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BVI fact File

The clear blue waters of the BVI are enticing at the best of times. The fact that the islands are surrounded by some fabulous reefs is a huge selling point: diving and snorkeling all rate highly on the ‘things to do in the BVI’ agenda. Reefs are not just beautiful features, though. They are also an important element of the marine ecosystem and probably the BVI’s most important natural resource. It is up to us as residents to make sure that these reefs remain long after we’ve gone.

Did you know?
Almost 20% of the ocean floor’s surface is made up of coral reefs. Coral reefs are found in tropical waters because the coral requires warmth, shallow waters and a lot of sunlight to grow.

The reefs are formed over hundreds and thousands of years by coral polyps (tiny invertebrates, not dissimilar to jellyfish) discharging calcium carbonate to form a ‘skeleton’.  There are two types of coral. It’s the hard corals (brain coral or elkhorn coral, for example) that form reefs; the soft corals (like sea fingers and sea whips) do not build reefs.

Coral reefs are one of the world’s most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems and provide homes to over 6,000 species of fish and shellfish (including lobster, which is a big seller in the BVI), plus innumerable sponges, anemones, crustaceans and other marine life.  Like rainforests, the diversity is important; coral reefs could be important sources of medicines, chemicals and other resources that may benefit mankind. It is their diversity and productivity that make them prime tourist attractions; a major financial resource for the islands.

There are three types of reefs
Fringing reefs border shorelines of continents and islands in the tropical seas. Fringing reefs are commonly found  in the South Pacific and the Caribbean.

Barrier reefs occur further offshore. They form when land masses sink, and fringing reefs become separated from shorelines by wide channels and common in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific regions.

Atolls are reefs that surround a central lagoon and commonly occur in the Indo-Pacific.


There are approximately 116.7 miles of fringing reefs in the BVI.  The Horseshoe Reef, which covers 30 sq. miles southeast of Anegada, is the largest reef complex in the Lesser Antilles.  No wonder the best lobster can be found on Anegada!  The taking of Marine Products Order of 1991 prohibits the taking of any marine product using Scuba gear and also prohibits spearfishing on the Horseshoe Reef.

Anchor damage from yachts and cruise ships is the biggest threat to the BVI reefs. The second  biggest threat comes from souvenir hunters – divers and snorkelers wanting to take a little bit of the BVI home with them. Please look, admire and wonder but don’t touch. Land clearing for development is also starting to impact our reefs; sediment from the building sites is being washed into the sea and it deposits on the reefs, gradually smothering them.
Reefs do have an important structural role in the BVI.  Without them, our Islands would gradually slide into the sea and get washed away.  

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