Corralling Corals in St. Lucia
Want all the fun of an ocean nature experience and education on the sly without any of the work? “Ecotours” have their place, but last time I checked, rest and relaxation is supposed to be – well – restful and relaxing. And while some of the rarest and most amazing nature experiences may occur below the water in remote destinations, no need to rough it or travel for eons to go below and check out the critters.
Channel your inner marine biologist at Saint Lucia’s remote yet premium environmentally sensitive Anse Chastanet resort – home of their internationally famous coral reef with feeding and spawning events so vivid that Jacques Cousteau would be envious. Pronounced “ons shastanay,” and not just another Caribbean attraction in a brochure, this self-contained and sustainable town-like community not only lets anyone easily find Nemo, but also rare birds and sea turtles sprinkled with pampering, tree top hotels, glamping, and locally sourced fine dining.
No scuba skills required since most of the reef’s cove is easily enjoyed by snorkeling. But if wanting to learn to dive has been on the bucket list, this is the place to do a newbie resort course with a guide in just a few hours. Before you know it, you too can exchange glances with glowing sea creature eyes that only come out at night under an underwater flashlight beam. This is also the only way to observe their rare and nocturnal annual coral spawning event where confetti clouds of coral egg packets float upward like reverse-falling snow, just days after the first August full moon. And for even more, catch the massive coral-triggered brittle starfish spawning immediately afterward. Hey, this resort is after all also on many top honeymoon and wedding destinations best-of lists.
So, what’s the big deal? Only discovered in the 1980s at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, this annual mass reproduction phenomenon overturned a long-held belief that most coral species reproduced by internal egg fertilization. This “new” external phase of reproduction is now known to be critical to the coral reef’s, and our own ecosystem’s, survival as well as essential to our world-wide food chains.
Anse Chastanet is able to provide safe and easy access due to its exemplary and progressive conservation and sustainable architecture by minimizing impervious surfaces, keeping shorelines green and stable, and completely preventing runoff from entering the water. Its Scuba Saint Lucia, the island’s five-star Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) dive operation, provides the only beach access to this incredible experience.
Observing corals are one thing but conserving them is another, and Anse Chastanet is a major steward in preserving this critical resource for future visitors. With coral mortality increasing world-wide, Scuba St. Lucia recently launched St. Lucia’s first pilot “coral farm” in collaboration with Crew 3000, a volunteer reef conservation organization of like-minded marine specialists and travelers. The “3000” represents the goal of ocean health by year 3000 as well as the amount of air pressure (pounds per square inch) in a scuba tank.
This is huge – a tropical resort that gives back to the resources that are the main reason it is there in the first place. Anse Chastanet works with Crew 3000 annually to strategically place artificial underwater structures of fragmented Staghorn coral on their lagoon bottom to accelerate reproduction and growth for transplant later. A lucky visiting diver can observe these with a guide – or even sign up as a volunteer with Crew 3000 in advance.
While there, don’t forget that “Saint Looshia” is also a top Caribbean destination with an island mix of French, English, African, and Creole history – an educational and cultural experience lying in wait as an underappreciated getaway to tropical seashores and rain forest mountain preserves teeming with fauna and flora. Although part of a colonial tug-of-war between the British and French from a slavery-based boom in tropical produce trade, English predominates as the official language blended with Patois (or Patwah), a local Creole dialect mix on numerous islands.
Today, agriculture is perfected into an eco-friendly sustainable industry of superior farm-to-table produce secondary to tourism and nature-appreciation – and the islanders do appreciate visitors. Bypass the mainstream beach resorts of the touristy northern capital city of Castries for more of St. Lucia’s gems in the lesser traveled south, near Anse Chastanet and the second largest city of Soufriere (sulfur in French), named after the sulfur-laden odor and springs associated with the Caribbean’s only drive-through active volcanic area.
Volcanoes are the basis of the island’s formation with breathtaking rain-forested mountains right up to rocky seashores. The two main remnant volcanic peaks or Pitons, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, visually predominate as popular post card images. A best kept secret that is not so secret, is that Anse Chastanet’s 600-acre preserve also includes the premium internationally famous Jade Mountain Resort next door. Frequented by celebrities, Jade Mountain is on most prominent travel publication’s best-of lists for luxury and couples getaways featuring in-room private pools and individual butler service.
Both resorts display exemplary environmental stewardship with ecologically sensitive sustainable designs among resource-dense surroundings resulting in a plethora of numerous natural habitats in one place. Most Anse Chastanet rooms are elevated on hillside, positioned so as to not be viewable by others to maintain privacy. One room’s bath is even constructed around a tree rather than cut it down.
This is all done without roughing it or giving up amenities as some other ecotravel may require, and includes its own premium menus of “East Indian Saint Lucian Fusion” while giving back to the local community. The freshest most exotic fruit and vegetables are served up by three premium restaurants and two bars (try the local fresh banana daiquiri) with menu variations reflecting what is most available. Wild Lesser Antilles Bullfinches will appreciate sharing your crumbs at the table, and don’t miss the resort’s own organically grown chocolate prepared from harvested cocoa seed to table desert in an in-house interactive laboratory.
If needing a break from vegetating (is that possible?), Scuba St. Lucia’s sister operations of Kayak Saint Lucia and Bike Saint Lucia will also keep you busy on and above the water, including jungle forest bike riding in the Anse Mamin nature preserve next door. These remains and ruins of an 18th century colonial plantation are now a beachside forest natural area. Anse Mamin offers unlimited hiking and exotic plant and medicinal herb identification for the inner botanist. Sneak in some education with world renowned bird watching and history appreciation, alone or with a local guide.
If above-ground critter action is more your thing, landlubber naturalists need not despair. Anse Chastanet attracts serious birders from all over the world. A lucky observer will see species found nowhere else on earth, and from July through October don’t miss sea turtle hatching season. Usually observed underwater, the female turtle will come ashore to leave egg nests along the beach that can even hatch right in front of the resort. A critically endangered animal, the Leatherback is a popular species where a gentle lumbering adult can weigh 2,000 pounds. No lights or flash cameras allowed during the evening exodus to not confuse the newborns.