A teardrop in the ocean

Shaped like a teardrop, Barbados is the easternmost of the Caribbean islands. It was named from the Portuguese Os Barbados or the Spanish Los Barbados, meaning ‘the bearded ones’, probably after early sailors saw the long, hanging roots of its bearded fig trees.

Barbados is also colloquially known as ‘Bimshire’ or ‘Little England’, having gained many customs and features from over 300 years of British occupation. At first glance its countryside is surprisingly reminiscent of England, with rolling fields and hedgerows and winding country roads. Historically most of the natural forest was cleared for sugar cane and cotton, leaving only a few hectares of natural forest intact.

The environmental challenges are considerable. Barbados is one of the world’s most densely populated islands and its natural habitats continue to dwindle, especially along the coasts where there is great demand for houses and resorts with a sea view. This low-lying limestone island also reportedly has the region’s greatest variety of invasive alien species, including cane toads, small Asian mongooses and African vervet monkeys.

Tragically, both habitat loss and invasive species have driven many native species to extinction, including the endemic Barbados racer, Barbados rice rat, Barbados skink, Barbados scaly-breasted thrasher, Barbados parrot and, no doubt, many others that were never named.

The Barbados leaf-toed gecko – another species unique to the island – was among the animals declared extinct until a small colony was rediscovered in 2011. Barbados is also famed for its important population of hawksbill turtles, which have benefited from a hunting ban and many years of concerted work by local scientists and volunteers to protect their nests and hatchlings.

Since independence, Barbados has become one of the most influential nations in the West Indies, with the regional headquarters of many major institutions and businesses. It also houses one of the four campuses of the University of the West Indies, one of FFI’s longest-standing partners in this country.

Barbados facts
Country in Americas & Caribbean

Size (land & water):

439 km²

Population (2016 est.):

277,821

GDP per capita (2016 est.):

US$16,669

Shaped like a teardrop, Barbados is the easternmost of the Caribbean islands.

20 hectares

The size of Turner’s Hall Woods, the largest remaining area of mature forest in Barbados.

250

The estimated number of adult Barbados leaf-toed geckos remaining in the wild.

Our work to conserve Barbados’s biodiversity

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was first invited to Barbados in 1997 to help the University of the West Indies (UWI) to save the Barbados racer, a non-venomous snake that had crashed following the introduction of small Asian mongooses in the late 19th century. We concluded that the Barbados racer was, sadly, already extinct, but discovered in its place the arboreal Barbour’s tropical racer, a snake that had not been recorded in Barbados before.

Fast forward to 2011 and FFI was called back to advise on the management of another reptile, the critically endangered Barbados leaf-toed gecko—affectionally known as the BLT gecko. This green-eyed lizard with heart-shaped toes was rediscovered on a tiny islet on the west coast. FFI trained a small team from UWI to successfully eradicate invasive rats from the islet and set about searching for other sites where the geckos might survive. Scattered colonies were soon found along the rocky limestone coast to the north and south of Barbados, but no more than 250 adults have been verified to date.

FFI staff compiled a recovery plan for the Barbados leaf-toed gecko with expert input from UWI staff and students, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and other concerned stakeholders. The BLT gecko faces multiple threats, including invasive alien species such as African house geckos, and the relentless spread of housing and resort developments along the coastline. FFI is now supporting a Barbadian student to study the needs of the BLT gecko and working with UWI to create a fenced sanctuary where geckos can be guarded from some of the most dangerous aliens.

Barbados is also drawing attention for its alleged role in the illegal trade of wildlife plundered from other parts of the Caribbean. This is a very serious problem that FFI aims to address in collaboration with the national authorities and the other countries affected by the trade.

Learn more about our work in Barbados