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St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Population: 111,000.

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 million USD.

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: Limited information.

Whale-watching potential: 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 English) tours.
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 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 reef.
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.

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