Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Antigua's interesting ecology (published in Liat's magazine ZING)

barbuda eagle

I looked high and low on my hard drives and in my emails for this article but couldn't find it anywhere. It's a good thing Zing had it on their website still. Anyway, I am publishing it here on my blog so it will be more easy to find and so that you may have a read if you like:

Eli Fuller is a third generation Antiguan who lives and plays on Antigua’s North Shore where his grandfather built the Lord Nelson Beach Hotel in the late 1940s. Eli spent most of his childhood boating around Antigua and Barbuda. Snorkelling was also a favourite and Eli was wearing a mask before he learned how to speak. When Eli was 12 years old he learned how to windsurf and began competing internationally later that year. In 1988 he was given the opportunity to represent Antigua in the games of the XXIVth Olympiad, held in Seoul, South Korea. He was 16 and the youngest competitor in the windsurfing division. After subsequently traveling all over the world competing at windsurfing tournaments, he began to miss island life and his family. Once home he realised that his love for Antigua, its ecology and history, coupled with his life experience, made him extremely well qualified to start his own tour business and so Adventure Antigua was born. Eli’s carefully designed eco-tours are now often the highlights of many people’s trip to Antigua.

The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has an intriguing and distinct ecological makeup. Keeping in mind that the country is actually made up of two larger islands and an unusually large collection of smaller ones, you will understand why its fascinating and different environments come together into something so beautifully unique in the Caribbean.
Let’s start with a geographical description of the country to give you a better idea as to why the natural side of the county is so fascinating. Firstly, the two main islands. Antigua and Barbuda sit on the same continental shelf with about 26 miles of shallow waters connecting them. On either side of the islands and their connecting shelf, the water drops off into abyss-like depths that contain a massive variety of life. Many people forget about Redonda, which is a small island about 30 miles to our west which is also part of the county. It sits on its own continental shelf and makes up the massive triangular territorial and ecological zone connecting Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda.
The three islands are different to each other in almost every aspect. Antigua is made up from limestone and volcanic rock with a slice of clay between them. Having both limestone and volcanic rocks on the same island is unusual and helps give it unique habitats.
Barbuda is totally made up of limestone rocks with nothing above 38 meters above sea level on the island. Caves, beaches and mangrove habitats provide a wealth of ecology that has yet to be properly documented.
Redonda is the most unusual in terms of its geographic makeup and is simply a huge volcanic mass of rocks pushing up from the sea. With its steep rocky cliffs and high top it supports a very interesting variety of plants and animals with its bird life being the most impressive.
Antigua is the largest island within the country. There are more bays and coves than any other in the Caribbean, and they say we even have 365 beaches. In the south, the volcanic side of the island, the landscape is hillier and as a consequence, often wetter. This has led to very different territorial eco- systems, with one area called Fig Tree Drive being described as the rainforest. Visitors can take taxi and jeep tours through the area to get a better look at some of the lush and tropical vegetation that one would expect in a rain forest. Although there are no perennial streams or rivers, you will see some little ones in that area during wetter periods.

The north and east of Antigua have been carved from limestone rock, and with that you will see many reefs, rocks and little islands off-shore. Quite a few of these islands are large enough to be habitable. One of them is the private Long Island, also known as ‘Jumby Bay’, where one of the Atlantic’s best scientific sea turtle studies has been taking place for over 20 years. The endangered hawksbill turtles come here to nest each year between May and November and a great many fascinating discoveries have been made there. Long Island is one of many protected from the Atlantic within the North Sound, which is a large area enveloped in the calm waters provided by barrier reefs and islands.

One of the most important islands in ecological terms is Great Bird Island, which didn’t get its name by accident. A large and diverse variety of migratory and indigenous birds spend time there nesting and roosting at different times of the year. My favourites are the Red Billed Tropic Birds that only nest on rocky windward facing cliffs that have caves. The windward ledge of the island has numerous small caves and during the winter you will see these beautiful birds coming in to land and take shelter there. Apart from the feathered friends on Great Bird Island, there are also many other life forms that make the island a must see destination on your visit to Antigua.

One of these is the Antigua Racer. The Racer is a totally harmless grass snake which is one of the rarest animals on the planet. The racer has only been found on Great Bird Island, and when the first proper scientific study was carried out back in 1995 only 60 of these animals were accounted for. That was the world’s entire population of Antigua Racer snakes! Anyway, much has been done for the little guys since then and you may be lucky enough to see one some day.

Nearby is Rabbit Island , where you won’t find a single rabbit, but you will find many more birds including our local brown pelicans which nest here during the early summer months.

Another few hundred meters to the south is Antigua’s largest offshore island called Guiana, with its vast expanse of mangrove habitat. There are several types of mangrove plants with the red variety, which sends its long roots into the sea, being most important for juvenile fish, crabs, lobster and other aquatic life.
Much of the sea life you will find in the waters surrounding the country’s territorial zone is sustained by mangrove habitats which is where a huge variety of sea life gets its start.
I could write pages and pages about the food chains and ecological habitats that you will find around Antigua and Barbuda, but to keep it simple I will just say that there is so much more to the country than meets the eye, and if you take the time to have a closer look off the beaten path you will enjoy your experience here so much more.
• For tour details go to