Plymouth – the Caribbean’s modern day Pompeii

Plymouth was the capital of Montserrat, with a population of approximately 4000 people. The town and the island’s main source of income was residential tourism, an offshore medical school and Sir George Martin’s famous recording facility, Air Studios. But in July of 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano awoke from its 400 year slumber, erupting fresh lava. By August 1995, the first evacuation of local residents occurred due to volcanic ash, and by June 25, 1997, the town was fully evacuated. On this date, pyroclastic flows occurred in all directions, and the main business centre in the town of Plymouth was completely destroyed. 

Eighty percent of Plymouth is now buried under 30ft (10m) of ash, and with the only airport and the two major hotels in the new exclusion zone completely destroyed, tourism died. 

On Tuesday June 7, 2016, I was given a tour of Plymouth by Sun Lea, of Sun’s Montserrat Island Tours. Sun grew up on Montserrat.  His first hand personal account of his life and those of local Montserrations, before and after the eruption is both fascinating and tragic. 

Sun started the tour with a visit to the  Montserrat Volcano Observatory where we viewed a  documentary that described the history and impact of the eruption. The film was created by his father David Lea, a videographer who has lived with his wife and family on Montserrat for 36 years. David produced the film Price of Paradise which documents the story of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The film contains powerful images of the eruption and the town of Plymouth before and after the pyroclastic flows. 

With the images of the volcanic eruption fresh in our minds, our visit into Plymouth afterwards felt even more surreal. The devastation caused by the pyroclastic lava flows was all around us as Sun took us to view parts of the town. Steel frames that once supported buildings had bent due to the heat, boulders wedged themselves under structures, and buildings laid buried under layers of lava flows and mud.

 We toured what was left of Montserrat Springs Hotel. What I saw reminded me of life abandoned, but also frozen in time.

Sun’s personal account of places he grew up around as a child and adult, which has since been destroyed makes this tour of Plymouth a must do trip to appreciate and understand the very recent history of Montserrat and the people who live here. 

For more information, please visit Montserrat Island Tours

And for a place to stay while visiting Montserrat, check out Gingerbread Hill Montserrat


Dive Against Debris and World Oceans Day 2016

I’ve always been an advocate for the environment, but even more so now I’ve learned how to scuba dive. In my fourth and final week here on Montserrat as a volunteer with Coral Cay Conservation, I’ve been fortunate to take part in several events, for the first time ever, to help protect and preserve our marine environment; Project AWARE‘s Dive Against Debris on Monday June 6, 2016  and World Oceans Day on Wednesday June 8, 2016. 

 World Oceans Day was introduced first in 1992, and occurs on June 8 every year.  It was officially recognised by the United Nations (UN) in 2008. The day aims to raise awareness of the importance of the oceans as a source of food, oxygen and medicine, but also the challenges humanity faces to protect it.

Our oceans are the largest living space on Earth and are important for many reasons;

  • Oceans generate so much of the oxygen we breathe
  • Oceans feed us
  • Oceans regulate the earth’s climate
  • Oceans clean the water we drink
  • Oceans offer a pharmacopoeia of medicines

Unfortunately our oceans around the world face many challenges that threaten not only the species that live within, but humanity’s own survival. There are many threats to our oceans today including:

  • Unsustainable fishing of which 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or overfished, threatening ocean life and it’s habitats.
  • Inadequate protection. Oceans might cover over 70% of our planet surface, but less than 5% of our oceans are currently protected.
  • Tourism and development means coastlines and beaches are more populated, increasing the threats on marine life, especially pollution.
  • Pollution not only affects the food chain of the marine world, but humans as well. Most land pollutants such as pesticides, fertilisers, industrial chemicals, sewage, garbage and plastics all eventually end up in our oceans.
  • Climate change has increased sea temperatures and sea levels, affecting specifies distribution, increasing coral bleaching and changing marine habitats.

    This year’s World Oceans Day theme is Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet. Both events I was part of focused on marine debris that threatens our oceans today. 

    Marine debris includes not only plastic based materials, but polystyrene cups and packaging, rubber (boots and tyres), metals (oil drums), glass, fishing lines and gear. Lost and discarded fishing gear entangles whales, seals and most turtles. Many marine creatures die from ingesting marine debris which damages and blocks their digestive systems.

    The most frequently found item in beach cleanups is pieces of plastic, with other popular items to include plastic foam, plastic utensils, pieces of glass and cigarette butts. 60 to 80% of marine debris is made up of plastic, with 6.5 million tonnes of plastic being discarded by ships alone.

    Dive Against Debris at Carr’s Bay, Montserrat

    Our team here at Coral Cay Conservation were part of  Montserrat Island Dive Centre‘s monthly debris and beach clean up at Carr’s Bay on Monday June 6, 2016. This bay has been adopted by Charley and her dive team at Montserrat Island Dive Centre as part of Project Aware‘s Adopt a Dive Site. 

    June 2016 marks the team’s seventh consecutive clean up which involves both a beach clean sweep and Project Aware’s Dive against Debris.

    Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris was created by divers for divers. This is a global, underwater survey of marine debris that aims to not only remove debris, but prevent harm to marine life and influence policy changes and prevention.  The debris collected is documented and the data recorded and reported.

    The event kicked off at Carr’s Bay around 9.30am with Charley briefing us on the debris dive. We had a few extra items with us for this dive including a mesh bag to collect the debris and gloves to protect our hands.

    Eight divers entered the shores of Carr’s Bay to Dive Against Debris.

    We spent the next hour collecting marine debris around the reef and off the ocean floor. 

    We collected a total of 16kg of debris that included 13 bags of plastic, 27 pieces of plastic bottles, 31 plastic pieces of cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons, 32 different pieces of plastic fragments, 152 aluminium beverage cans and 29 cans (food, juice or other). Other items included a car part, a toothbrush, fishing line and a cigarette lighter. 

    We only collected a fraction of marine debris that was under water at Carr’s Bay. Charley and her team at Montserrat Island Dive Centre have been diving for debris at this site for the past seven consecutive months. You can view just how much marine debris has been collected  by Charley, as well as divers around the world on the Dive Against Debris map.  

    The second event occurred on Wednesday June 8, 2016 at Brades Nursery on Montserrat. Led by our field base manager Susan, staff and volunteers performed a puppet show about the marine reef creatures of Carr’s Bay whose daily lives were being affected by all the marine debris on the reef. 
    There is so much we can do to protect our oceans and the marine creatures that live in it, from reducing our use of plastic to simply taking all our rubbish with us and putting it securely in bins. We can choose seafood sourced from sustainable fishing practices, use environmentally friendly chemicals and sunscreens, and always look and not touch all the marine life we see when visiting the sea. 

    Happy World Ocean’s Day, 2016!