Sombrero Island – Anguilla’s first Ramsar Site designated

Sombrero Island from the sea. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

UKOTCF welcomes the announcement on 22 May 2018 by the Government of Anguilla that Sombrero Island has been listed as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Lying 65 kilometres northeast of Anguilla, Sombrero Island is a 38-hectare flat-topped limestone outcropping situated in the middle of the Anegada Passage. Mid-way between Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, its isolation from any other landmass has made it one of Anguilla’s hidden treasures – an island rich in history, colourful stories, and biodiversity.

Brown booby with chick, Sombrero Island. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

Despite its almost-entirely bare cliffs and rocky areas, Sombrero Island provides a home for a startling number of birds and lizards. These include a globally important population of bridled tern Sterna anaethetus, as well as regionally important populations of brown booby Sula leucogaster, masked booby Sula dactylatra, and brown noddy Anous stolidus. The endemic Critically Endangered Sombrero Island ground lizard Ameiva corvina can also be found, along with the recently discovered, possibly endemic – and tentatively named – Sombrero dwarf gecko Sphaerodactylus sp.

Black lizard, endemic to Sombrero Island. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

In 2005, UKOTCF, with local colleagues, identified Sombrero as a proposed Ramsar Site in its review for UK and UKOT governments of actual and proposed Ramsar Sites in the UKOTs and CDs. A few years earlier, in 1998, Sombrero’s entire wildlife had been threatened by a proposal by a US company to launch huge space rockets from the tiny island. It is extremely pleasing that the potential future of this unique island now lies instead as a continuing key biodiversity site, with increasing opportunities for eco-tourism.  

Masked booby at Sombrero Island. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

In 2007, the Government of Anguilla declared the island and its surrounding waters a Nature Reserve Marine Park. Over 2015-8, Anguilla National Trust has been working with the Government to arrange the designation of the park as Anguilla’s first Ramsar Site. This designation recognises the Government of Anguilla’s commitment to protect the island’s regionally-rare wetland type, containing both human-made and marine/coastal karst systems, its globally and regionally significant seabird nesting populations, as well as its endangered and endemic reptiles.

The bird breeding and lizard habitat plateau of Sombrero Island. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski
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