St. Lucia contains unique coral reefs that grow as veneers on volcanic rock. St. Lucia is home to 20 marine protected areas including the Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA). The SMMA has five zone types and is an International Coral Reef Action Network demonstration site.

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Reefs in St Lucia

A total of 90 km2 of reef is found around St. Lucia comprising narrow fringing reefs lying close to shore and a small number of patch reefs. The reefs are particularly extensive off the south and east coasts but the west coast hosts spectacular reef communities which grow as veneers on volcanic rock; these areas are especially important for fishing and tourism. The reefs have been impacted by numerous disturbances in recent history. Tropical Storm Debbie (1994) caused extensive landslides and erosion that resulted in heavy siltation from runoff. Hurricane Lenny (1999) resulted in similar impacts; the combination of these two events resulted in up to 50% coral mortality by sediment smothering on reefs close to Soufriere Bay. Most recently, Hurricane Tomas (2010) had devastating effects through mudslides and terrestrial runoff. Two large-scale bleaching events were recorded in 1998 and 2005, but although the latter affected an average of 43.8% coral, only 4.3% of affected corals died in 2006. Between 1997 and 1998 a loss of over 3% of corals was reported in the Soufriere Marine Management Area due to white band disease. Reef Check surveys in 2001 (Maria Island Nature Reserve, Anse Chastanet, Coral Gardens, Malgretoute and Turtle Reef) showed that the shallow reefs (3m) were dominated (over 50% of benthos) by dead stands of Acropora palmata; live coral cover averaged 7% (ranged from 2-11%) and fleshy algal cover averaged 16% (ranged from 12-19.4%). Deeper reefs (10m) appeared healthier with 17% cover, although this was still a decline from 1999; algal cover averaged 22.2% in 2001. 

Recreational and commercial use

Tourism in St. Lucia accounted for 51% of GDP in 2002 and was valued at $380 million. Popular marine activities include snorkeling, SCUBA diving, sport-fishing, fly-fishing and boating. In 2006, 25% of visitors engaged in reef-based tourism generating a total of $160-194 million through direct visitor spending (accommodations, reef recreation activities) and indirect supporting goods (boats, towels, beverages etc.). Although coral-reef associated fisheries have a smaller economic impact, they provide jobs for over 2000 people and have important cultural value. Fisheries associated with coral reefs contribute an estimated $0.4-0.7 million with an additional $0.1-0.2 million for indirect requirements (i.e., boats, fuel, and nets)

Threats to reefs

Key environmental threats include hurricanes and coral bleaching events. All reefs are threatened by human activities and key threats include overfishing, coastal development and sedimentation from land. Pressures on reefs are increasing due to increasing human populations and tourism, especially on the west coast. 40% of reefs are threatened by marine-based pollution. Climate models suggest that coral reefs in St. Lucia will experience thermal stress severe enough to cause bleaching every year after 2040. Declines in coral calcification by 2040 due to ocean acidification are projected to be approximately 10%.

Reef management

There are 20 MPAs in St. Lucia but the most well established and closely regulated is the Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA). The SMMA was established as a result of user-conflicts between fishermen, divers and yachtsmen. The MPA extends 12 km along the west coast and covers a diversity of near-shore coastal environments. Five zone types allow for different activities by user groups. The SMMA is managed by the Soufriere Marine Management Association, a not-for-profit-company that includes mostly reef stakeholders. The reserve was chosen as an International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) Demonstration Site and has been provided with additional resources to ensure that valuable learning lessons are transferred to the other island states in the Eastern Caribbean. Other marine reserves in St. Lucia have suffered from lack of enforcement due to lack of capacity, remoteness of location, areas being under private ownership and because for many reserves, the boundaries have never been declared.

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

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

Burke, L., Greenhalgh, S., Prager, D. and Cooper, E. (2008) Coastal Capital: Economic Valuation of Coral Reefs in Tobago and St. Lucia. World Resources Institute, Washington DC, USA. 76 p. 

Hoetjes, P., Lum Kong, A., Juman, R., Miller, A., Miller, M., De Meyer, K. and Smith, A. (2002) Status of Coral Reefs in the Eastern Caribbean: The OECS, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and the Netherlands Antilles. In: Wilkinson, C. (ed.). Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2002. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, Australia. pp 325-342.