The Tobago Cays are five tiny, uninhabited islands surrounded by reefs and enclosing a turquoise sand-bottomed lagoon one of the most inspiring natural beauty spots in the Caribbean. The Cays are also one of the Grenadines' most popular anchorages; a 1995 survey indicated that some 14,000 yachtspeople, 25,000 charterboat daytrippers and 10,000 cruiseship passengers visit the Cays annually.
In 1987, the government of St. Vincent & the Grenadines designated a Conservation Area in the Southern Grenadines, centered on the Tobago Cays. In 1993, at the request of the Vincentian government, an agency of the French government the French Mission for Cooperation in the Lesser Antilles undertook a study called the "Tobago Cays Marine Park Project." The government of St. Vincent & the Grenadines gave approval in June 1995 to a proposal submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Labour (the ministry responsible for parks and beaches) for the establishment of the Tobago Cays as a National Marine Park. Legislation on Marine Parks was enacted in 1997, and regulations were gazetted in 1998.
But although many public consultations have been held, management plans have been made and revised, various implementation strategies have been considered, a few moorings have been laid, an office has been established on nearby Union Island and a Park Warden and Park Board have been appointed, not many obvious changes of a "national park-like" nature have taken place in the Cays. This may soon change.
Many visitors are perhaps unaware that until very recently, the Vincentian government did not actually own the Tobago Cays. The Cays, once the property of the Eustace family of St. Vincent, had been sold by them some 40 years ago to private owners in the United States. But after over 15 years of negotiations, the government of St. Vincent & the Grenadines finally acquired the islands in an official handing-over ceremony at the Prime Minister's office on 12 April, 1999. A price of US$1.025 million was paid by the government to the "Tobago Cays Holding Company" for the 58.5 acres of land.
At the handing-over ceremony, St. Vincent & the Grenadines' Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell said, "even as we agree that this price is not the commercial value we accept that no commercial activity will ever be allowed on these islands. Today will mark the day when the people of St. Vincent & the Grenadines assume responsibility for the preservation of the most unique group of islands created in our hemisphere."
With the islands' ownership transferred to the St. Vincent & the Grenadines government, the laws and regulations already on the books regarding the establishment of the Tobago Cays as a National Marine Park now have relevance.
Copyright© 1998 Compass Publishing