The Grenadines are a chain of islands and islets between Grenada and St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles, noted for its beautiful scenery, spectacular beaches, and diverse marine habitats. Its cultural heritage results from blending African, Carib, East Indian, Portuguese, and European influences.
The Grenadines are a group of 35 small islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea, between Grenada and St. Vincent in the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. They stretch over 90 km (56 mi) from the Island of London Bridge in the south to Bequia in the north. The natural boundary of the site approximates the Grenadine Shelf, which is some 50 m (164 ft) deep and falls steeply in the Tobago Trough.
Geographically, the area lies along the interface of the Caribbean tectonic plate and the South American tectonic plate. Several active undersea mounts (e.g., Kick 'em Jenny) attest to the ongoing movement of these plates.
The northern Grenadines are administratively part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, while the southern islands are a dependency of Grenada. The international boundary between Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines runs east to west across the bank between Petit Martinique and Petite St. Vincent. Nonetheless, the links among all the Grenadine Islands on both sides of the boundary are historically strong and continue to be active.
Fishing, informal trade, tourism, and island social life proceed with little attention to the boundary. Nevertheless, both countries' mainlanders concede that the connections among the Grenadine islands are, in most cases, more robust than those with the main island. Efforts by the two countries to conserve coral reef biodiversity can be seen as contributing to reef biodiversity conservation at the regional level.
In the Grenadines, nine islands have permanent settlements. The largest islands (Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Union Island, Petit Martinique, and Carriacou) have towns and communities with public (schools, clinics, utilities) and private supporting infrastructure. Others are resort islands like Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent. Most of the other islands are visited primarily by yachters and fishermen.
The islands of the Grenadines range from rocky volcanic headlands to tiny cays barely rising above sea level. The largest islands are Carriacou in Grenada (3,400 ha or 8,400 acres) and Bequia in St. Vincent (1,800 ha or 4,447 acres). Although many islands are inhabited and used for agriculture and the surrounding waters for commercial fishing, much of the area still exists in a relatively undisturbed condition.
The islands of the Grenadines include:
Petite St. Vincent
The Natural Landscape
The entire Grenadines area is noted for its beautiful scenery, spectacular beaches, and diverse marine habitats, including coral reefs, mangroves, and seabird colonies.
The area supports the Windward Islands' most extensive coral reefs and related habitats (the Grenadines Bank constitutes approximately 11% of the Lesser Antilles coral reef area). All islands have various surrounding fringing, patch, and barrier reefs, and numerous offshore reef shoals are on the bank. In addition, there are reef-related seagrass and lagoon habitats and areas of extensive mangrove forests.
Sea turtles nest in the area (particularly in Carriacou and Union Island), and several species of whales have been sighted. All these values present a harmonious blend of natural features within a "cultural seascape" of high scenic value.
The varied and beautiful seascapes of the Grenadines formed by the islands, rocks, and surrounding coral reef habitats are a vital feature of the area and the main attraction for visitors.
Marine Habitat and Biodiversity
The diverse marine habitats associated with coral reefs are home to rich marine biodiversity, which is the basis of much tourism activity (scuba diving, snorkeling, whale watching). Consequently, the islands and the surrounding marine environment are considered integrated terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Although no one single natural feature dominates, there is an extensive collection of values that have global significance (i.e., Tobago Cays) which occur from remnant patches of tropical dry forest, mangroves, sea turtle (4 species) nesting beaches, seabird nesting colonies, coral reefs, marine mammals (including whales) and volcanic features.
The islands are believed to be home to various endemic terrestrial species, e.g., the recent discovery of a new lizard species on Union Island. Twenty-six bird species that are regionally threatened are found in the islands.
The area is an active subduction zone with undersea volcanoes and seismic activity. Geologically, the Grenadines are unique because of their volcanic origin. This volcanism is still present in phenomena such as Kick 'em Jenny, an active submarine volcano located north of mainland Grenada.
Another less active submarine volcano is named "Kick 'em Jack" in the area. These volcanoes are important as their explosion may result in new land masses, and unique marine life has been found by the Northern Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in their vicinity.
The Cultural Landscape
The cultural heritage of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a result of the blending over the centuries of African, Carib, East Indian, Portuguese, and European influences.
Indigenous People's Culture and History: Here is where Black Caribs were exiled before shipment to Central America. Concerning Colonial history, there is a unique history linked with the Garifuna people - the Caribs who were taken to British Honduras after their defeat by the French and the British.
Big Drum Nation Dancing
African traditions have been well preserved in Carriacou since slavery.
Boat Building and Sailing
The Grenadines are renowned for their indigenous boat-building skills and maritime traditions. There is also the rich historical aspect of shipwrecks in the area. Some reports noted that Grenada has 163 wrecks, one of which is a slave shipwreck off of Isle de Ronde.
The Grenadines have been touted as some of the best sailing grounds in the world. Historically, Carriacou was once described as the healthiest place in the Caribbean. Historically, people sailing from Europe were brought to Carriacou to acclimatize before making their way to their final destinations. Carriacou had a freshwater supply, and its beaches were accessible locations to land boats.
Many pre-Columbian settlement sites throughout the islands have the potential for heritage tourism and to provide research opportunities. The pre-Columbian history of the Grenadines is vibrant. Dr. Kirby's research on petroglyphs in the region has well-documented this history, which produces linkages to South American petroglyphs.
This Amerindian history is still present in the names of the Grenadines (Bequia - the land of clouds; Carriacou - the land of reefs). Many indigenous artifacts have been found in the region.
Rites of Passage (Weddings, Tombstone Feast, Wakes): many rituals and traditions have been preserved in the Grenadines
Caribbean Vernacular Architecture
Fortifications: a system of colonial fortifications exists throughout the islands
Windmills / Waterwheels
Festivals (Maroon, Masquerade, Carnival, Shakespeare Mas)
Music and Dance (Quadrille, Parang, String Band)