St. Lucia
Maria Islands Nature Reserve

Both tiny islands contain many species found nowhere else.

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Maria Islands Nature Reserve

Location: The Maria Islands Nature Reserve interpretive center is located at Anse de Sables, near Vieux-Fort, the island's second-largest city.

The islands are about 3,000 feet from the St. Lucia shore, separated by a shallow bay that sometimes turns quite rough. Visitors board small boats at the Interpretation Center at Pointe Sables for the crossing. Call 758/452-5005.

Located well south in the Vieux-Fort area, these offshore islands are tiny. Maria Major is only 25 acres, while Maria Minor encompasses only four. Small they might be but they contain plants and wildlife that are colorful, diverse and not found anywhere else in the world.

The islands are unique because they have not been as badly disturbed as St. Lucia itself. Although man-made fires have swept over the islands, and goats have been grazed on Maria Major, the Maria Islands still contain something close to 120 different plant types.

With a yearly rainfall of only about 40 inches, cactus and other desert species are common. So are the short grasses that are wind and salt resistant.   

The rarest snake in the world, the kouwes (Dromicus ornatus), is found only on Maria Major, with an estimated population of less than 100.

The snake once inhabited St. Lucia before the mongoose was introduced. It was thought to be extinct until 1973, when a kouwes was found and identified on Maria Major.

Ten years later a new species or subspecies of butterfly was also found there.

Another endemic species is the large ground lizard, zandoli te. Numbering about 1,000 on Maria Major and 50 to 100 on Maria Minor, they are most active in late morning and late afternoon.

The male lizards grow to 14 inches long and have bright blue tails, yellow bellies and dark blue backs. Females and juveniles, almost identical, are smaller, brown with dark stripes but no bright colors. The zandoli te was first discovered in 1958.

Other Maria Islands residents include geckos, terns (sooty, brown, and noddy), ground doves, Caribbean Martins and one of my favorites, the Red-billed Tropic Bird.

Sadly, pelicans and frigate birds were hunted heavily during colonial times. Their oil and grease was believed to have powerful healing properties, especially for gout. Brown pelicans have now almost disappeared.

Visitors on Maria Major follow a trail leading to an observation point in the woodland area. The lizards will normally stay close by if people are quiet.

Closed to visitors from around May 15 to July 1, during the peak bird nesting season. For information and trip schedules, check here.

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