St. Vincent is a young island with an active volcano and limited reef development excepting on the headlands of the west coast. The Grenadines contain well developed reef areas, especially on the windward coasts of Mayreau and Union Island. Under the Fisheries Conservation Act there are ten conservation areas.

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Reefs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

These islands include the main island of St. Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines, which stretch between St. Vincent and Grenada. St. Vincent is a young island of volcanic origin and an active volcano is situated in the north of the island. Volcanic sediments have prevented the development of extensive coral reefs and only a narrow shelf exists. Good coral growth exists on the rocks around the headlands of the west coast, but few reefs exist on the north and east coasts. The Grenadines possess considerable areas of reef and the best developed are on the windward coasts of the Tobago Cays, Mayreau and Union Island. Each of these small islands has fringing reefs, and these are encircled by the larger Horseshoe Reef to the east and beyond this the larger World’s End Reef.In St. Vincent, fish populations, especially in the south, have decreased dramatically since the 1950s, but present numbers are comparable with other Caribbean sites. Surveys in 2004 indicated that the reefs are characterized by relatively high coral abundance, with minimal disease present, and at some sites the branching coral Madracis mirabilis covers areas 100s of metres in size. There was a healthy population of Diadema sea urchins in 2004 and the ‘West Indian sea egg’ (not consumed locally). The presence of Diadema and the relatively healthy population of parrotfish appear to be keeping macroalgal growth in check. 

Recreational and commercial use

In 2002 it was reported that tourism generated $110 million, accounting for 29% of GDP. On the island of St. Vincent, tourism is less well developed, but eco-tourism is becoming increasingly popular due to the island’s lush rainforest vegetation and waterfalls. The idyllic turquoise-blue waters, white sandy beaches and large number of islands make the Grenadines a popular tourism destination. The islands of the Grenadines are known for high-end hotels and are popular as a sailing destination. Recreational fishing, snorkelling and SCUBA diving are also popular activities for tourists partly due to the abundance of unusual creatures like frog fish and seahorses, Accordingly, Sport Diver Magazine has called St. Vincent “the critter capital of the Caribbean”. Commercial fishing has always been important for the islands’ inhabitants; there are around 1,500 full time and 1,000 part time registered fishers. In 2007, fisheries export contributed $0.6 million, or 0.6% of GDP. Climate change projections suggest that reefs in the area 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%.

Threats to reefs

All reefs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are threatened by human activities, of which over-fishing is the most common. Coastal development threatens 75% of reefs and marine-based pollution and sedimentation are also a concern. Boating activities, especially in the Grenadines, has led to physical damage from boat anchors, fishing gear and marine-based pollution. Natural threats include storm damage and coral bleaching. Prevalence of coral disease has increased in the past decade.

Reef management

Ten conservation areas have been designated within the territorial waters under the Fisheries Conservation Act, but only one of these has been legally designated a marine park. The Tobago Cays Marine Park (TCMP), declared in 1997, comprises a 50 km2 sand-bottom lagoon with examples of coral reefs, sea turtle nesting sites and feeding areas, and small systems of mangroves. The 4 km long Horseshoe Reef, encloses four of the cays (Petit Bateau, Petit Rameau, Baradal, and Jamesby) with the fifth cay (Petit Tabac) lying just outside the reef to the east. Four other marine parks have been proposed in the 2004 Protected Areas Systems Plan. The Fisheries Department and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism Secretariat are active in fisheries management and continuously monitor fish catches. The lobster fishery is tightly managed with closed seasons and good compliance. Under the ‘Caribbean Challenge Initiative’ St. Vincent and the Grenadines has committed to protecting 20% of its marine habitats by 2020.

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. Vincent and the Grenadines