May 9, 2012, 12:25 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Beach near Bridgetown. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Barbados is a small island nation of nearly 300,000 people in the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Venezuela. It is the easternmost Caribbean island.

It is of of the Windwards Islands" of part of the island group referred to as the Lesser Antillies and part of the region known as the Caribbean or the West Indies.

Its major environmental issues include:


The island was uninhabited when first settled by the British in 1627.

Slaves worked the sugar plantations established on the island until 1834 when slavery was abolished.

The economy remained heavily dependent on sugar, rum, and molasses production through most of the 20th century.

The gradual introduction of social and political reforms in the 1940s and 1950s led to complete independence from the United Kingdom in 1966.

In the 1990s, tourism and manufacturing surpassed the sugar industry in economic importance.


Location: Caribbean island in the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Venezuela

Geographic Coordinates: 13 10 N, 59 32 W

Area: 431 square km (all land)

- arable land: 37.21%
- permanent crops: 2.33%
- other: 60.46% (2005)

Coastline: 97 km

Maritime Claims: Twelve nautical miles of territorial claim and a exclusive economic zone extending 200 nautical miles.

Natural Hazards: Infrequent hurricanes; periodic landslides

Terrain: Barbados exhibits relatively level topography, with land rising from the coast gently to central highland region. Its highest point is Mount Hillaby (336 meters)

Climate: Barbados has a tropical climate with a rainy season from June to October.

Ecology and Biodiversity

Barbados is included within the Windward Islands xeric scrub ecoregion which represents the drier, low elevation, areas of islands in the Caribbean’s Windward Islands and Barbados to the east. Specifically, Xeric Scrub habitat can be found on all of Barbados, and coastal portions of Trinidad, Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique, and Dominica.

Barbados has the greatest amount of faunal endemism in this ecoregion owed partly to its relatively large area. The tree lizard (Anolis extremus) is one of these. It is ubiquitous and has adapted well to human presence. Other endemic lizards include Kentropyx borckiana and Phyllodactylus pulcher. The single endemic colubrid (Liophis perfuscus) has a very restricted distribution in the hilly, extreme east central portion of the island which is relatively mongoose free and not affected by sugar cane production. It has been suggested however, that this species is likely extinct.

The two most prominent threats to this Ecoregion are the loss of natural habitat and the introduction of exotic species. These areas have suffered a long history of environmental degradation, chief among them the cultivation of tobacco and sugar-cane. Barbados is perhaps the most extreme example having been under cultivation for nearly 300 years, leaving little natural vegetation. A more recent threat, with the advent of the tourism industry, is the construction of hotels and related infrastructure at the expense of natural habitats. Introduced animals continue to have a profound effect on the native fauna of all of the Lesser Antilles. The mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), feral cats, and in some locations rats (Rattus spp.), continue to prey on numerous lizard and snake species while domestic goats have a significant effect on vegetation, particularly on small xeric areas.

See also:

People and Society

Population: 287,733 (July 2012 est.)

About 90% of Barbados' population is of African descent, 4% European descent, and 6% Asian or mixed. About 40% of Barbadians are Anglican, and the rest mostly Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Moravian. There also are small Jewish and Muslim communities. Barbados' population growth rate has been very low, less than 1% since the 1960s, largely due to family planning efforts and a high emigration rate.

Ethnic groups: black 93%, white 3.2%, mixed 2.6%, East Indian 1%, other 0.2% (2000 census)

Age Structure:

Median age: 35.8 years
0-14 years: 18.9% (male 27,127/female 27,127)
15-64 years: 71.3% (male 100,594/female 103,751)
65 years and over: 9.8% (male 10,982/female 17,124) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.354% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 12.23 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 8.39 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -0.3 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 74.52 years 

male: 72.25 years
female: 76.82 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.68 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: English

Literacy: 99.7% (2002 est.)

Urbanization: 44% of total population (2010) 1.7% (2010-15 est.)


British sailors who landed on Barbados in the 1620s at the site of present-day Holetown on the Caribbean coast found the island uninhabited. As elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean, Arawak Indians may have been annihilated by invading Caribs, who are believed to have subsequently abandoned the island.

From the arrival of the first British settlers in 1627-28 until independence in 1966, Barbados was a self-funding colony under uninterrupted British rule. Nevertheless, Barbados always enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy. Its House of Assembly, which began meeting in 1639, is the third-oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, preceded only by Bermuda's legislature and the Virginia House of Burgesses.

As the sugar industry developed into the main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates, which replaced the small holdings of the early British settlers. Some of the displaced farmers relocated to British colonies in North America. To work the plantations, slaves were brought from Africa; the slave trade ceased a few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1834.

Plantation owners and merchants of British descent dominated local politics. It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this movement, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Labour Party in 1938. Progress toward more democratic government for Barbados was made in 1951, when the first general election under universal adult suffrage occurred. This was followed by steps toward increased self-government, and in 1961, Barbados achieved the status of self-governing autonomy.

From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of 10 members of the West Indies Federation, and Sir Grantley Adams served as its first and only prime minister. When the federation was terminated, Barbados reverted to its former status as a self-governing colony. Following several attempts to form another federation composed of Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands, Barbados negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with the United Kingdom in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados became an independent state within the British Commonwealth on November 30, 1966.


Under its constitution, Barbados is a parliamentary democracy modeled on the British system. The governor general represents the monarch. Control of the government rests with the cabinet, headed by the prime minister and responsible to the Parliament.

The bicameral Parliament consists of the House of Assembly and Senate. The 30 members of the House are elected by universal suffrage to 5-year terms. Elections may be called at any time the government wishes to seek a new mandate or if the government suffers a vote of no-confidence in Parliament. The Senate's 21 members are appointed by the governor general--12 with the advice of the prime minister, two with the advice of the leader of the opposition, and seven at the governor general's discretion to represent segments of the community.

Government Type:  Barbados is a parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm.

Capital:  Bridgetown - 112,000 (2009)

Administrative Divisions: The island is divided into 11 parishes and the city of Bridgetown for administrative purposes. There is no local government.

  1. Christ Church
  2. Saint Andrew
  3. Saint George
  4. Saint James
  5. Saint John
  6. Saint Joseph
  7. Saint Lucy
  8. Saint Michael
  9. Saint Peter
  10. Saint Philip
  11. Saint Thomas

Independence Date: 30 November 1966 (from the United Kingdom)

Source: Wikimedia Commons


Legal System: English common law; no judicial review of legislative acts. Barbados accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction with reservations; and accepts International Criminal Court jurisdiction. Barbados has an independent judiciary composed of magistrate courts, which are statutorily authorized, and a Supreme Court, which is constitutionally mandated. The Supreme Court consists of the high court and the court of appeals, each with four judges. The Chief Justice serves on both the high court and the court of appeals. The court of last resort is the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Bridgetown is the capital city of the island nation Barbados, located to the east of the Lesser Antilles Island chain. While Barbados is considered part of the Lesser Antilles, it is located within the western Atlantic Ocean rather than the Caribbean Sea. Barbados is a member of the British Commonwealth, and considers Queen Elizabeth II to be its constitutional monarch.

Besides being the seat of government, Bridgetown is the largest city in Barbados. It and the surrounding towns that make up the Greater Bridgetown area are located along the southwestern coastline of the island. The metropolitan area is readily recognizable in this astronaut photograph due to the gray and white rooftops and street grids (image center) that contrast with green vegetated fields and riverside areas of the island’s interior to the northeast (image top center).

Bridgetown is a major port destination for both commercial and cruise ships serving the eastern Caribbean—several ships are visible within Carlisle Bay. Water color in the image changes from light blue along the coastline—indicating shallow water—to the dark blue of deeper water away from the island.

Source: NASA. Astronaut photograph ISS022-E-12031 was acquired on December 16, 2009. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.

International Environmental Agreements

Barbados is party to international agreements on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.


Total Renewable Water Resources: 0.1 cu km (2003)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.09 cu km/yr (domestic 33%, industrial 44%, agricultural 22%).

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal:: 333 cubic meters/year (2000)

See: Water profile of Barbados


Agricultural products: Sugarcane, vegetables, cotton.

Irrigated Land: 50 sq km (2003)


Natural Resources: Petroleum, fish, natural gas.


Since independence, Barbados has transformed itself from a low-income economy dependent upon sugar production into an upper-middle-income economy based on tourism. Barbados is now one of the most prosperous countries in the western hemisphere outside of the United States and Canada. The economy went into a deep recession in 1990 after 3 years of steady decline brought on by fundamental macroeconomic imbalances. After a painful readjustment process, the economy began to grow again in 1993. Growth rates averaged between 3%-5% since then until 2001, when the economy contracted 2.8% in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the global drop-off in tourism. Growth picked up again in 2004 and 2005, and the economy grew by 3.8% in 2006.

Tourism drives the economy in Barbados, but offshore banking and financial services have become an increasingly important source of foreign exchange and economic growth. The sugar industry, once dominant, now makes up less than 1% of GDP and employs only around 500 people. The labor force totaled 142,000 persons at the end of 2006. The average rate of unemployment during the last quarter of 2006 was estimated at 7.6%. The current account deficit expanded to 12.5% of GDP, and government debt rose above 80% of GDP in 2006.

Barbados hosted the final matches of the Cricket World Cup in 2007, and much of the country's investment during 2006 and the beginning of 2007 was directed toward accommodating the expected influx of visitors. As a result of these preparations, growth was registered in all sectors, especially transportation, communications, construction, and utilities. The government and private sector are both working to prepare the country for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME)--a European Union-style single market.

Growth has rebounded since 2003, bolstered by increases in construction projects and tourism revenues, reflecting its success in the higher-end segment, but the sector faced declining revenues in 2009 with the global economic downturn.

Offshore finance and information services are important foreign exchange earners and thrive from having the same time zone as eastern US financial centers and a relatively highly educated workforce.

The government continues its efforts to reduce unemployment, to encourage direct foreign investment, and to privatize remaining state-owned enterprises.

The public debt-to-GDP ratio rose to over 100% in 2009-11, largely because a sharp slowdown in tourism and financial services led to a wide budget deficit.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $6.528 billion (2011 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $4.4 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $23,600 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 3.4%
industry: 13.4%
services: 83.2% (2011 est.)

Industries: Tourism, sugar, light manufacturing, component assembly for export

Further Reading

  1. Peter Drewett. Prehistoric Settlements in the Caribbean: Fieldwork on Barbados, Tortola and the Cayman Islands. Archetype Publications Ltd. ISBN 1873132220
  2. Sean Carrington. 2007. A~Z of Barbados Heritage. Macmillan Caribbean Publishers Limited. ISBN 0-333-92068-6.


Source: Wikimedia Commons



Agency, C., & Department, U. (2012). Barbados. Retrieved from


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