Montserrat

Map of 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 25°C in winter to 30°C in summer whilst average rainfall is between 125 and 200cm, most of which falls between July and November.

The population of Montserrat was 5,215 in the 2019 census, 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 has had a severe impact.

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.
The native Montserrat tarantula and Ash covered slopes of western Montserrat, in the Exclusion Zone.

L-R: The native Montserrat tarantula; Ash covered slopes of western Montserrat, in the Exclusion Zone.

Policy and legislation

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.

Montserrat has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the government of Montserrat will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016, and the 2016 review report can be found here.

Legislation is weak with regards biosecurity provisions, with very limited powers for post-border controls of invasive species. Permits are required for live animal import and animals from some origin countries banned. Powers exist with relation to the prevention of spread of diseases for plants (powers of inspection, entry, search, restriction of movement, seizure and destruction), and diseased imported plants and animals can be destroyed. All imported plants and animals are imported through specified ports or places of entry, and inspected.

In 2019 new regional OECS Bills were being developed in Plant Health, Animal Health and Plant Protection, and Montserrat was looking to revise its biosecurity legislation in-line to provide a regional framework. Biosecurity policy in early stages of drafting, to complement new biosecurity legislation.


Thin strip of image show tree trunk and bark