Antigua and Barbuda

Barbuda’s pink beach

Antigua and Barbuda (pronounced An-Tee-Gwa and Bar-Bew-Dah) are beautiful. Antigua has habours surrounded by old volcanic mountains–its English Harbour is a sheltered marina for super yachts, including Bono’s and The Edge’s Cyan–who we keep seeing in different anchorages (their boat, not them). The island of Barbuda is an ancient coral reef, low-lying and much less developed. It’s one town, Codrington, has a tiny grocery store where you can buy local peanuts and tomatoes, as well as imported canned processed cheese (new to me).

Male frigate bird, whose large red pouch signals he’s available for mating

Barbuda has a large frigate bird colony amidst the mangroves trees. The mangrove’s ropey roots act as a fish nursery. Surrounding much of both islands are large stretches of reefs that act as architectural nurseries for the fish and barriers for storm surges. We’ve spent much of our time snorkelling in and around the shallow coral reefs of Nonsuch Bay, Great Bird Island, Maiden Island, Coco Point, and Coral Bay.

Coral core samples, like tree rings, shows the diversity of the Caribbean coral reefs. These samples show population stability over 220 000 years. This means that the diversity of the reefs was maintained over all of human history, including one Ice Age. Just think, of all the changes that occurred on the planet over the last 220 000 years, the Caribbean reefs were unchanged. The coral core samples show elkhorn and staghorn populations, the reef’s main architects, as a constant presence at the sea’s edge and shallow waters, establishing and reestablishing colonies depending on varied sea levels.

But in the last 40 years, the elkhorn and staghorn coral have been reduced by 95% of their original population due to disease and climate change.

Let that sink in.

The reefs were a constant. Nothing phased them. And then in a blink of history, these unassuming sentinels have quietly sounded the alarm confirming our collision for the sixth mass extinction.

Bleached mounds of dead coral look like piles of elephant bones

So I was hopeful to find an obscure 2003 link to a reef restoration project on small islet named Maiden Island. The site describes thousands of artificial reef balls and coral transplants to provide safe space for marine life. When we visited, we found that after 17 years in existence, the coral such as staghorn, which should grow on average 4″ a year, was instead stunted and partially bleached after three major warming events in the last 5 years. The reef ball project seemed to be more of a breakwater solution than a reef restoration project and if you google reef balls, many countries are using them to fortify their shorelines.

We then met Nick Fuller MD, born and raised in Antigua, who rowed across the Atlantic at age 65, authored a book on salvaging, and owns a nearby island. Sadly, this reef restoration project, he told us, lost its benefactor, the now-incarcerated Ponzi scheme financier, Robert Allen Stanford, who is presently serving 110 years in prison in Florida.

The good news is that Ian and I are well and safe, surrounded by moderately climbing COVID cases. The bad news is that we, as in humanity, have less than two generations to change the trajectory of climate changes. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch Chasing Coral available on Netflix and here’s a review of Gate’s new book for net carbon zero or better yet, get involved in 350.org–the UN’s Climate Change Conference is in November 2021 and “…with 70 countries already committed to net zero carbon emissions, it represents the best opportunity in years to make progress. It also comes at a time when the science is more definitive, the technology more cost-effective, and the price of inaction far clearer.” No time like the present to use any and all the political clout you have on behalf of the next generation.

Sergeant Major Damselfish, together with Surgeonfish, ‘garden’ algae on the coral…sheltering here in Blade fire coral (Millepora complanata)
Great star coral (Montastrea cavernosa) with some branching coral

Several thousand artificial reef balls surrounding Maiden Island, Antigua
Barbuda highlands

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