From the Deep Sea to the High Mountains

Published: November 1st 2007
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Sorry for the rather long gap since my last post, it has been a busy week on Ocean Star, with the shipmates exploring St. Lucia and learning how to do underwater surveys. St. Lucia is an extremely beautiful island, particularly when you approach it from the south: there are two mountains called Grande and Petit Piton that rise vertically from the sea and form part of a World Heritage Area, which means it is protected from further development or construction.

We moored at the base of Petit Piton in the clearest turquoise water I have ever seen. Below us the reef plummeted almost straight down and then in front of us the cliff skyrocketed upwards to a height of 2,600ft. I made the most of our three day stay to snorkel and dive as much as possible to check out all the amazing marine life: tiny little yellow reef fish through to 2m wide barrel sponges. The sponges are particularly impressive, looking like large brown barrels with the tops cut off, they sit there still in the water filtering out food that travels by in the passing currents.

The southern end of St. Lucia is made up of the large caldera of a dormant volcano. What that means is that the local population actually live in the crater, and although it is unlikely that it will erupt anytime soon, there is evidence of great temperatures just below the surface. We explored the area, catching a lift up to the hot sulphur springs, where black mud boils and bubbles emitting a horrible rotten egg smell that fills your lungs as you approach. It is enough to make your tummy churn, but the locals benefit from the supposed healing properties of the waters by taking their morning bath in the warm stinky water as it travels down the hillside in a series of streams and waterfalls. The highlight of the morning was a visit to the botanical gardens where we were taught about all sorts of exotic fruits and plants including the cocoa tree, the beans of which are used to make the base for chocolate.

This part of St Lucia is also world famous for its marine park; an area that has been set aside for protection through the limiting of fishing and tourism. We worked with the marine park rangers to do 3 reef surveys where the students were taught to identify either fish, invertebrates (creatures like lobsters and sea snails) or substrate (what the bottom of the sea is made up of, for example rock, coral and sponges). Once they had passed an identification test, the shipmates were sent out in buddy pairs to record all the creatures on a particular area of seabed. This information is used both by the marine park managers to ensure they are protecting the area effectively, and by an organisation based in the USA called Reef Check, that puts together a report on the state of coral reefs around the world based on volunteer divers providing information from their local areas. It was a very successful few days with all the students learning a wide range of practical diving skills plus the names of all sorts of sea life.

We ended our stay in the area by starting out at 6am on the last day to conquer Petit Piton. It was 2 hours of hard slog and scramble up the almost vertical rock and vegetation till we reached the top. The exhausting climb was worth it though, when we stumbled out into the sunshine at the summit to find a phenomenal view of Soufriere, the local town, and the hot sulphur springs in the distance.

Since departing the Pitons we have been making our way slowly up the east coast of St Lucia checking out some of the small bays and inlets. Then this morning we made an early start for Martinique, the first of the French islands of the Caribbean….

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