The Lesser Antilles islands are a group of small islands that make up part of the West Indies in the Caribbean. The Lesser Antilles are divided up into two groups, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands.
The chain of the Lesser Antilles islands begins in the Virgin Islands, and wraps in a southerly direction around the eastern Caribbean. The chain ends near Trinidad and Tobago, at South America. Some of the more familiar islands in the Lesser Antilles include:
- St. Martin
- St. Lucia
The two groups of the islands, Windward and Leeward, trace back to early Spanish colonization in the area which began in the 15th century. The islands that flow in a southerly direction from Dominica to Grenada are the Windward Islands. They get their name because they are exposed to the northeast trade winds. The Leeward Islands are made up of the ones that move in a westward direction from Guadalupe to the Virgin Islands. Since these islands are away from the winds, or on the "lee" side, the name Leeward Islands was coined.
Since these islands have gone through centuries of deforestation and extensive agricultural use, they are in a critical and endangered ecoregion status. Because the lines are blurred in regard to property and ownership rights, it is hard to enforce laws on unlawful cutting of trees or other forms of environmental vandalism.