Caribbean island refuges
With its stunning beaches of white sand and turquoise seas, it is little wonder that the UK Overseas Territory of Anguilla draws tens of thousands of visitors every year.
However, Anguilla’s beauty belies very real conservation challenges faced here, with much of the island heavily affected by developments for residents and tourists.
Like many parts of the West Indies, Anguilla has also suffered from the spread of alien invasive species, with black rats, brown rats, cats, green iguanas, goats and other feral animals now widely distributed to the detriment of native plants and animals.
Despite the degradation of much of mainland Anguilla’s natural habitat, this is still a special place for biodiversity and provides a welcome stopover site for birds migrating between North and South America. Hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles nest on its beaches, and the territory is surrounded by some 50 km2 of coral reef, much of which is still in relatively good condition.
The country also has more than 20 uninhabited limestone islands that provide vital sanctuaries for some of the territory’s most endangered fauna and flora. The most remote is Sombrero, which is home to several endemic and globally threatened lizards and invertebrates and is designated as an Important Bird Area, while another rare endemic reptile is confined to one of the smallest, Little Scrub. Another globally Important Bird Area is the large privately owned Dog Island, which was cleared of rats with FFI’s support in 2012 and now holds over 200,000 pairs of nesting seabirds.
Other notable denizens of this archipelago are the endangered Anguilla Bank racers, Lesser Antillean iguanas, the rare endemic Anguilla bush and a host of resident and migratory birds.
Anguilla is often struck by powerful hurricanes. The conservation of coral reefs, mangroves and other natural habitats is vital for buffering coastal communities from high winds and storm surges.