The Tobago Cays are an archipelago located in the Southern Grenadines of the Lesser Antilles, comprising five small islands and extensive coral reefs. The cays are the key elements of the Tobago Cays Marine Park run and owned by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines government.
The Tobago Cays are an archipelago located in the southern Grenadines of the Lesser Antilles, comprising five small islands and extensive coral reefs. The cays are all uninhabited and are a popular tourism destination.
Surrounding the Tobago Cays are several shallow fringing reefs around the islands and a major bank-barrier reef known as Horseshoe Reef.
Other major reefs in the park include World’s End Reef, Egg Reef and Mayreau Gardens. The fringing reefs around Mayreau and the Mayreau Gardens reef are considered to be the most biodiverse and healthy, with Horseshoe Reef and the reef around Petit Tabac being the next richest.
Finally, the World’s End and Egg reef, as well as the other fringing reefs are considered to be the most degraded and least diverse in the park.
The common corals on the reefs are Montastrea, Porites, Acropora, Millepora and Siderastrea species, as well as patches of soft corals such as Gorgonians (Sea Fans) and sponges.
Large fish, such as barracuda and jacks, are occasionally found in the park, although most of the fish species are small. Algae and disease are prominent across all reefs and affect coral health.
The Tobago Cays are now the key element of the Marine Park run and owned by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines government.
Tobago Cays Marine Park
The Tobago Cays Marine Park consists of a 5.7 sq km (2.2 sq mi or 1,400 acres) sand-bottom lagoon which encompasses the five cays, the inhabited island of Mayreau and the 4 km (2.5 mi) Horseshoe Reef. The Marine Park was listed as a regionally significant ecosystem under the SPAW Protocol (a regional environmental treaty) in December 2014.
The Tobago Cays Marine Park contains a number of important threatened species, both terrestrial and marine. There are populations of brown pelicans, bridled terns and Iguanas has in the park, and there are many migratory birds that pass through the area.
The beaches and seagrass beds are feeding and nesting grounds for Green Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles and Leatherback Turtles. The reefs are home to many species of listed coral from the Milleporidae, Alcyonacea and Scleractinia families, there are also populations of Queen Conch and Caribbean Spiny lobster in the park.
Coral reefs are protected by a series of regulations that specify areas to anchor and windsurf and prohibit fishing within most of the park. There are also measures to reduce the likelihood of coral damage from boats including speed restrictions and buoys setting out sailing areas.
Regulations prevent waste dumping. Diving is limited to registered local dive shops. The flora or fauna is not allowed to be touched, and the substrate is not to be disturbed.
Tourism is the main activity within the Marine Park. Around 8000 yachts visit the cays each year, which includes many charter yachts, and day trips. Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities within the park.
Seagrass beds are protected by a series of regulations that specify areas to anchor and prohibit fishing within most of the park. There is a specific seagrass conservation area that is off-limits to boats, although swimming and snorkeling are allowed.
Most seagrass beds lie within the shallow 'lagoon' south of Baradal in the center of the cays, although there are tiny patches of seagrass near the Horseshoe back reef.
The main species of seagrass are Thalassia testudinum and Syringodium, with small colonies of loggerhead sponges (Spheciospongia vesparium), various soft corals and small colonies of Porites and Siderastrea.
The seagrass beds support several species of juvenile fish, green turtles (Chelonia mydas), starfish (Oreaster reticulatus), conchs (Strombus gigas) and sea eggs (Tripneustes ventricosus), however there are also significant areas of algae.
The terrestrial flora consists mainly of dry forest, grasses and shrubs, including species such as coconut, agave, cactus, coccoloba sp. and diospyros sp.
In the Tobago Cays Marine Park, highly poisonous Manchineel trees (Hippomane mancinella) are well established on Petit Rameau, Baradal and Jamesby Islands. They appear more as low-growing shrubs, rather than the tall trees found elsewhere in the Grenadines.
There is one patch of Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) on Petit Rameau. There are some Melocactus Broadwayi on the cays.
Underwater, there are areas of seagrass beds that contain two threatened species: Manatee Grass (Syringodium filiforme) and Turtle Grass (Thalassia testudinum).