St. Vincent and The Grenadines is the first country that we are surveying in the windward (eastern) Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean and we have immediately seen a stark contrast in both the landscape and seascape compared to the other Caribbean islands surveyed so far. The major difference being that until now we have only surveyed low-lying Caribbean islands made from uplifted coral reefs rather than volcanic rock.
Today, we surveyed Bequia, the largest island of the Grenadines. This name, given by the Arawaks, means the island of the clouds and like its name suggests, this island rises sharply out of the water towards the sky. At times these precipices continue below the water where the reefs occur, so our divers are literally surveying along the underwater base of these cliffs. The reef is also very different to what we’ve seen before in both the Caribbean and on the Great Barrier Reef. The cliffs offer extensive shade to these reefs either during the morning or late afternoon, and the sand on the sea-floor is cream in colour (rather than white) which reflects less of the sun's light and really tested the low light capacity of our cameras.
Our surveys, traced over previous reef assessment sites carried between two and eight years ago, where hard corals were abundant, diverse and dominant (Reef Check 2005; FORCE 2011). Unfortunately it quickly became obvious that algae were prevalent, overgrowing much of the reef substrate. Herbivorous fish and invertebrates, such as sea urchins (Diadema antillarum) play a vital role in controlling the amount of algae on Caribbean coral reefs, both of which were also very low in abundance at these sites.