In September 1998, Hurricane Georges passed just a few kilometres south of Saba, with wind speeds of 180 miles per hour high up in the hills. Many of the bigger trees were blown down, but the island quickly recovered and the lower mountain slopes became green and lush after the rain. The Elfin Forest took longer to recover. Underwater, there was some damage to shallow reefs, but deeper sites were untouched.
However, in 1999 Hurricane Lenny attacked from the west, the Caribbean side of the island, and almost totally destroyed the rainforest. Most of the trees were blown down or snapped off so now the mosses and rainforest undergrowth do not grow. Other plants grow very fast but do not renew the forest. Since the hurricane there has not been so much rain, probably because of the lack of trees. A great deal of time, money and political will is needed to reverse the damage, but repairs to infrastructure such as the airport buildings and the port will probably take priority.
Vegetation on Saba changes according to altitude and a walk up Mount Scenery used to be a sightseeing highlight for the many different types of tropical vegetation. At an altitude of 490-610 m there is secondary rain forest with trees of between 5 and 10 m high. Further up there are tree ferns of 4-5 m, then palm trees, then at 825 m the cloud forest begins (known as Elfin Forest), where you find the mountain mahogany tree (freziera undulata). Since Hurricane Lenny, however, the forest remains only in protected pockets. Wildlife on the island is limited to the endemic anole lizard (anolis sabanus, widespread), iguanas (the green iguana, iguana iguana, the island’s largest, can be seen on Old Booby Hill in the afternoon, sunning themselves), a harmless red-bellied racer snake (alsophis rufiventris, can be seen on the Sandy Cruz and Mary’s Point trails if you are quiet), and over 60 species of birds have been recorded, with many migratory birds coming to nest here. The trembler and the purple-throated hummingbird can be seen in the Elfin forest and the Sandy Cruz rain forest, where you can also find the wood hen (bridled quail dove).
The Saba Conservation Foundation preserves the environment on land and underwater, developing protected areas, maintaining trails and promoting nature conservation. The Foundation can be contacted through the tourist office or write to Saba Conservation Foundation, The Bottom, Saba. In the USA the Friends of the Saba Conservation Foundation (FSCF) raises money for conservation, 506 Tiffany Trails, Richardson, Texas 75081.