ANGUILLA IS ONE of the smallest and least developed islands in the CARIBBEAN SEA. It was administered as a British colony along with SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS until 1971. Its inhabitants did not wish to remain a dependency of its larger neighbors when they achieved independence in 1983, and Anguilla opted instead to retain its status as an overseas dependency of the UNITED KINGDOM (UK).
Unlike St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla is not made up of volcanic peaks with fertile soil and abundant rainfall, but instead consists of flat, semiarid coral and limestone formations that are generally unproductive for any sort of agriculture. This marks the main contrast between the two arcs of the Lesser Antilles: the older arc, further to the east, was once volcanic but sank beneath the sea; the tips became covered in limestone and coral and slowly reemerged from the sea, but rarely higher than 330 ft (100 m). This is the case for Anguilla and its closest neighbors, the French dependencies of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy to the south and the British Virgin Islands to the west.
Anguilla also includes some smaller islands, Scrub and Dog, and the Prickley Pear Cays, plus the tiny island of Sombrero, with a lighthouse important for regional shipping. Anguilla is located on the strategic Anegada Passage, a primary shipping route between the ATLANTIC OCEAN and the PANAMA CANAL, but lacking any substantial port or harbor, it has been unable to take advantage of this position. The terrain is mostly rocky, with sparse scrub and few trees. Some areas do produce small quantities of tobacco and vegetables or support cattle. Other areas are dedicated to commercial salt manufacture through evaporation ponds. The economy relies instead on tourism—with its excellent beaches and reefs—plus boat building and offshore financial services, though none of these industries produces sufficient revenue to allow the country to sever its ties with the UK, which provides heavy subsidies.
Originally named by the Spanish anguilla or “eel” because its long narrow shape, the island had no interest for the gold-seeking Spaniards. It was not until the 1650s that the first settlers claimed the island for Britain. Administered with St. Kitts and Nevis from 1825, it never developed a sugar economy like theirs, and when the three islands achieved internal self-rule in 1967, Anguilla declared its intentions to separate from the other two (located over 62 mi or 100 km to the southwest). The government, with British support, is attempting to develop its tourism industry but has been hampered by successive hurricane damage, notably Hurricane Luis in 1995.