Montserrat

About

Montserrat, one of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, lies 43 km SW of Antigua and 64 km NW of Guadeloupe. The volcanic island, 17 km long and 11 km wide, is mountainous, with streams and waterfalls amongst dense tropical rain forest. The rugged coastline offers no all-weather harbour, although several anchorages are sheltered by the island from the prevailing SE trade winds.

Archeological digs have revealed evidence that Amerindians lived on the island, mostly in coastal areas long before the arrival of Columbus in 1493. He named it after Santa Maria de Montserrate, the Mountain Abbey outside Barcelona in Spain, of which it reminded him.

In 1632 a group of exiled Irish people moved from St Kitts to settle on the island. They established plantations, including sugar and limes. St Patrick’s Day is still celebrated as a public holiday in Montserrat, and the Irish symbol of the shamrock plant is frequently used

On 18 July 1995, the Soufriere Hills volcano in the south of the island became active for the first time in 350 years. Increased pyroclastic activity killed 19 people on 25 June 1997. The capital, Plymouth, was destroyed after the Gages Wall was overtopped in August 1997. Since volcanic activity began, the human population on the island has declined from approximately 12,000 to about 4,500.  Whilst many have returned to the island as volcanic activity declined, there are still major challenges particularly relating to housing and employment, which limit the rate of this. A sustainable development plan has been developed for Montserrat, which integrates environmental aspects into the island’s redevelopment. Geophysicists constantly monitor volcanic activity and provide information to the general public. Everyday at noon, the alarm is tested and can be heard throughout the island.

This has had a massive impact on the economy, which up until then was based upon low-intensity but high quality tourism. The development of a new capital town at Little Bay is a key part of the rebuilding of the island, which aims to be finished by 2020.

Despite its small size, Montserrat supports at least 132 tree species, 59 species of birds and 13 mammals, including 9 species of bats. The Montserrat oriole is found nowhere else and seven other bird species endemic to the Lesser Antilles (including one with a subspecies endemic to Montserrat, the forest thrush Cichlherminia lherminieri) also occur, as does one other endemic to the Caribbean. Also restricted to Montserrat are the galliwasp lizard Diploglossus montisserrati and the endemic anole lizard Anolis lividus. The endangered mountain chicken Leptodactylus fallax (a frog) is found only on Montserrat and Dominica. Captive breeding programmes exist due to the impact initially of the volcano, but now mainly because of the chytridiomycosis fungus which is devastating amphibians populations globally and has recently reached both Dominica and Montserrat.

Montserrat is rich in invertebrate species, although few studies have been conducted. An inventory of the Centre Hills in 2005, which looked at the beetle fauna as well as other flora and fauna found 718 species in 63 families, with at least 81 possible single-island endemics and 53 nonnative species were found to exist. However, with an average body length of just 4.5mm, the vast majority of beetles (and other invertebrates) that exist within the Centre Hills go completely unnoticed except by a few experts.

The marine environment around Montserrat supports a wide variety of valuable marine habitats and species. Green turtle Chelonia mydas and hawksbill turtle Eretomochelys imbricate are common all year, while occasionally there are sightings of leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea and loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta. Migrating whales, considered to be seasonal visitors to Montserrat waters, include humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae and sperm whales Physeter catodon, occasionally passing by the west coast, and there have been rare sightings of the sei whale Balaenoptera borealis. Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus are seen regularly.

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE). 

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Video

Montserrat – wildlife and heritage

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE).