This Caribbean nation is often referred to as a ‘twin island state’, because most of its 85,000 people inhabit the main islands of Antigua and Barbuda. In fact, this is an archipelago of dozens of islands, surrounded by 240 km2 of coral reefs.
With a beach for every day of the year, the country attracts over a million visitors every year. Yet pockets of poverty still linger and most government agencies and NGOs remain sorely underfunded and understaffed.
The environmental challenges are enormous. Most of the country’s forests were cleared during the colonial period and its coastal areas are now under heavy pressure from tourism and housing development. For terrestrial wildlife, the spread of numerous alien invasive species has proved to be especially catastrophic.
Given the many pressures on the populated islands, the smaller islands off Antigua’s north-east coast have become essential refuges for wildlife. Endemic and threatened species, such as the Antiguan racer, white-crowned pigeon and the elegant West Indian whistling duck, rely on the islands for survival. The biodiversity of these stunning islands is globally recognised and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
Another jewel in the Antigua and Barbuda archipelago is the rarely visited island of Redonda, located 50 km west of Antigua. This 60 hectare island has been badly degraded by invasive rats and by goats that were introduced in the 19th century by guano miners living on the island. Despite this, Redonda is still a biodiversity treasure trove, with several endemic lizard species and major colonies of seabirds such as red-footed, brown and masked boobies.
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Though often referred to as a ‘twin island’ state, this Caribbean country is actually made up of dozens of islands, surrounded by 240 km2 of coral reefs.
of Antigua and Barbuda’s countryside is lost each year.
of Antigua and Barbuda’s snake and lizard species are endemic to these islands.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been championing Antigua’s endemic species for over 20 years, starting with the Antiguan racer.
When we first began working with this species in 1995, our surveys revealed that only around 50 of these snakes were left on the tiny Great Bird Island, but even those that remained were under constant attack from the invasive black rats that had been introduced by humans.
Together with our partners we sprang into action and within a few weeks the rats had been cleared from the island. Within two years the racer population had doubled, and today there are over a thousand of these beautiful snakes spread over a number of islands that we have also helped to clear of rats and mongooses. What’s more, they are healthier, living longer and breeding faster than ever before. Like the snake, other native wildlife has benefited enormously from this work. Indigenous plants have spread, while nesting seabird populations have increased by as much as 30 fold. Residents and tourists, many of whom enjoy viewing the country’s unique plants and animals, also reap the rewards of rat-free islands.
Alongside our rat eradication work, we have supported our local partners in a nationwide education programme that has radically changed the way people view the snakes. Once feared, these harmless reptiles are now seen as a source of national pride – Antigua’s very own ‘friendly snake’.
Our work with our partners in Antigua continues to this day through the Offshore Islands Conservation Programme. Alongside our ongoing work to develop and support local capacity for conservation, we are now embarking on an exciting new chapter as we take on possibly our most ambitious work to date – to clear Redonda of rats and rehome its goat population, thus allowing the island and its native plants and animals to rebound to their former glory.
Offshore Islands Conservation Programme
Redonda Restoration Programme
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.
Climate change is recognised as one of the biggest threats to our natural world and its biodiversity, as well as to global security, human health and well-being.