British Virgin Islands

About

British Virgin Islands are an archipelago of 60 islands and cays located approximately 60 km east of Puerto Rico with a population of approximately 28,000 (in 2010), mostly residing in Tortola. It economy is based on tourism, with yachting being an important sector within the industry. With an area of about 150km², the four main islands are Tortola (54 km²), the most developed of the islands, Anegada (38 km²), Virgin Gorda (21 km²) and Jost van Dyke (9 km² ).

Like many Caribbean Islands, it has had a varied history of human occupation, from Amerindian pre European occupation, changing ownership amongst European countries, pirates, plantations, slavery, part of the British Empire and then its status as a UK Overseas Territory.

Most of the islands are hilly (being the tops of largely under-sea mountains), but only small areas of the natural forest and coasts remain. The islands’ vegetation is predominantly made up of cacti, thickets and dry forests. There are also rain forests on the upper slopes of the larger islands of Tortola and Virgin Gorda.

BVI has 380 km² of coral reefs that range in size from small fragments of a few square metres to the Anegada reef which is made up of close to 77 km² of coral. The archipelago also has 580 hectares of mangroves (of which 75% are found in Anegada). There are also sea grasses, sandy stretches, and sub-marine hills and vales

Areas important for wildlife are protected as National Parks. It has 21 national parks, including terrestrial, marine and historic sites. These support environmental conservation and are a valuable tourism resource.

Jost Van Dyke is the smallest, and is towards the western end of the archipelago. Jost van Dyke and its sister islands are very diverse. Together, the islands host approximately 200 native and naturalized plant species.

Great Tobago, part of the Little Tobago/Great Tobago National Park towards the north-west of the archipelago, is an important site for breeding seabirds and is the only nesting site in the BVI for the magnificent frigate birds Fregata magnificens.

J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, established in 1979, are located in the centre of Road Town, Tortola. The four-acre gardens aim to provide educational and conservation opportunities and to showcase native and other tropical plants,

Sage Mountain National Park, along Tortola’s mountain ridge is BVI’s highest point at 1716 feet. Its 92 acres contain important remnants of natural forest, including tree ferns, white cedar (the national tree), mahogany, kapok, bulletwood and other local flora. There are interesting hiking trails here and spectacular views.

The Baths on Virgin Gorda are an unusual geologic formation, where giant granite boulders, showing evidence of the island’s volcanic origins, lie in piles on the beach, forming scenic grottoes that are open to the sea. These are very popular with tourists.

The Copper Mine Point national park, located on Virgin Gorda’s southwest tip, was mined by Cornish miners between 1838 and 1867, and perhaps even earlier by the Spanish. Today the remains of the chimney, boiler house, cistern and mine shafts can be seen. These are currently being restored.

Anegada to the northeast, differs from the other islands in being low-lying, more like Turks & Caicos than the other BVI islands.The Western Ponds Ramsar Site is situated within the western end of Anegada, whereas the south-eastern coast is primarily comprised of an extensive mangrove system that is the largest continuous stand in the BVI, providing an important habitat as an intermediate nursery for juvenile reef fish which start growth in the seagrass beds, then move on to the patch reefs, followed by the fringing reef that comprise the Horseshoe Reef. This is the third largest continuous reef in the eastern Caribbean. It provides a habitat for approximately 185 species of reef fishes and 30 species of coral. The plant Metastelma anegadense is unique to the sand dunes of Anegada. It twines itself tightly around the shrubs that cover the area. One of Anegada’s school children rediscovered a long-lost local name for Metastelma; it was once called wire wist because people used its strong flexible stems as string.

Botanicallly the British Virgin Islands are part of the Puerto Rican Bank, and there are a number of endemic (found no-where else in the world) plants, such as Pokemeboy Acacia anegadensis, and a woody understory shrub of the myrtle family Calyptranthes kiaerskovii which occurs only on Virgin Gorda and a few sites on Puerto Rico.  Studies on the plants of BVI have been going on for many years, and this research work continues today.

The islands support a number of endemic and threatened species of international importance, such as the critically endangered endemic Anegada rock iguana Cyclura pinguis. Eighteen greater flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber were reintroduced to Anegada in 1992 and have flourished.

The three species of sea turtles regularly found in the waters of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are the hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata, green Chelonia mydas and leatherback Dermochelys coriacea.

Many scientific studies continue on BVI to understand the natural environment these include a series of environment profiles in order to collect accurate information on the current state of island’s environment, in order to effectively manage its natural resources.

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE). 

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Video

British Virgin Islands – wildlife and heritage

 

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE).