British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a
territory, located in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto
Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, the remaining
islands constituting the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Technically the name of the Territory is
simply the "Virgin Islands", but in practice since 1917 they have
been almost universally referred to as the "British Virgin Islands"
to distinguish the islands from the American Territory.
To add to
the regional confusion, the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra, Vieques and surrounding islands began referring to
themselves as the "Spanish Virgin Islands" as part of a tourism drive in the early
British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, along with over fifty other smaller islands and
Approximately fifteen of the islands are
inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is situated on Tortola, the largest island which
is approximately long and wide.
The islands have a total
population of about 22,000, of whom approximately 18,000 live on
The Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak
around 100 BC (though there is some evidence of
presence on the islands as far
back as 1500 BC). The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the
fifteenth century when they were displaced by the more aggressive
Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom the
Sea is named.
The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by Christopher Columbus
in 1493 on his
second voyage to the Americas. Columbus gave them the fanciful name
Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes
(Saint Ursula and her
11,000 Virgins), shortened to Las Vírgenes
after the legend of Saint Ursula
The Spanish Empire
islands by discovery in the early sixteenth century, but never
settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French,
Spanish and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which
became a notorious haunt for pirates. There is no record of
any native Amerindian population in the British Virgin Islands
during this period, although the native population on nearby
St. Croix was decimated.
a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola by
1648. In 1672, the English captured Tortola from the Dutch, and the British
annexation of Anegada and Virgin Gorda followed in 1680. Meanwhile, over the
period 1672–1733, the Danish gained control of the nearby islands
of St. Thomas, St.
John and St.
The British islands were considered principally a strategic
possession, but were planted when economic conditions were
particularly favourable. The British introduced sugar cane
which was to become the main crop and
source of foreign trade, and slaves were brought from Africa
to work on the sugar cane plantations.
islands prospered economically until the middle of the 1800s, when
a combination of the abolition of slavery in
the Territory, a series of disastrous hurricanes, and the
growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe
and the United
States significantly reduced sugar cane production and led
to a period of economic decline.
States purchased St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix from
Denmark for US$25 million, renaming them the United States
British Virgin Islands were administered variously as part of the
British Leeward Islands or
with St. Kitts
and Nevis, with an Administrator representing the British
Government on the Islands.
Separate colony status was gained
for the Islands in 1960 and the Islands became autonomous in 1967.
Since the 1960s, the islands have diversified away from their
traditionally agriculture-based economy towards tourism and
financial services, becoming one of the wealthiest areas in the
Map of British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands comprise around sixty tropical Caribbean
islands, ranging in size from the largest, Tortola long and wide,
to tiny uninhabited islets
. They are located in
the Virgin Islands archipelago, a few
miles east of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north of the islands, and the Caribbean Sea lies to the south.
Most of the islands are
volcanic in origin and have a hilly, rugged terrain. Anegada is
geologically distinct from the rest of the group and is a flat
island composed of limestone and coral.
addition to the four main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and
Dyke, other islands include:
See also .
The British Virgin Islands enjoy a tropical climate, moderated by
. Temperatures vary little
throughout the year. In the capital, Road Town, typical daily maxima are around 32 °C (90 °F) in the summer
and 29 °C (84 °F) in the winter.
Typical daily minima are
around 24 °C
) in the summer and 21 °C (70 °F) in the winter.
Rainfall averages about per year, higher in the hills and lower on
the coast. Rainfall can be quite variable, but the wettest months
on average are September to November and the driest months on
average are February and March. Hurricanes occasionally hit the
islands, with the hurricane season running from June to
Executive authority in British Virgin Islands is invested in
exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the British
. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the
advice of the British Government
Defence and Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United
A new constitution was adopted in 2007 (the Virgin Islands
Constitution Order, 2007) and came into force when the Legislative
was dissolved for the 2007 general
. The Head of Government under the new constitution is
(prior to the new constitution the office was referred to as
), who is elected in a general election along with the
other members of the ruling government as well as the members of
the opposition. A Cabinet is nominated by the Premier and appointed
by the Governor. The Legislature consists of the Queen (represented
by the Governor) and a unicameral
House of Assembly
made up of 13
elected members plus the Speaker and the Attorney-General.
The current Governor is David Pearey
(since 2006). The current Premier is Ralph T. O'Neal
(since 22 August 2007).
As a tax haven
, the British Virgin Islands
enjoys one of the more prosperous economies of the Caribbean
region, with a per capita GDP
of around $38,500 (2004 est.)
The "twin pillars" of the economy are tourism and financial
services. Politically, tourism is the more important of the two, as
it employs a greater number of people within the Territory, and a
larger proportion of the businesses in the tourist industry are
locally owned, as are a number of the highly tourism-dependent sole
traders (e.g. taxi drivers and street vendors). Economically
however, financial services associated with the territory's
status are by far the more
important. Nearly 50% of the Government's revenue comes directly
from licence fees for offshore companies, and considerable further
sums are raised directly or indirectly from payroll taxes relating
to salaries paid within the trust industry sector (which tend to be
higher on average than those paid in the tourism sector).
accounts for 45% of national income.
The islands are a popular destination for U.S. citizens, with
around 350,000 tourists visiting annually (1997 figures). Tourists
frequent the numerous white sand beaches
visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda, snorkel
the coral reefs
near Anegada, or
experience the well-known bars of Jost Van Dyke. The BVI are known
as one of the world's greatest sailing destinations, and charter
sailboats are a very popular way to visit less accessible islands.
Every year since 1972 the BVI has hosted the Spring Regatta, which
is a seven-day collection of sailing races throughout the islands.
A substantial number of the tourists who visit the BVI are cruise ship
passengers, although they produce
far lower revenue per head than charter boat tourists and hotel
based tourists. They are nonetheless important to the substantial
(and politically important) taxi driving community.
Substantial revenues are also generated by the registration of
. As of 2004,
over 550,000 companies were so registered. In 2000 KPMG reported
in its survey of offshore jurisdictions
for the United
Kingdom government that over 41% of the world's offshore
companies were formed in the British Virgin Islands.
2001, financial services in the British Virgin Islands have been
regulated by the independent Financial
. While at one time the BVI was well
regarded as a good domicile for captive insurance services, this
changed beginning in recent years with the change of insurance
regulators in 2007 and the government's increasing pressure to hire
only locals ("belongers") in the insurance industry. Work permits
for non-belongers, while always difficult to obtain, became even
more so. Because of the lack of qualified local talent in the
insurance area and the marked decline in the level of government
services in the area, there has been a marked exodus of insurers
from the BVI beginning in 2008. Other Caribbean jurisdictions
picked up the slack (e.g., Anguilla) along with several U.S. states
that became possible jurisdictions for alternative risk
Agriculture and industry account for only a small proportion of the
islands' GDP. Agricultural produce includes fruit, vegetables,
sugar cane, livestock and poultry, and industries include rum
distillation, construction and boatbuilding.
1959, the official currency of the British Virgin Islands has been
the US dollar, also used by the
The British Virgin Islands are a major target for drug traffickers,
who use the area as a gateway to the United States. According to
the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, drug trafficking is
"potentially the most serious threat to stability in the
The population of the Islands is around 21,730 in 2003. The
majority of the population (83%) are Afro-Caribbean
, descended from the slaves
brought to the islands by the British. Other large ethnic groups
include those of British and other European origin.
The 2004 census reports:
- 83.4% Black
- 7% White
- 9.6% Others*
The islands are predominantly Protestant
(86%). The largest individual
Christian denominations are Methodist
(17%), and Catholic
There are of roads. The main airport (Terrance B. Lettsome International
Airport, also known as Beef Island Airport) is located on
Beef Island, which lies off the eastern tip of Tortola and is
accessible by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge.
and Anegada have their own smaller airports. The main harbour is
There are also ferries that operate within
the British Virgin Islands and to the neighbouring United States
Virgin Islands. As in the UK, cars in the
British Virgin Islands drive on the left side of the road.
The roads are often quite steep and winding, and ruts can be a
problem when it rains.
The British Virgin Islands operates several government schools as
well as private schools. There is also a community college,
Hamilton Lavity Stoutt Community College, that is located on the
eastern end of Tortola. This college was named after Honourable
Lavity Stoutt (Chief Minister).
Because of its location and climate the British Virgin Islands has
long been a haven for sailing enthusiasts. Sailing is regarded as
one of the foremost sports in all of the BVI. Calm waters along
with steady breezes culminate to make some of the best sailing
conditions in the Caribbean (some say the world). Many sailing
events are held in the waters of this country, the largest of which
is a weeklong series of sailing races called the Spring
This is the premier sailing event of the Caribbean. With several
races hosted each day. Boats include everything from full-size
mono-hull yachts to dinghies. Captains and their crews come from
all around the globe to attend these races. The Spring Regatta is
part race, part party, part festival. There are races, games, and
music during the day, and some crazy partying at night. The Spring
Regatta is normally held on the first week of April,
The primary language is English, with a quick creole accent.
The traditional music of the British Virgin Islands is called
after the local cornmeal
dish with the same name, often made with okra
The special sound of fungi is due to a unique local fusion between
African and European music. It functions as a medium of local
history and folklore and is therefore a cherished cultural form of
expression that is part of the curriculum in BVI schools. The fungi
bands, also called "scratch bands", use instruments ranging from
, washboard, bongos
more traditional western instruments like keyboard, banjo, guitar,
bass, triangle and saxophone. Apart from being a form of festive
dance music, fungi often contains humorous social commentaries, as
well as BVI oral history.
- NGO Sources
- Official sites and overviews
- Wikimedia Content