The Windward Islands include four independent nations: Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, as well as Guadeloupe and Martinique, which are Départements of France . All the islands were at one time colonized by the French and even those which eventually became British still retain French names for many of the towns and villages. Kwéyòl, or Créole, is widely spoken, while there are French influences in the old colonial buildings, with gingerbread fretwork and jalousie shutters. The islands are a series of volcanic peaks jutting out of the sea and forming a barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Sulphur fumaroles and hot springs can be found on the biggest islands where the volcanoes are dormant but not dead and even under the sea. There are large areas of lush rainforest with national parks protecting places of biodiversity or natural beauty on land or underwater. The islands are a haven for birds with lots of endemic species although several of the parrots are endangered, while the sea is teeming with fish and other marine life including whales and dolphins. Hikers and birdwatchers are spoilt for choice in the larger islands of the Windwards, and yachtsmen are similarly blessed when navigating among the smaller Grenadines, one of the world’s most popular sailing destinations. Tourism is now the leading economic activity with visitors appreciating the beaches as well as the rainforest. Bananas, the traditional crop grown by small farmers and their families are still an important source of income on the Windward Islands, but agriculture is diversifying with other tropical fruits and flowers being exported.
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