St. Kitts and Nevis are in the Leeward Islands and have fringing reefs as well as a number of deep submerged reef structures like Ponds Bar. Tourism is growing in these islands and management agencies have just completed drafting a Protected Areas System Plan that will establish a framework for the management of marine protected areas.

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Reefs in St. Kitts and Nevis

This small two-island federal state in the Leeward Islands hosts 160 km2 of coral reef area. Reef types include fringing reef and a number of deep submerged reef structures such as Ponds Bar. Coral reef monitoring has been limited but the Fisheries Department and dive operators have cooperated on conservation projects such as installing artificial reefs. Of the few sites that have been monitored on the leeward side of St. Kitts, fish populations of predatory and herbivorous fish were relatively high; Diadema populations were relatively low. Although Kenneth Dive Centre has observed a decline in fish abundance over the past few decades, fish populations are comparable with other Caribbean sites. The reefs here have lower species diversity than other reefs of the Caribbean, probably due to heavy sedimentation, but they are being increasingly visited by tourist divers. The highest diversity and coral cover is found on the deeper reefs of the west coast. 

Recreational and commercial use

The islands are dependent on tourism, which has been expanding in recent years. In 2002, tourism generated $93 million or roughly 25% of GDP. Visitor numbers increased from 379,473 in 2007 to 587,479 in 2009, a 40% growth rate in just two years. Marine activities such as snorkeling, SCUBA diving and fishing are becoming increasingly popular. Dive tourism is not well developed but the best sites stretch from the east coast of Nevis to the west end of St. Kitts. Diverse fish life and turtles can often be observed here. Nevis Island has proportionally more dive sites than St. Kitts. Commercial and artisanal fisheries are important for the local economy. There are approximately 350 fishers on St. Kitts and 300 on Nevis; in 1995, commercial fishing contributed to 1.42% of GDP. 

Threats to reefs

Due to the volcanic origin of the islands and their steep mountainous terrain most of the interior is uninhabited and there is high pressure on the reefs from coastal populations. All reefs are threatened by overfishing, and snappers and groupers are particularly over-exploited. Due to the steep topography, and the numerous rivers on the islands, all reefs are also subject to high sedimentation from land-based sources. Coastal development, especially due to the growing tourist industry, affects 95% of reefs. Many inter- and intra-island vessels use the waterways between the islands and this has resulted in congestion in the marine environment and much anchor damage and marine-based pollution. Natural threats include coral bleaching, disease and hurricane damage. The reefs of St. Kitts and Nevis are highly exposed to threats and the people depend heavily on reef ecosystem services, but the nation is considered to have a high level of adaptive capacity. Climate modelling suggests that reefs in this area will annually experience thermal stress severe enough to cause bleaching after 2040. Projections for ocean acidification suggest that declines in coral calcification by 2040 will be approximately 10%.

Reef management

St. Kitts and Nevis does not yet have any designated MPAs but progress has been made in recent years to provide for marine resources management. Recent activities include the drafting of a Protected Areas System Plan; the completion of a socio-economic monitoring process for fishers; and a year-long process to develop a multiple use marine zoning design. These activities will allow St. Kitts and Nevis to establish a framework for the management of marine protected areas, which will be legislated under the Fisheries Act and Environmental Protection Act. Under the ‘Caribbean Challenge Initiative’ St. Kitts and Nevis has committed to protecting 20% of its marine habitats by 2020. In support of this Initiative, the installation of mooring buoys at the proposed Marine Management Area (MMA) will help prevent continued boat anchor damage to the remaining coral reefs. 

The information used to prepare this report was compiled from the following reports and articles:

Bouchon, C., Miller, A., Bouchon-Navaro, Y., Portillo, P. and Louis, M. (2004) Status of Corals Reefs in the French Caribbean Islands and Other Islands of the Eastern Antilles. In: In: Wilkinson, C. (ed.). Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, Australia. pp 493-507.

Burke, L. and Maidens, J. (2004) Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean. World Resources Institute, Washington DC. 80 p.

Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism. Quick Facts: St. Kitts and Nevis