Beaches of tropical island coasts exhibit high levels of diversity in composition and form in comparison with their continental counterparts. To investigate the nature and origin of this diversity, individual beach morphology and sedimentology was investigated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a Caribbean archipelago of > 60 high volcanic and low reef islands. The islands exhibit a diversity of orientations (some facing the Atlantic and some the Caribbean), elevation and gradient, rock type and wave energy. An examination of 100 beaches in the archipelago revealed a first-order division into sand (70 beaches) and coral rubble (30 beaches). These beaches occur in seven planform types (determined by the antecedent geological framework) and are further subdivided according to shoreface type (seagrass, sandy shoreface, or reef). Mainland-attached headland-embayment beaches are the most common form of sand beach while coral rubble beaches usually occur as barriers that enclose salt ponds and wetlands. Among sand beaches, carbonate content is greatest on Atlantic-facing beaches, and coral rubble beaches are more common on Caribbean-facing beaches. Grain size characteristics on sandy beaches are highly variable and range from fine to very coarse sands while coral rubble beaches range up to boulder-sized clasts. The local source material is a primary determinant of sediment composition. The local factors such as the underlying geology, source and availability of sediments are the primary determinants of beach form, composition and texture in the BVI. Oceanographic and climatic conditions such as the prevailing easterly trade winds and waves which seasonally range in direction from east-northeast to southeast as well as beach orientation to Atlantic- or Caribbean-facing waves also contribute to the variability, but in a secondary role.
- tropical island