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Union Island is part of the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It lies about 200 km West South West of Barbados and is within view of the islands of Carriacou and the mainland of Grenada, which lie directly south.
Clifton and Ashton are the two principal towns. The island is home to approximately 3,000 residents. The official language is English, but French and German are spoken by some merchants in Clifton as well.
Due to its volcanic silhouette, it is also called the Tahiti of the West Indies. The island is approximately 3 miles long and 1 mile wide. Surrounding islands are Tobago Cays, Mayreau, Palm Island, and Petit Saint Vincent. The highest peak is Mount Taboi - 999 feet above sea level.
Union Island has a semi-arid climate – its hills are not high enough to produce the rainfall that transforms Grenada's northern coastal areas into rainforest. During the dry season, December/January through June, the only source of water on the island is the water stored during the rainy season (June–December).
After the original settlers, Arawak and Caribs, the island has been in the possession of French and English slave traders and plantation owners. They brought hundreds of Africans to the island, mostly from regions of Africa that are now Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, and Ghana. Sea Island Cotton was an important export crop – Sea Island cotton trees may still be found on the island — a good example can be found in the Bougainvillia complex beside the Anchorage Yacht Club in Clifton Harbour.
When slavery was abolished, people still relied on farming and fishing. As a result, a lot of men went to sea to work on freighters to support their families. Union Island was the centre of some political unrest in the late 1970s when a group of residents were in favour of secession from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and merger with southern neighbour Grenada. The insurrection was put down by forces of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Government.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent much of a year working on Union Island and completed a new Coast Guard Jetty and shore office at the mouth of Clifton Harbour.
Today the yacht services business and tourist day-chartering business provides a lot of jobs, there are numerous boutiques and supermarkets, bars and restaurants, internet cafes and a dive operator.
There are several hotels and guest houses on Union Island, as well as schools, churches and a small health clinic.
The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC), though U.S. dollars and Euros are widely accepted.
Telecommunications services are provided by Cable & Wireless which offers landline and wireless services (GSM). Digicel offers competing wireless services, including the network formerly operated by AT&T Wireless/Cingular. High Speed Internet services are provided by Cable and Wireless (512 kbit/s down, 128 kbit/s up). The island is connected to the Saint Vincent mainland by a series of digital microwave towers (through connections to neighbouring islands of Canouan and Bequia).
WiFi service in the harbour is offered through Internet Cafe-Clifton. Also through HotHotHot Spot, a service offered in Union through Erika's Marine Services, is also offered in Bequia in the Grenadines, as well as Dominica and Antigua (both Falmouth and English Harbours and Jolly Harbour). Other computer and electronic support is also offered by The Internet Cafe — Clifton.
Local piers and docks earn money by renting their open space to tourists who have chartered sailboats or yachts, charging them by boat length.
In the middle of Clifton harbour sits Happy Island, a man-made island featuring a bar.
Ferry services operate between Clifton and Saint Vincent, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday on the MS Barracouda and the MS Gemstar. Ferry services also operate bi-weekly between Ashton and Hillsborough, Carriacou (Grenada) on Mondays and Thursdays.
The Common Opossum, locally known as "manicou", can usually only be seen at the end of the dry season. Common Caribbean birds like the Bananaquit are found on the island, as is the ubiquitous Blackbird. A recent book (2006) on the fauna of Mustique, a neighbouring island, is an excellent reference.
The tourism industry plays an increasing role in Union Island's economy. A large number of yachts visit the island each year, often on their way to the nearby Tobago Cays. There are a number of local guest houses, including St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, the Anchorage Yacht Club, and a small hotel at the Bougainvilla in Clifton.
Turtle Watch is a new and exciting event on the Island. This event is conducted by the Union Island Environmental Attackers (UIEA), a local environmental NGO that has been very instrumental in preserving the clean environment on Union Island. Turtle Watching is done during the Turtle Closed Season which starts on March 1 to July 31. The Closed Season is the period in which the catching of or killing of turtles for consumption is forbidden. Anyone visiting the Island can contact the UIEA or Roseman Adams, the Island's only Certified Turtle Handler, to experience this breathtaking event. All that is required is a small donation.
Another important tourism spot is the many bars and restaurants found on the island. One such popular spot is Olivia's Restaurant and Bar found in the town of Clifton opposite the newly installed gas station. It boasts unique local food found on the island with a touch of Caribbean flavor and dishes ranging from the famous Roti from Trinidad to ground provisions. Also provided is a well-stocked bar. At night, the restaurant is transformed into a party hall with an inhouse DJ for tourists and locals alike.
A key feature of the Union Island region is the Tobago Cays National Marine Park. The Tobago Cays are a group of small uninhabited islands surrounded by reefs– snorkelling, scuba diving and swimming with sea turtles are all favourite pastimes of visitors. Entry to the park (for visitors) costs EC$10/person/day – park fees can be paid in Clifton at the Customs Offices, the Tobago Cays Marine Park office at the waterfront or in the park itself from park rangers.
The Union Island Sailing Club sponsors two sailing dinghies that participate in local regattae. The Club is trying to help Unionites rediscover the sailing skills of earlier generations. The two boats, Unity One and Unity Two, are frequent winners of regional sailing events.
In recent years Union Island's tourism industry has suffered from a spate of crime against tourists and scam artists. Although, the island benefits from a tight-knit community no longer found in most parts of the Caribbean and any crimes tend to be petty theft.
Easter is a big event on Union Island. Festivities take place in both Ashton and Clifton throughout Holy Week in a festival called "Easterval." Book early as accommodations can be hard to find.
In late May, at the end of the dry season (Union is a desert island), a significant event is "the Maroon" - a celebration which is a day-long affair beginning before dawn and lasting late into the night. The Maroon is known for its drums, dancing and plentiful food. These are meant to entice the Gods to bring on the rains.
- Fr. Mark de Silva & Dianne Wilson; 2006; A Natural History of Mustique: A Field Guide to the Common Flora, Fauna and Marine Species, Mustique Company Ltd.
- Radio Grenadines official website
- Travel guide of Union Island with street map of the town
- Tobago Cays Marine Park official website
- Friends of Union Island - general information