The Grenadines are an island chain in the West Indies, between Saint Vincent and Grenada. There are over 30 islands stretching over 100km, of which the nine largest have permanent settlements. Many of these islands were first inhabited by Amerindians from northern South America before European colonization, many of whom brought with them African slaves. Today, the international boundary between the independent nations of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines runs east to west across the bank between Petit Martinique and Petit St. Vincent. Nonetheless, the linkages among all the Grenadine Islands on both sides of the boundary are historically strong and continue to be active. Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Union Island, Carriacou and Petite Martinique have towns and communities with public infrastructure. Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent are private resort islands, and most others are visited by fishers and yachters. The entire Grenadines area is noted for its beautiful scenery, spectacular beaches and diverse marine habitats that include coral reefs, mangroves and seabird colonies.
The Grenadines support the most extensive coral reefs and related habitats in the south-eastern Caribbean. Livelihoods in the Grenadines are strongly tied to natural resources, with tourism and fishing being the most significant economic sectors. However, environmental challenges such as pollution, overfishing and coastal development have had significant impacts on the health of marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the Grenadines. Combined with the impacts of climate change, including increasing sea surface temperature, decreasing, more erratic precipitation, sea-level rise, changing patterns of currents and swells and potentially, increased frequency of severe hurricanes, these pressures on natural resources threaten to further degrade the environment, with subsequent adverse impacts on the livelihoods of natural-resource dependent communities. Unless addressed, these threats are likely to become more severe, resulting in environmental degradation and damage to the Grenadines’ economy.
MAJOR ISLANDS OF THE GRENADINES
Bequia is the northernmost island of the Grenadine Island chain. At just over 18 square kilometres, and home to around 5000 people, it is the largest of the islands that make up St. Vincent and the Grenadines, after the island of St. Vincent. The island has a strong seafaring heritage, with much of the community being connected to the sea through fishing, sailing and boat-building.
Mustique was initially purchased for use as a cotton plantation, however it soon became Mustique Company to develop into a private tourist destination. The island was split into plots and sold to shareholders who invested in the development of infrastructure. The island is almost 6 square kilometres and has a year-round population of approximately 500.
Canouan is a hook-shaped island island almost 8 square kilometres, and has a permanent population of about 1500. It is famous for its beautiful beaches and luxury resorts which occupy much of the island, accessible by Canouan’s own large airstrip.
The smallest inhabited island in the Grenadines is just over 2.5 square kilometres and home to less than 300 people. It is a gateway to the Tobago Cays, and falls within the boundaries of the marine park. It is also home to the famous Salt Whistle Bay, listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. With no airport, Mayreau can be accessed by ferry or water taxi from nearby Union Island.
Tobago Cays (SVG)
Known as the “Jewel in the Crown” of the Southern Grenadines, the Tobago Cays are located about 2 kilometres east of Mayreau. The area consists of islands Petit Bateau, Petit Rameau, Baradal, Jamesby and Petit Tabac, the 4-kilometer long Horseshoe Reef, and 3 islets. Most of the area is included in the Tobago Cays Marine Park (TCMP), which aims to protect the coral reefs, sea turtle nesting sites, mangrove habitat and the many species which inhabit these areas.
Union Island (SVG)
This mountainous island is approximately 8.5 square kilometres, and home to about 3000 people. It is the southernmost island in the Vincentian Grenadines apart from the two resort islands—Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent. Due to its central location, Union Island serves as a hub for access to many of the surrounding islands that do not have airports.
Palm Island (SVG)
This 0.5 square-kilometer island, formerly ‘Prune Island’, is now known as Palm Island Resort, which occupies the entire island. Prune Island became Palm Island after several coconut palms were planted by the hotels first owner. It is accessible only by boat, often via the airport on neighbouring Union Island, just 2 kilometres away.
Petit St. Vincent (SVG)
Petit St. Vincent is another private island at just 0.5 square-kilometers. Like Palm Island, PSV is only accessible by boat, and can be accessed internationally via Union Island. This is the southernmost island of SVG, the international border sitting in the 800 metre gap between PSV and Petite Martinique.
Petite Martinique (Grenada)
Petite Martinique is only 2.3 square kilometers, yet home to around 900 people. Most of the community is involved in seafaring, boat building, or fishing. Although this small island does not have an airport, it is close to both Carriacou and Union Island, and is regularly serviced by boat.
Carriacou is the largest of the Grenadine Island chain at almost 34 square kilometers and a population of about 8000. It is suggested that the Kalinago gave the island the name ‘Kayryouacou’ which means ‘land surrounded by reefs’. The island is famous for boat building using traditional methods passed down by Scottish settlers.