Our last day of surveying in St Vincent and the Grenadines, left us with three transects to do off the Coast of St Vincent Island and home to La Soufrière (“The Sulfurer”), the active volcano on the island. The last eruption was in 1979 and thanks to advanced warnings, there were no casualties.
St Vincent is part of the Lesser Antilles, a 500 mile (805km) long island chain that extends from Puerto Rico to Trinidad and Tobago. The island itself is made up of lush green hills, stunning cliffs and breathtaking valleys that usually come to their end at a volcanic brown sand beach. Our first two transects were done on the sheltered side of the Island, and the team was amazed by the diversity and structure of the reef. Although the coral reefs were beautiful, there were unfortunate signs of human impacts in the form of introduced species (lionfish), marine debris and what seemed to be the most impactful, gill nets.
The nets were a 50-100m long x 3m high wall tied up on the reefs edge. At first the nets seemed to be catching nothing but leaves and rubbish, but on further inspection the nets were entangled over important coral and sponge species. We eventually came across Trumpet fish (Aulostomus maculatus), Creole wrasse (Clepticus parrae) and a Bar jack (Caranx ruber) that had been caught in the nets. The nets were probably monitored on a daily basis, with the fish being collected for food. But the consequence of the net being discarded or lost can be quite severe for the environment. Ghost nets can be very destructive, entangling anything in their path, including turtles, dolphins, sea birds and many more marine species.
Fishing nets are a form of passive fishing gear and are amongst the least selective type of gear used by fishers. Fishing nets can be used responsibly and made more selective through increased mesh sizes, allowing smaller juvenile fish to swim through the net and avoid excessive bycatch. In St Vincent there is a minimum seine net mesh size of 1sq inch and the use of trammel nets is prohibited under the shallow slope and reef fish management plan.
Throughout the final day we came across many smaller fishing boats with 2-3 people rowing and using hand reel fishing line, so we were surprised to come across these nets on all 3 transects. The nets left a lasting impression on the team, with Anjani’s final image on the third dive being a fairly large Bar Jack dying in the net. Nonetheless, we were still amazed by the dives, with Pete proclaiming that his last transect was his favourite out of the whole of the Caribbean.