The boundaries of the Nelsons Dockyard National Park (NDNP) are home to a wide range of Marine habitat within which there are diverse communities of flora and fauna. Along our coast, you will find several different species of mangroves. These are, in progression from landward to seaward: Buttonwood, White Mangrove, Black Mangrove and Red Mangrove. There are also several different types of seagrasses found within the parks’ marine areas, the two most dominant being the Turtle grass and the Manatee Grass. The tropical waters of the Caribbean are also home to a wide variety of Coral Species, many of which can be found in the waters within the boundary of the Nelsons Dockyard National Park. There are several diving operators located within the National Parks, through which you can gain an opportunity to view these fauna and flora. The Environment Unit of the NDNP is also has a Snorkeling Reef Trail to help raise awareness of the types of reef species found in the area.
The Button Wood is normally found furthest away from the ocean and grows out of the reach of the tide. It gets its name from the button-like appearance of the flower heads that grow in branched clusters, and has salt glands at the base of the leaves to allow it to grow in these conditions. The second mangrove in line to the sea is the White Mangroves. It has thick leathery leaves with no visible veins and small pores through which it excretes salt. The black mangrove follows the white and is characterised by is pneumatophores. This are roots which extend upwards through the substrate, also called aerial roots. Black mangroves often grow in muddy swampy areas and need these aerial roots to obtain enough oxygen. The final species and the one most commonly seen on the coastline is the Red Mangrove, known for the reddish colour of its bark. It grows on prop roots, which look like stilts. The leaves are thick and leathery with a waxy feel which prevents water loss from the leaves. Mangroves form a very important part of the marine ecosystem as they provide a nursery area for marine organisms to develop as well as a habitat for many species. They also filter any surface runoff helping to reduce ocean pollution. These Mangroves can be found along the coast of Falmouth and English Harbour, as well as Indian Creek coastline.
The marine environment is home to several different species of Seagrass, the two dominant species being Turtle Grass and Manatee Grass. Seagrasses are flowering marine plants, which photosynthesize and are hence limited to growth in depths and areas where they have access to sunlight. They provide habitat for many marine species, including juvenile and adult fish as well as crustaceans. Furthermore, these seagrasses sustain many species, including the Green Sea Turtle. Seagrass also serves to reduce the force of the waves before the get to the coastline. Seagrass beds can be found adjacent to most beaches within the park boundaries.
The crystal clear waters around the coastline of Antigua and Barbuda allow for the growth of one of the most dynamic and divers ecosystems known to man, Coral Reefs. Several different types of coral species can be found in the waters of the NDNP. Coral Reefs provide a habitat and feeding ground for many fish species, including the commercially valuable Snappers, Grunts, etc., as well as crustaceans and other marine organisms, including lobsters and octopus. Corals are unique as they are a combination of animal and plant organisms. The phytoplankton called zooxanthellae (plant part), is contained within the coral polyp (animal part). This unique symbiosis between these two organisms allows coral reefs to thrive in the clear low-nutrient waters of the tropics as they are able to photosynthesize and produce their own food. Coral reefs are also important as they are essential to protecting our coastline from the harmful effects of wave action. There are a host of different areas with the boundaries of the NDNP where you can view the diversity of these reef species, many of which are visited by the Dive Operators. The Environment Unit of the NDNP also offers a snorkelling reef trail of the Windward-Bay Beach, which will be a great place for one to appreciate the diversity of the corals.
The Mangroves, Seagrasses and Coral reefs found within the waters of the Nelsons Dockyard National Park (NDNP) create a stunning marine environment providing a home to a wide variety of fish species. Many of these can be seen from snorkelling along the shoreline, along the Reef Trail, or taking a deeper dive with Scuba via one of the many dive tour operators found in the area. The wide variety of fish species, those among the bottom range from tiny Gobies, Damselfish, Surgeon fish and Parrotfish (herbivores) to Rays, Eels, Green Turtles, Grunts, Snappers and Groupers (predators). In the mid to top water column, you will find Tarpon, Barracudas, Jacks, Mackerel and even the occasional but rare Shark. The usually pristine clarity of the waters around Antigua normally offers excellent opportunities to view the wildlife.
The Environmental Unit of the NDNP has also created a Snorkelling Reef Trail to help raise awareness of the types of reef species found in the area.