Abaco Islands

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Coordinates: 26°28′N 77°05′W / 26.467°N 77.083°W / 26.467; -77.083

Abaco
Districts of Abacos Islands
The five administrative districts of the Abacos
Geography
Location Atlantic Ocean
Archipelago Bahamas
Major islands Great Abaco Island, Little Abaco Island
Area 2,009 km2 (776 sq mi)[1]
Country
The Bahamas Bahamas
Island Abaco
Largest city Marsh Harbour (pop. 5,728)
Demographics
Population 16,692 (as of 2000)
Density 9.9 /km2 (25.6 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Blacks, Whites, Mixed

The Abaco Islands lie in the northern Bahamas and comprise the main islands of Great Abaco and Little Abaco, together with the smaller Wood Cay, Elbow Cay, Lubbers Quarters Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Great Guana Cay, Castaway Cay, Man-o-War Cay, Stranger's Cay, Umbrella Cay, Walker's Cay, Little Grand Cay, and Moore's Island. Administratively, the Abaco Islands constitute five of the 31 Districts of the Bahamas: North Abaco, Central Abaco, South Abaco, Moore's Island, and Hope Town. Towns in the islands include Marsh Harbour, Hope Town, Treasure Cay, Coopers Town, and Cornishtown.


History[edit]

The Abaco Islands were first inhabited by the Lucayans. The first European settlers of the islands were Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution who arrived in 1783, as was also the case at Cat Island. These original Loyalist settlers made a modest living by salvaging wrecks, by building small wooden boats, and by basic farming.

Pre-Columbian and Spanish eras[edit]

The original inhabitants of the Bahamas before the arrival of Europeans were the Lucayans. They were a branch of the Taínos who inhabited most of the Caribbean islands at the time. The Lucayans were the first inhabitants of the Americas encountered by Christopher Columbus. The Spanish started seizing Lucayans as slaves within a few years of Columbus's arrival, and they had all been removed from the Bahamas by 1520. After the extermination of the Lucayans, there were no known permanent settlements in the Bahamas for approximately 130 years.[2]

Spain laid claim to the Bahamas after Columbus’ discovery of the islands but showed little interest in them. The Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci spent four months exploring the Bahamas in 1499–1500. Juan de la Cosa's first map of the New World, printed in 1500, shows the Abaco Islands with the name Habacoa. The map in Peter Martyr's first edition of 'De Orbe Novo' in 1511 shows the islands of the Bahamas but does not name them. The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed on Abaco in 1513. The Turin map of 1523 clearly shows Abaco, now named Iucayonique. This remained the most accurate map of the area until the first English maps of the Bahamas were produced. Both John White's map of 1590 and Thomas Hood's map of 1592 show the islands, as did a map produced in 1630 by the Dutchman de Laet.[2] At this time the Spanish empire in the Caribbean was focused on Havana. Spain regarded the, now depopulated, Bahamas as unprofitable and treacherous to navigate;- in 1593 a Spanish fleet of 17 ships was wrecked off Abaco. Also, English and French pirates and freebooters had began preying on Spanish vessels north of Cuba. A Spanish ordinance of 1561 forbade any merchant ship to enter the Bahamas without an escort.[2] Ownership of the Bahamas passed back and forth between Spain and Great Britain for 150 years, until British ownership was established by treaty in 1783, when Great Britain exchanged East Florida to Spain, receiving the Bahamas in return.

British colonial era[edit]

In the summer of 1783 about 1500 Loyalists left New York and moved to Abaco.[3] They planned and built the town of Carleton, probably present day Hope Town.[2] Disputes over food distribution lead some of these settlers to found a rival town at Marsh Harbour. Conflict between disgruntled settlers and the officials responsible for helping became a constant feature of life on the islands. Sea island cotton was first sown by the settlers in 1785 and although both 1786 and 1787 produced good crops, the 1788 crop was blighted by caterpillars.[3] Other settlements on the islands were Green Turtle Cay, Man-o-War Cay, and Sandy Point.[1]

1970s[edit]

In June 1971 the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Lynden Pindling announced his government's plans for independence from Britain. On Abaco, the Greater Abaco Council was formed to lobby for continued British rule. In July 1971 the Greater Abaco Council submitted a petition to the Queen asking that Abaco become a 'completely self-contained and fully self-supporting' territory under British jurisdiction.[4] In August 1971 the British Government refused to consider the petition. The September 1972 general election in the Bahamas showed a clear majority for independence across the country. However, on Abaco the results were less clear cut. The pro-independence Progressive Liberal Party won one of Abacos two seats by a small majority, while the Free National Movement, who opposed early independence, won the other seat by a large majority. Starting in December 1971, all party talks took place in London to draft a new constitution for the Bahamas. The Greater Abaco Council sent representatives to London for a 'collateral conference' to run alongside the official talks. The British refused to consider making Abaco independent separately from the rest of the Bahamas. The GAC accepted this and the group ceased activity at the end of 1972.[4] Shortly afterwards, Errington Watkins, the Free National Movement representative for the Abaco-Marsh Harbour seat, formed a successor group, the Council for a Free Abaco. A second petition was organised and signed by half the registered voters on the island. Errington Watkins took this petition to London in May 1973, hoping to influence the Bahamas Independence Order then being debated in the British Parliament. A sympathetic MP, Ronald Bell introduced an amendment that would have excluded Abaco from an independent Bahamas and have the islands remain a British colony.[5] This amendment was defeated in the House of Commons and the Bahamas Independence Order was approved on May 22 1973. Three weeks later a similar motion on Abaco was defeated in the House of Lords. A last-ditch attempt by Errington Watkins to pass a resolution in the Bahamas House of Assembly calling for a United Nations supervised referendum on Abaco was easily defeated in June 1973[4] and the Bahamas became independent on July 10, 1973.

Abaco Independence Movement[edit]

In August 1973, shortly after the Bahamas became independent, the Abaco Independence Movement was formed as a political party whose stated aim was self-determination for Abaco within a federal Bahamas. AIM was formed by Chuck Hall and Bert Williams.[6] They sought support from the U.S. Libertarian Party and an American financier named Michael Oliver, who through his libertarian Phoenix Foundation agreed to support AIM financially. Mitchell WerBell, an American arms-dealer and mercenary, also supported AIM. His talk of an armed insurrection and attempts to recruit mercenaries to go to Abaco greatly discredited AIM.[7] The Progressive Liberal Party victory in the 1977 general election, effectively marked the end of the movement.[6]

Demographics[edit]

Topographic map of Abaco Islands.

The combined population of the islands is about 13 000, and the principal settlement and capital is Marsh Harbour. The racial make up is about 50% white and 50% black.

In addition to Marsh Harbour there are several other settlements on Great Abaco including Cherokee Sound, Coopers Town, Crossing Rock, Green Turtle Cay, Hope Town, Little Harbour, Rocky Point, Sandy Point, Spring City, Treasure Cay, Wilson City, and Winding Bay.

Surrounding Great Abaco are several smaller islands known as cays (pronounced key), many of which are popular with tourists visiting the islands. A few notable cays include Castaway Cay (formerly Gorda Cay), Elbow Cay, Tilloo Cay, the Grand Cays, Great Guana Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Moore's Island, and Walker's Cay.[8]

Activities[edit]

The islands are a noted base for sailing activities in the Bahamas, as well as resort tourism.

The Bahamas National Trust maintains six national parks in the Abacos Islands.[9] These are

  • Pelican Cays Land & Sea Park
  • Abaco National Park
  • Black Sound Cay National Reserve
  • Walker's Cay National Park
  • Tilloo Cay National Reserve
  • Fowl Cays National Reserve

The Great Abaco Family Fitness weekend takes place every March in Treasure Cay, attracting both domestic and international tourism. The events include an open water swim, sprint & Olympic triathlons, a kids' race, a paddleboarding clinic and race, a cheerleading/dance clinic, and a 5k/10k fun run/walk.

The red and white striped lighthouse at Hope Town in the Abaco Islands, is a noted local landmark.

Transportation[edit]

Marsh Harbour Airport and Treasure Cay Airport serve the islands. Marsh Harbour Airport was the site of a plane crash that took the lives of nine people, among them was R&B singer Aaliyah, on August 25, 2001.[10] Outer islands can be reached by ferries operated by Alburys Ferry Service and Green Turtle Ferry. Bahamas Fast Ferry operates between Nassau and Sandy Point on the southern end of Abaco. On the main island cars and boat are available. While on some of the smaller cays, golf carts and boats are the main mode of transportation, along with bikes or scooters.

Economy[edit]

The Abaco Islands have been long famous for shipbuilding.[11] Their chief exports are lumber, fruit, and pearl shells. Crawfish (Caribbean spiny lobster) are exported to the United States. Pulpwood is shipped to a Florida plant for processing. Tourism is a major portion of the economy.[1]

Environment[edit]

The Abaco Islands boast important natural areas, especially important coral reef areas, barrier-island terrestrial habitats and large forests of Bahamian Pine (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis), some of which still contain old-growth trees. As development expands in the Abacos, local groups have begun to fight for the preservation of their natural resources, such as in the development case on Great Guana Cay.[12]

Notable species of birds include the Bahamian subspecies of Cuban Amazon (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis), which exists only in Cuba, the Cayman Islands, the southern Bahamas and Abaco.[13] This population is unique in that it nests in limestone solution cavities rather than tree cavities.[14] Abaco is also known for its intact elkhorn and staghorn coral structures, and for its critically endangered breed of feral horse, the Abaco Barb.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Bower, Paul (1997). "Abaco Islands". In Johnston, Bernard. Collier's Encyclopedia. I A to Ameland (First ed.). New York, NY: P.F. Collier. p. 4. 
  2. ^ a b c d Michael Craton (1962, reprinted 1969). A History of the Bahamas. Collins. 
  3. ^ a b Maya Jasanoff (2011). Liberty's Exiles, The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire. Harper Press. ISBN 978-0-00-718010-3. 
  4. ^ a b c Rick Lowe (July 2010). "Forgotten Dreams: A People's desire to chart their own course in Abaco, Bahamas Part One". The Nassau Institute. Retrieved 2012-12-15. 
  5. ^ "Bahamas Independence Bill". Hansard. May 1973. Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  6. ^ a b Rick Lowe (October 2010). "Forgotten Dreams: A People's desire to chart their own course in Abaco, Bahamas Part Two". The Nassau Institute. Retrieved 2012-12-15. 
  7. ^ St. George, Andrew (February 1975). "The Amazing New-Country Caper". Esquire. 
  8. ^ Diving in Abaco Bahamas, Retrieved November 6, 2013
  9. ^ Bahamas National Trust (2012). "The National Parks of The Bahamas". BNT. Retrieved October 17, 2012. 
  10. ^ NTSB Identification: MIA01RA225 (Report). National Transportation Safety Board. http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief2.aspx?ev_id=20010907X01905&ntsbno=MIA01RA225&akey=1. Retrieved June 11, 2009.
  11. ^ "Man-O-War’s Boat Building Heritage". Man-O-War Cay Museum. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Teresa Castle, Chronicle Foreign Service (2006-02-13). "Reef defenders in Bahamas sue over mega-resort / S.F. developer sees Baker's Bay as model for sensitive construction on fragile islands". Sfgate.com. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  13. ^ "Rose-throated Parrot (Amazona leucocephala)". Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB). December 2006. 
  14. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Amazona leucocephala". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 

External links[edit]