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Saint Kitts & Nevis - Geography

The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are part of the Leeward Islands group of the Lesser Antilles. They are located about 113 kilometers south of Anguilla and 300 kilometers southeast of Puerto Rico. A narrow strait 3.2 kilometers wide separates the two islands. Total land area is 269 square kilometers, which makes the nation about the size of San Antonio, Texas.

Geologically, St. Kitts and Nevis are hilly or mountainous and volcanic in origin, representing adjacent peaks in a chain of partially submerged volcanic mountains. Both islands are subject to subterranean seismographic activity, which sometimes results in earthquakes. Lava deposits on the windward side of St. Kitts attest to the area's volcanic past.

St. Kitts, the larger of the two islands at 168 square kilometers, is shaped like an oval with a long neck and a small peninsula at its southeastern end. The peninsula is flat and consists of salt ponds and white beaches. Towering mountains extend through the central part of the island, running from southeast to northwest. Mount Liamuiga, a dormant volcanic cone with an elevation of 1,156 meters, is the highest point on the island. Brimstone Hall, on the southwest side of the island, is 229 meters high and is composed of volcanic rock covered with a layer of limestone.

St. Kitts' fertile soil is well watered, has adequate drainage, and usually requires little or no irrigation. Forested areas cover 4,500 hectares of land and include both rain forests at the lower altitudes and evergreen forests above 250 meters. There are 7,700 hectares of agriculturally productive land, much of the soil consisting of a clay base. An acute erosion problem persisted into the late 1980s on certain parts of the island. Erosion was a result of a mineral deficiency caused by a lack of crop rotation, overgrazing, and inadequate intercropping.

Cone-shaped Nevis is ten kilometers wide, thirteen kilometers long, and has a total land area of ninety-three square kilometers. Nevis Peak, in the center of a chain of mountains, is the highest point on the island at 965 meters. Its rugged, heavily forested slopes rise gently from the sea. The soil on Nevis Peak is weathered; soils everywhere on Nevis are generally less fertile than those on St. Kitts and have experienced much worse erosion. Water is plentiful in the higher elevations. There is no rainy season on Nevis, but showers can be torrential. There are several hot mineral springs on the island.

Land cover in lowland areas has changed dramatically over the second half of the 20th century. Cultivated land areas on the islands declined 60 to 100 percent from about 1945 to 2000. Meanwhile, forest cover increased by 50 to 950%. This trend will likely continue on islands where sugar production has dominated in the past, because growing sugar cane for sugar is no longer profitable on Caribbean islands.

Former agricultural lands in lowland areas could provide lands for new reserves of the drier forest types that have re-established in some areas. Even though the new dry forests are secondary forests, they are important to conserve, because dry forests are greatly underrepresented in the islands’ reserve systems.

The land-use history of these islands provides insight for countries that, in the current agricultural commodity boom, are currently clearing vast tracts of old-growth tropical forests for agriculture, possibly not recognizing that eventually such commodities can become unprofitable with supply or demand changes. Insights from the Caribbean sugar cane experience might encourage these countries to hedge against a future collapse of commodity agriculture with a network of the ancient forest reserves. Interestingly, these islands now have the potential to sequester substantial carbon as forest regrowth continues; however, there is also a potential for once again growing sugar cane if the demand for ethanol increases.

The islands are mountainous in the center, with peaks rising to 3,700 feet, then the topography tapers to sea level. Forests cover 42.3% of the surface area. No human activity is permitted above the 1,000-foot level. No deforestation occurred during the period. However, soil erosion has become an issue since the demise of the sugar industry in 2005. The industry used earthen drains to divert heavy rainwater runoff into the cane fields. The cessation of this activity is causing more silt to flow through residential areas and major roads to the sea.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2017 18:55:28 ZULU