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The island of Barbados is divided into two distinct geological regions. Eighty-six percent of the island is made up of a karst landscape laid down in a series of limestone terraces, deeply incised by numerous gullies and honeycombed by a complex underground cave system. The remaining land area comprises the sedimentary deposits of the Scotland Series. These oceanic rock layers are highly folded and faulted and are very susceptible to erosion. Large scale land slippage is common in the Scotland District. In spite of this the island is relatively flat, with the highest point being Mount Hillaby at 336m. The 92 km long Barbados coastline has an interesting diversity of land and seascapes. The Atlantic coast faces the trade winds. It is continually exposed to high wave energy and contains the most rugged elements of the coastal landscape. Reef development is minimal offshore but there are extensive areas of limestone pavement dominated by sea fans. In contrast the Caribbean coast whilst backed by limestone cliffs has a very different aspect. The protected bays and shoreline were the preferred sites for trade, commerce and early settlement. More recently the sandy beaches, fringing reefs and relatively calm waters have been the focal points for the important tourism industry. Industrial facilities are located along or near to parts of this shoreline.

Barbados is among the most water-scarce Small Island Developing States in the world due to its limited water availability and high population and demands. Pollution of its kharstic aquifer and high-density development along the western corridor are major concerns.

The main land management concerns are focused in the Scotland District in the northern part of the island. This area is particularly prone to erosion given the geology of the region. Development encroachment over the years has resulted in significant landscape modification and protective vegetative cover loss and there have been investments in promoting improved drainage and land stabilization. Land degradation concerns over the rest of the country are associated with quarrying and indiscriminate disposal of waste residues such as oily waste over the landscape.

Given the country’s long settlement history and relatively gentle terrain, the island’s native terrestrial ecosystems have been heavily modified and the biological diversity is relatively low compared to its other island neighbours. Avian biodiversity is best represented. The key threats to biodiversity are land development and forest fragmentation, land-based pollution and proliferation of alien invasive species.

National Focal Point

Anthony Headley
Director, Environmental Protection Department, Ministry of Environment and National Beautification

Snapshots of Biodiversity in Barbados:

Barbados snapshot poster

Poster Introduction and Featured Species

download the poster

Barbados, with a total land area of 430 km², has one of the highest population densities in the world.  This means that biological diversity is relatively limited and natural habitats face constant threats from human activity. There are about 700 species of flowering plants, 201 species of birds, most of which are migrants for a short time, 15 species of mammals, 8 species of reptiles and 2 amphibians.  Marine biodiversity is comparatively high with, with approximately 500 hard corals and almost 600 fish species.  The island has very few endemic species.

1. Great Egret

Scientific name: Ardea alba

Photo credit: John Webster

Location: Woodbourne Shorebird Refuge (migratory)

Brief description: The Great Egret are tall, long-legged wading birds with long, S-curved necks and long, dagger-like bills. All feathers on the Great Egrets are white. Their bills are yellowish-orange or black, and the legs black. Great Egrets wade in shallow wetland, including ponds, marshes, and tidal mudflats in both fresh and salt water to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals.

2. Masked Duck

Scientific name: Nomonyx Dominicus

Photo credit: John Webster

Location: Barbados (wide-ranging but not usually migratory)

Brief description: The Masked Duck is a diving duck of tropical lowlands. The male has black face mask, bright blue bill, and dark rusty body. Female has buffy face with double dark face stripes. The Masked Duck feed mostly on plant material, including the roots, seeds and shoots of both aquatic and semi-aquatic plants.& They will also eat aquatic insects, small mollusks, and small crustaceans.

3. Green Turtle

Scientific name:Chelonia mydas

Photo credit: Coastal Zone Management Unit

Location: Carlisle Bay, St. Michael, Barbados (endangered and wide-ranging)

Brief description:The Green Sea Turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle. Green sea turtles are so named because of the greenish color of their subdermal fat. They are found in tropical and subtropical waters and are commonly within the shallow waters as well as coastline beaches. They are unique among the sea turtle as they are herbivores and forage in coastal areas with plentiful of algae and sea grass.

4. Barbados Leaf-Toed Gecko

Scientific name: Phyllodactylus pulcher

Photo credit: Barbados Marketing Solutions Ltd.

Location: St. Philip, Barbados, 2020 (endemic)

Brief description: The Barbados Leaf-Toed Gecko is one of the few remaining endemic vertebrate species in Barbados.  Based on the limited available data, this species qualifies as globally threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

This is a small but attractive gecko, reaching up to 15cm in total length (including tail). The gecko’s body is light pinkish grey or brown above, with dark speckles often forming horizontal bands. The underside is creamy white to pale yellow. When complete, the tail is also often banded – the banding being especially distinct at the end of the tail and in younger individuals. There may be an unmarked area down the spine, appearing as a pale dorsal stripe. The eyes are large and dark green, with a distinct or indistinct dark postocular stripe. Among the most striking features of the gecko are their toes, all of which end in two lobes that are brown above and white beneath.  Adult males can be easily distinguished from adult females by the presence of post-anal pores and spines at the base of the tail. These geckos occasionally chirp when handled but are not otherwise known to vocalise.

5. Barbados Bullfinch

Scientific name: Loxigilla barbadensis

Photo credit: Melissa Drake

Location: Widely seen (endemic)

Brief description: The Barbados bullfinch is a seedeater bird which is found only on the island of Barbados.  It is known locally as a Sparrow or Sparky.  They inhabit shrubbery and forest undergrowth and are well adapted to human presence, often being found in close proximity to areas of human habitation, such as gardens. These small birds are highly innovative.

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