Sandy Island

Caribbean Island: Sandy Island/Anguilla
Onboard the ship: Nantucket Clipper

January 2, 2001
By Wayne & Karen Brown

Early this morning Nantucket Clipper cruised from St. Martin back to Anguilla. The first time we visited Anguilla the wind was blowing strong and the sea was choppy. We’d planned to explore a nearby island called Sandy Island, but the weather prevented it. Now conditions are better, so we can visit the tiny island.

Sandy Island is a strip of sand, 300 feet long and 60 feet wide, which covers an old coral reef. Palm trees and bushes once grew here, but the same hurricanes that caused the shipwrecks on Anguilla (See December 28, 2000 journal) blew away the plants. Now the island is just sand. The hurricane also caused a ship to wreck on this island. Prior to the hurricane, the only building on Sandy Island was a beach bar and restaurant. It’s still here, but in ruins. We were told that after the hurricane the sign for the beach bar was found on a beach in St. Martin – over five miles away!

A small protecting reef of dead coral surrounds and protects Sandy Island. Nantucket Clipper is anchored outside of this reef and we used inflatable boats with outboard motors to get to the island. The reef comes so close to the surface that we must be careful not to hit the dead reef and damage the boat propeller. Once ashore, we found many dead sea sponges, sea fans and other soft corals. The big waves from the hurricane had torn up these sponges and soft corals and tossed them onto the island.

Inside the surrounding reef, the water in the lagoon is only about 15 feet deep. Since it is so shallow, we don’t need to use scuba diving equipment. We just wear our masks, fins and snorkels to investigate the coral reef. The lagoon water is very clear (about 80 feet visibility). We’re surprised to see that the coral reef here is the best we’ve seen in all our dives during our expedition. Some of the corals had been broken or knocked over from the hurricanes, but they’re still growing. Not many sea sponges and soft corals are left, but the ones that remain are growing nicely. We see no algae covering these healthy corals.

As we snorkel on the surface above the reef, we spot lots of algae-eating fish. Unlike some of the coral reefs we saw in St. Kitts, these reefs are not choked with algae. The fish we see here such as blue tangs and parrotfish eat the algae that can cover the reefs. Even though this reef was damaged by hurricanes it remains healthy and the corals will continue growing. We look forward to visiting Sandy Island in the future to see how the coral reef heals itself from the hurricanes.


This little bit of sand is Sandy Island. Behind it is the island of Anguilla. The white spot on the island is a shipwreck. The dark spot is what’s left of a beach bar and restaurant. The dark areas in the water are coral reefs. We’re viewing the scene from the Nantucket Clipper, which is sitting outside of a small protecting reef that surrounds Sandy Island.

Karen found many dead sea fans washed up on the beach at Sandy Island. This shows how hurricanes can hurt a coral reef.

We discover that the small protecting reef that surrounds Sandy Island is made mostly of dead elkhorn coral. In front is a small living piece of elkhorn coral, about 2 feet around. Behind is the barrier reef of dead elkhorn coral.

This pillar coral was knocked over during a hurricane. Compare this pillar to the pillar coral in the December 18, 2000 journal. Can you see how this pillar coral changed after it fell over?

Blue tangs swim in a school – like a herd of buffalo – feeding on algae growing on the reef. Fish like blue tangs help keep the coral reefs from being covered with algae.


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