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.
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The country has more than 20 uninhabited limestone islands that provide vital sanctuaries for some of the territory’s most endangered fauna and flora.
Dog Island was officially declared rat free following work by FFI and partners to remove all the alien invasive rodents.
The number of pairs of nesting seabirds found on Dog Island alongside endemic lizards and endangered sea turtles. Reptile populations have increased by more than threefold in the absence of black rats.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been active in Anguilla since 1997. Previous initiatives have included environmental education with local schools, trials to control the alien invasive iguanas, and a successful emergency campaign to prevent Sombrero from being developed as a rocket launch site.
In 2012, FFI and partners embarked on an ambitious project to remove alien rats from Dog Island (207 hectares) to allow its globally important wildlife to recover. In order to target every rat on Dog Island, over 42 kilometres of trails were cut through dense thorn scrub and over two tonnes of rodenticide were applied by hand. More than 30 staff and volunteers took part in the work, enduring blistering heat and sweltering protective clothing while clearing trails through large groves of toxic manchineel trees.
Happily this hard work paid off, and in 2014 – after two years of careful monitoring – the island was officially declared rat free, making it one of the largest islands in the Caribbean to be successfully cleared. Today, we continue to support our local partners to ensure that Dog Island remains rat free, and to restore other critically important islands, such as Prickly Pear Cays and Sombrero.
Islands of Anguilla
Lesser Antillean iguana project
Eastern Caribbean Offshore Islands Network
Almost 8,000 species of fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal and bird are officially categorised as globally threatened, and over 9,600 tree species are in danger of extinction.
Habitat loss poses arguably the greatest threat to the world’s biodiversity, with human activity inflicting unprecedented changes on the natural habitats on which wildlife depends.