The candidate World Heritage Site consists of the entire island of Saba and the surrounding waters. The sea around Saba is practically unpolluted and the habitats are non-degraded. The terrestrial ecosystem is almost totally intact thanks to the island's remote location. All the settlements, houses and infrastructure on the island belong to the site and are an expression of the history of this small Caribbean island.

Comparison with other similar properties

As yet, there has been no comparative study with other Caribbean environments. The importance of the marine ecosystem has been recognised by international specialists (Hanoi Statement, 2002). Saba's distinctive terrestrial ecosystem is substantially influenced by the so-called 'Snag islands' mechanism, by which clouds form over the island's single high peak (825m) and are retained mainly because of evaporation from the island itself. As such, Saba is a very well-conserved example.

The typical vernacular architecture of Saba did not, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, evolve out of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century socioeconomic developments with plantations, slavery and European colonial administration. The Saban cottage appears to be derived more directly from the house designs favoured by early English settlers. As a result, Saba's vernacular architecture has evolved differently from that on the majority of other Caribbean islands.