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Windward Islands

By convention, the first group of islands encountered in the southeastern Caribbean archipelago when sailing west-northwest with the northeast trade winds from the eastern Atlantic. All of them small and a subgrouping of the Lesser Antilles, they are Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Martinique, and Dominica. South of the Leeward Islands—islands on the downwind side of the trade winds—at latitudes 12° and 16° N and longitudes 60° and 62° W[1], the core group completes the lower arc of the archipelago, running north-northeast from Grenada to St. Lucia and then north-northwest thereafter.

Based on the physiography of the core group of islands—being mountainous and of volcanic origin—lying on a subduction zone at the boundary of the Caribbean and South American tectonic plates[2], Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, and Dominica, have quiescent volcanoes [3]. Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, technically, are not part of the group. Trinidad and Tobago being extensions of South America, and Barbados lying east of the core group, is a coral-limestone island distinguished by rolling hills, lowlands, and plains[4].

Map of the Windward Islands

The largest of Windward Islands is Trinidad at 1,864 square miles (4,827 sq km). The smallest is Tobago at 116 square miles (300 sq km). Barbados is the median sized island at 166 square miles (431 sq km). In descending size of the core group are Martinique (441.4 square miles,1,100 sq km), Dominica (291 square miles, 754 sq km), St. Lucia (238 square miles, 616 sq km), St Vincent (150 square miles,389 sq km), and Grenada (133 square miles, 344 sq km) [5,6].

Historically, the Windward Islands formed a political unit. The four territories of Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada made up the political core. The French had settlements on these islands from the 17th to the mid-18th Centuries, until the British takeover in the 1760s. St. Lucia remained in contention between Brittan and France until 1815 when it remained decidedly British. Exceptionally, Martinique remained French from 1635 though there were several British occupations; one interruption nearly unceasingly from 1794–1815. From the 1830s the political-core Windward Islands and Tobago were governed from Barbados as the British Windward Islands. After Dominica had exited the union to join the Leeward Islands, Barbados exited in 1885. This reduced the union to St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and Tobago, which was later annexed to Trinidad in 1889[7]. Dominica then rejoined the Windward Islands—Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada—in 1940 until the effective political dissolution of the British Windward Islands in 1956[4]>—in 1957 the territory was subsumed in the now defunct West Indies Federation and then continued on as the Territory of the Windward Islands to its formal disbandment in 1960. The Windward Islands are now members of larger political unions of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Rainforests are found on the higher elevations of volcanic mountains of the Windward Islands[8]. Moist forests persist in the lower elevations, 100-300m, with a canopy at 20m. Dry forests, with a canopy at 20m, are found in low lying areas; the trees in this type of forest shed their leaves in the dry season[9,10]. The forest cover—location and isolation—engenders a flourishing birdlife.

Five hummingbird species are present in these islands—the core islands plus Barbados: rufous-breasted hermit, purple-throated Carib, green-throated Carib, blue-headed hummingbird, and the Antillean crested hummingbird. The blue-headed hummingbird is endemic to the Windward Islands. The rufous-breasted hummingbird, a continental bird, also in Trinidad and Tobago, persist only on the island of Grenada. In general, the Windward Islands has 351 species of birds. Some of these are migrants—the islands being on the migratory flight paths—arriving from North America and others from South America.

Works Cited

1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopædia. The Windward Islands and Barbados. Encyclopædia Britannica. [Online] Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 25, 2015. [Cited: January 8, 2018.]

2. MEIJER, P. Th. and WORTEL, M. J. R. The dynamics of motion of the South American Plate. AGU Publications. [Online] July 30, 1992. [Cited: January 13, 2018.] href=";jsessionid=3E3321A15CAAFC3C1E05DB2CD3B6BB10.f".

3. Editors. Volcanoes. Seismic Research Centre. [Online] Seismic Research Centre, 2011. [Cited: October 8, 2016.]

4. Contributors, Library of Congress. The Windward Islands and Barbados. Library of Congress. [Online] Library of Congress, 01 06, 2011. [Cited: January 08, 2018.]

5. Rolando Y. Wee. The Largest Islands In The Caribbean. worldatlas. [Online] 2017. [Cited: January 13, 2018.]

6. Staff. Martinique Land Statistics - World Atlas. worldatlas. [Online] 2018. [Cited: January 13, 2018.]

7. WILLIAMS, Eric. History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1964. 64-13390.

8. CARRINGTON, Sean. Rainforest. Caribbean Island Terrestrial Habitats. [Online] Eastern Caribbean Flora, Cavehill UWI, 2002. [Cited: June 25, 2016.]

9. —. Seasonal Forest. Caribbean Island Terrestrial Habitats. [Online] Eastern Caribbean Flora, Cavehill UWI, 2002. [Cited: June 25, 2016.]

10. BEARD, J.S. The Natural Vegetation of the Windward and Leeward Islands. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949.