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What Are The BVI's?


The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are a collection of 40 islands, cays and rocks in the northeastern Caribbean some 100 miles east of Puerto Rico. For most of the recorded history, since at least the 17th century, the BVI have been a crown colony of the United Kingdom. Having previously been part of the British colonial structure in the Caribbean for the first half of the 1900’s, the BVI refused to join the West Indian Federation and left the colony of the Leeward Islands on 1 July 1956.

The islands of the BVI form almost an oval around Tortola,, the largest island. Throughout our history, until the 1960’s, the BVI had been virtually subsistent in food production and produced enough for export to neighbouring United States of America Virgin Islands. This oval-shaped formation of the islands has turned out to be one of the best pleasure boating areas in the world. On land, the BVI is endowed with fine mountain ranges, small valleys and little flat fertile agriculture land. The geography of the BVI has been responsible for the natural assets used in the production of tourist services. For further information on the geography of the British Virgin Islands we have included an article by Dr. Quincy F. Lettsome of the Department of Education.

Over the past decade, the BVI economy has been characterized by growing output, full employment, strong public sector financial performance, heavy public sector infrastructural investment, growing private sector gross fixed capital formation and low inflation. The economy, in terms of balance of payments, has been characterized by imports of goods and professional and technical services as well as the export of tourists and financial services. The merchandise account shows large deficits, which are outweighed by larger surpluses on the services account. Today the economy has one of the highest per capital GDP, in the region, is the preferred corporate domicile for international business companies in the Caribbean and a primer upscale tourist destination in the Caribbean as well.

The territory experiences a sub-tropical climate with a diurnal temperature range of 77-85 degrees F (25-29 degrees C). As a result of its position in the North East Trade Winds (NETW) belt, temperature usually drops 10 degress F (6 degrees C) at night. The Trade Winds (TW) blow at a constant speed for most of the year except during the hurricane season from June to September when the territory is exposed to tropical storm force winds of up to 100 miles per hour (161 km per hour) or greater. Notable hurricanes and tropical storms that have struck the BVI were Tropical Storm Klaus in 1984, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricanes Louis and Marilyn in 1995. Hurricanes Hugo, Louis and Marilyn were grouped as category 4 hurricanes clocking sustained winds of over 100 mph (161 km/hr). Hurricane Klaus in particular wreaked damage of over $150 m.

Rainfall averages 40 inches (102cm) per year along with the coastal areas reaching over 70 inches (178 cm) in the mountainous area. The wettest months are from September to December with February to April, the driest.

There is very little surface water, since there are no perennial streams. Traditionally water has been secured from wells dug in the alluvial valleys and ghut areas of Tortola, and Virgin Gorda in particular. Other main catchment areas are provided through cisterns which are mandated by the building code. However, recently major desalination plants have been installed on Tortola, and Virgin Gorda producing large volumes of water through the process of reverse osmosis.


By Quincy F. Lettsome, Ph.D

The cluster of islands that comprises the Virgin Islands is located approximately 60 miles to the east of Puerto Rico. These islands in effect form a connecting link between the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles.

The British Virgin Islands are located 140 miles north-west of St. Kitts, and the community of islands straddle latitude 18 25'N and longitude 64 30W. They rest on the submarine ridge of the Greater Antilles, occupying its eastern extremity, and are separated from the Lesser Antilles by the deeper water that constitutes the Anegada passage.

The British Virgin Islands has a total surface of 59 square miles. The island group consists of some 40 islands, cays, islets and rocks. The largest Islands are Tortola, (21 square miles), Anegada (16 square miles), Virgin Gorda (9 square miles) and Jost Van Dyke (4 square miles). The largest and most populated island is Tortola,, where the capital, Tortola, is located.

With the exception of Anegada, the islands are hilly, being of volcanic origin. Anegada is of coral and limestone formation.

Tortola, is composed of an extensive range of hills with the highest peak, Sage Mountain, 1780 feet in height. Jost Van Dyke could be viewed as being a geological and topographical replica of Tortola,, while Virgin Gorda, though more varied, rises to a central peak of 1,370 feet. All the remaining islands, apart from Anegada rise precipitously from the sea. in comparison with the other islands, Anegada is entirely different, being extremely flat; the highest point merely 30 feet above sea level.

The island community is located within the trade winds belt and features a pleasant tropical climate which is not unduly hot or humid. Maximum temperatures are in the order of 97 F and in many places tempered by the regular sea breeze.

Rainfall records of the archipelago territory have been kept since 1901. Sage Mountain being 1,780 feet in height, and in the paths of the trade winds, receives as much as 80 inches of rain annually. The average rainfall throughout the remainder of the community of islands varies from approximately 35 to 55 inches annually. Hurricanes tend to occur infrequently, though there was a severe visitation by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

The numerous, closely spaced islands and cays result in fine island scenery, therefore producing an islands oceanic setting, probably among the world's most spectacular. Many of the islands of the archipelago speck the crystalline waters which surround the historic sea highway, which is known as Sir Francis Drake's Channel, part of the more extensive Virgin's Gang Way.

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