St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Land area: 389 sq km.
Tourist arrivals by air:
65,143 (-12.5% on prev. yr.)
Tourist arrivals by cruise ship:
31,405 (-50.3% on prev. yr.)
Total Tourist Expenditures:
$70.6 million USD.
Tourism Budget: $3.5
GDP at factor cost:
$240.2 million USD.
1994 figures on whale watching:
800 people and total revenues of $153,000 USD.
1998 figures on whale watching:
600 people and total revenues of $100,000 USD.
Whale-watching ports (current or potential):
Indian Beach, Kingstown, Bequia.
Land-based viewing sites:
Considerable to outstanding.
(Figures above are latest figures for 1997, except as noted.)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been fully
independent as a member of the British Commonwealth since 1979. At 18 miles (30
km) long by 11 miles (18 km) wide, St. Vincent, the main island, is nearly 10 times
the size of all the 32 Grenadines put together. The country is located in the southern
part of the Windward Islands between St. Lucia to the north and Grenada to the south. The
Grenadines extend in a long trail from St. Vincent south to Grenada.
St. Vincent is steep and thickly forested, the
massive La Soufrière Volcano (seriously active as recently as 1979) surrounded
by lush rainforest valleys and lower reaches with fields of bananas, breadfruit and
coconut palms, and mainly black sand beaches. Most of its more than 100,000 population
lives along the coast, especially in and around the capital in the southeast, Kingstown.
The Grenadines tend to be drier, with the classic white sand beaches, easily qualifying for
some of the more idyllic islands in the Caribbean.
The main industry on St. Vincent is agriculture,
and it dominates to a greater extent than on most other eastern Caribbean islands,
providing more than half of all employment.
In the Grenadines, however, the two main
industries are tourism and fishing.
The Grenadines first fuelled the upscale tourism
industry here when it was discovered some decades ago by yachters, followed
by divers. Both pastimes remain popular, with the diving still pristine, but in a
setting undergoing seemingly subtle yet profound changes with the steady development of
resorts that started on Mustique in the 1960s and most recently extends to Canouan. Some
of the islands have been entirely taken over by private resorts, such as Petit St.
Vincent and Palm Island. The largest of the Grenadines, Bequia, with a resident population of
a little more than 5,000, is only an hour ferry or 15 minute flight from St. Vincent and
attracts a more diverse group of visitors.
The biggest tourism change underway in the
country is from the construction of a cruise ship pier on the main island of St.
Vincent. In 1997, before the pier, cruise ship arrivals were some of the lowest in the Caribbean
(only 10% of St. Lucia's; 12.5% of Grenada's) at 31,400 arrivals, down more than 50%
from 1996. The next few years should show marked increases in cruise ship arrivals.
This will affect the main island, particularly the capital, but will leave the Grenadines
largely to their own more relaxed, often exclusive brand of tourism. Tourist arrivals to
St. Vincent by air in 1997 were 65,100, up 12.5% from the previous year, with total
expenditures of $70.6 million USD. Although the expenditures are higher than those for Dominica
or Grenada, the tourist and cruise ship numbers are the lowest of any country in the
Eastern Caribbean. With no direct flights to St. Vincent from outside the Caribbean, partly
because of the size of the airport, St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues to appeal to
the more dedicated, exclusive tourist.
Since the late 1980s, Sea Breeze Nature Tours has
been the pioneer in offering dolphin watch trips from St. Vincent, as part of
regular tours to go snorkelling and swimming and to visit the Falls of Baleine, on
the leeward coast of St. Vincent. A 36-foot (11 m) sailing sloop or a 21-foot (6.4 m) power
boat is available for the tours which depart from Indian Bay, 5 minutes south of Kingstown.
The trips advertise the 'friendly dolphins' of St. Vincent which are most often spinner and
spotted dolphins as well as sometimes pilot whales and Fraser's dolphins. The trips
often encounter a school of resident spinners,one adult of which has a lopped off dorsal fin.
Occasionally seen are sperm whales (October to May is best, though some year-round)
or, more rarely, humpback whales (January-April). The trips have an excellent 80%
sighting success rate for dolphins from April to September. The tours are year-round, but
taper off from November to early January when the winds are stiffer.
Recently, a second operator called Grenadine
Tours has begun offering boat excursions with dolphin watching out of
Kingstown, also on the leeward coast of St. Vincent. They advertise bilingual (French and
On Bequia, the main yachting haven in the
Grenadines, Heidi and Martin Pritchard offer sailing tours aboard a catamaran called
Passion which includes searching for whales and dolphins through the Grenadines and along the
coast of St. Vincent. The trips do not promise to deliver cetaceans but, according to
Heidi Pritchard, 'we often see them....it is definitely the highlight of the day when whales
and dolphins are sighted on our tours.' In addition to their scheduled sailing cruises, they
also accept charters specifically interested in finding whales and dolphins. In the total
whale-watch numbers for St. Vincent, I have included a modest allowance of 25% of the Passion's
passengers and revenues.
For some years researcher Nathalie Ward has
worked to encourage the educational and scientific potential of whale watching,
producing posters, books and other useful materials and distributing them widely through
the Eastern Caribbean. She currently divides her time between Bequia off St. Vincent,
and Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In 1989, she formed a volunteer network, called ECCN
(Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Network), originally based in Antigua, but it has
recently become affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute's Marine Mammal Laboratory
(Washington, DC), to record sightings and strandings of marine mammals in the Eastern
Caribbean. Endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), ECCN offers
special survey forms for fishermen, whale watch operators, yachters, and
coastal residents to encourage them to report all sightings and strandings. According to
Ward, ECCN's overall objective is to encourage more research and education, through
better coordination and expansion of existing resources, and thereby to gain community
support for the protection of resident and migratory whales and dolphins and their
marine habitat. ECCN offers in-school programmes for children and workshops for adults
as well as training sessions for field identification and stranding protocols. The magical lure and romantic ambience of the
Grenadines are widely reported and lauded in hundreds of tourism articles and
guidebooks every year. To those living or travelling aboard yachts and private boats, the
Grenadines offer easy sailing and island hopping through clean, sparkling turquoise
waters. The more than 30 islands and cays of the Grenadines, partly because they are so close
to each other, act like stepping stones for yachters, and there are numerous accessible small
coves and bays to stop and drink in the ambience. It is not all for the very rich; there
is an attractive ferry service between the islands, and the availability of rustic
accommodations as well as those on the private, luxurious resort islands. For many tourists, the
sighting of a whale and the frequent accompaniment of dolphins while sailing are part
of this magical allure. Others meet their first dolphins while diving on their favourite
For some tourists, however, the magical allure
was broken in March 1999 when a calf and mother humpback whale pair were killed.
It was the second time this had happened in two years, and it sent shockwaves
through the local tourist trade. This time the kill had taken place in front of Mustique
Island, and the quotes from tourists in the international press were not praiseworthy toward
St. Vincent or its whale hunters. Of course, any whale hunt conducted in view of most
tourists would be a risky venture. But this was a calf killed to get to its mother; it
was an endangered species; it was the favourite whale worldwide of many whale watchers for its
singing, its frequent breaching behaviour and its eagerness to approach boats full of
tourists. The humpback whale is the foundation of the large whale watching industries of New
England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Alaska, and
Australia, among other places. To marine nature and whale watch operators and tourism officials
in these places, killing one would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg. But
to many tourists, including many of the sort of tourists who come to the Grenadines, killing a
humpback whale is destroying a work of beauty.
The hunt was undertaken as part of a small quota
of humpback whales allowed to a traditional whaler on Bequia. The whalers
involved were relatives of the Bequia whaler. However, taking mothers and calves was
specifically forbidden under the IWC ruling. In addition, the 1999 kill in Mustique waters
contravenes the spirit and the letter of the bylaws of the Mustique Conservation Area (in effect
since 1989 as Act. No. 62 which declared Mustique and its beaches, foreshore and
surrounding waters for 1,000 yards to be a conservation area.) Prohibitions include spear
guns and disturbing 'fish or other sea creatures....Let other people enjoy them too.
Look but do not touch.'
With the site fidelity that humpbacks are known
for on the breeding grounds, these two rash and illegal acts in 1998 and 1999, have
eliminated two breeding females and their youngsters, and have reduced the chance that
tourists on their romantic trip of a lifetime will be able to watch and listen to humpback
whales here in future. Further discussion of the legality and rationale
behind the hunt are not for this report, except to say that the prime minister and
people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines need to make an urgent choice. Otherwise
prospective visitors, in future, after the magical spell is thoroughly broken, will make their own
sort of choice.
Acknowledgments: Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Tourism and Information (Permanent Secretary, St. Vincent and the Grenadines),
Nathalie Ward (Eastern Caribbean Cetacean
Network-ECCN), Sue Fisher (WDCS), Heidi Pritchard
(Sail With Passion), CTO 1997.