We have just made it to the northern tip of the Lesser Antilles and now find ourselves surveying in the Island nation of Anguilla. We had a brief stopover at the island of St Eustatius (also known as Statia) due to bad weather. Fortunately, the team managed to complete a day of surveying whilst anchored in Gallows Bay, St Eustatius.
St Eustatius, a Dutch municipality, is actually a dormant volcano. The Island has a rich history and is often described as the best kept diving secret in the Caribbean. The Island has two terrestrial marine parks (Boven National Park and Quill National Park), with migrating bird species and endemic iguanas roaming the island. The waters surrounding Statia are all designated as marine park, but there is also a northern marine reserve and southern marine reserve, where no fishing or anchoring is allowed.
The team managed to do three transects with the help of the St Eustatius National Parks marine patrol. We did two dives in the southern marine reserve and two in the northern marine reserve. Although algae dominated the reefs, there was a moderate amount of hard coral cover and fish life, particularly on Blair’s Reef, where we saw a high number of Barracuda, but at the same time 3-4 Lionfish. The site in the northern marine reserve “Gibraltar” was highly exposed and consisted mostly of volcanic rock. Given the amount of swell and surge, the visibility was surprisingly good (around 10-15m). The complex habitat provided by the volcanic rock, also provides refuge for important coral reef species.
It was great to get a day of surveying in whilst being held back by weather conditions, but after a couple of days, the weather took a turn for the better and we were able to complete our steam to Anguilla. Anguilla is a British overseas territory with a fairly low relief when compared to the adjacent Island of St Marten (Dutch side) and St Martin (French side).
Like most of the Caribbean, Anguilla has been hit by a mass mortality of Elkhorn and Staghorn corals from the Acropora sp family. On some surveys we have come across the skeleton remains of what used to be reefs dominated by Elkhorn, but are now covered in macroalgal species, with very little coral cover. We did manage to dive some reefs around Dog Island, which had less algae and a higher number of sponge and soft coral species, providing habitat for a number of reef fish species.
It is interesting to observe the variability of reefs depending on the natural environmental factors and human impacts they are exposed to. Showing this variability is an important process, which can help provide insight into how different reefs can be managed in order to preserve them.