Montserrat

About the territory

Montserrat was claimed first for Spain by Columbus in 1493, but first fell under English control in 1632. The Irish exiles who settled on the island established sugar plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1834. Recent history has been dominated by two natural disasters. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo struck the island and 90% of the island was damaged or destroyed. Subsequently, in 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted and entirely destroyed the island’s capital, Plymouth. The southern half of the island was rendered uninhabitable and an exclusion zone has been established for safety reasons.

Montserrat is located in the Caribbean and in the Leeward Islands. It has a latitude of 16° 45’ North and a longitude 60° 15’ West. It is around 480 km east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 48 km southwest of Antigua. The Island measures roughly 16km in length and 11 km in width, covering a total area of around 104km2. This area is slowly increasing due to the buildup of volcanic deposits on the southeast coast line. Average temperatures range from 25C in winter to 30C in summer whilst average rainfall is between 125 and 200cm, most of which falls between July and November.

The population of Montserrat was estimated to be 4,882 in 2011, a substantial reduction from the pre-volcanic eruption level of about 11,800. The economy was mainly based on tourism and agriculture, but this has been severely affected by the recent natural disasters.

Biodiversity

The Kew online herbarium database records about 700 plant species native to the island. Of the three species endemic to Montserrat one, (Xylosma serratum), is now regarded as being extinct. Another 70 species are restricted to the Lesser Antilles. The insect fauna has been relatively little studied but research in the Central Hills during 2000-2003 suggested that there were up to a thousand beetle species and that approximately 30% were previously undescribed and 10% are endemic.
There are 15 native and three introduced species of amphibians and reptiles. Two species of lizard, the Montserrat galliwasp (Diploglossus montisserrati) and the Montserrat anole (Anolis lividus) are endemic as is one species of snake, the Montserrat racer (Alsophis manselli). Much of the world population of the large frog, Mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) is on Montserrat and Dominica although the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) has now been found in both these populations and is having a severe impact (Edgar 2010).

There are two bird species of global concern, the Montserrat Oriole (Icterus oberi), endemic to the island, and the Forest Thrush (Cichlherminia lherminieri). The former is subject to an emergency rescue plan after the volcanic eruption reduced the population to 200-400 pairs and Montserrat may now be the global stronghold of the latter after declines on St Lucia and Guadaloupe. Twelve other restricted range species are listed for Montserrat although the Lesser Antillean Flycatcher (Myiarchus oberi) may not now occur on the island (Sanders 2006).

The ten species of bat that have been recorded on Montserrat include four regionally endemic bat species and the subspecies of the tree bat (Ardops nichollsi montserratensisis) considered rare.

Policy/Strategy background

Montserrat is a signatory to the St. George’s Declaration (SGD) of Principles for Environmental Sustainability in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), 2001. Under Principle 13 (Protect and Conserve Biological Diversity) Strategy 40 covers activities aimed at avoiding or minimising introductions and escapes of alien or living modified organisms with adverse impacts on other organisms, the environment or human health.


Thin strip of image show tree trunk and bark