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 Fauna & Flora’s longest-standing partners in this country.