The Caribbean island creating coral reefs

NatureAntigua and Barbuda

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Twenty years ago, the island of Montserrat was devastated by a series of volcanic eruptions. What no-one expected was the life that it would create just under the surface of the Caribbean sea...

Something strange is happening just below the surface of the Caribbean sea. In the waters surrounding the island of Montserrat, life is re-emerging on reefs in an area where most believed all hope was lost.

Marine life rebounding

Marine life rebounding

It's something of a miracle, given that just 20 years ago the island was virtually destroyed when the Soufrière Hills volcano, which had lain dormant for centuries, erupted in spectacular style. It buried the capital Plymouth in 12 metres of mud, destroyed its only airport and left the south side of the island entirely uninhabitable.

In recognition of the tragedy, the British government granted Montserratians full residency rights in the UK, allowing them to emigrate if they wished. Over half the population left the island. Amid struggles for housing and continuing eruptions, they were given full citizenship in 2002.

To this day, the south side - now known as the exclusion zone - is out of bounds to locals and visitors. The Soufrière Hills volcano periodically covers the area in plumes of ash, endangering the island's endemic species and forcing its dwindling population exclusively to the north.

So it comes as no surprise that marine biologists are excitedly tracking the progress of what can only be described as an accidental marine park. Tentatively at first but now more confidently, the island's reefs are getting back their coral covering and welcoming back tropical fish populations.

Species ranging from reef fish and cooper sweepers, to spiny lobsters, to coral sea plumes are coming back to populate these waters and with them, diving companies are springing up on the island again. They offer the chance to see these fledgling communities close up, as well as volunteering programs to help protect the reef from future damage.

Further out, the island's waters are also home to dolphins, pipefish, eagle rays, green turtles and nurse sharks.

Progress is still slow but marine biologists are noticing more and more signs of hope, especially for the reef's coral covers which currently stands at 10-25%. "Many Caribbean reefs once had more than 50% coral cover and now have less than 5%!" explains Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in National Geographic. "On Montserrat, many of the corals are babies, a sign of regrowth and recovery."

She also reports that there are many young and diverse reef fish communities, both signs that the reef here will be more resilient and able to rebuild if necessary. It's an attribute that she also gives to the Montserratian people, committed to rebuilding their island as well as the ocean that sustains them.


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Posted on 19/02/2016 32 shares
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