Volcanic Management in Montserrat

Montserrat belongs to the Lesser Antilles island chain; a series of volcanic islands formed by subduction of the North American plate beneath the Caribbean plate.

The island of Montserrat was formed by the Soufriere Hills volcano. The eruption stated in July 1995, and before 2005 had spewed out nearly 0.5km^3 of magma.

The potential hazard on Montserrat was fairly low- although the impacts on the population were huge, it was a small population, and they are still well equipped for evacuations if the situation becomes worse. However, the vulnerability was high due to the small area of the island available for people to move out to before any international evacuations could be planned.


The main causes of hazards have been pyroclastic flows, tephra falls, debris avalanches and occasional lava flows.

In 1997, 19 people were killed when they returned to their homes in Plymouth, which they had been evacuated from previously.

The entire southern side of the island had a thick layer of ash on top of it, such that many of the plants were entirely covered.

Many people emigrated from the island after the initial evacuation. Many of these people permanently moved to the UK, the USA or other nearby islands. The initial population was 10,728 in 1990, which had decreased down to just 6,409  people in 2000.

Outmigration had a huge impact on the country. The loss of people meant there was a lack of workers, and thus many businesses suffered huge losses. The lack of customers had a similar effect. The sense of community was lost and many were disheartened at the loss of old friends or acquaintances. A disproportionate number of those who left were the more educated citizens, leaving a less skilled population behind.

The eruption itself crippled the economy. The ash destroyed much of the farmland. The destroyed land also reduced tourism hugely – and tourism was a huge factor in the economy, to which 40,000 visitors were drawn annually.

2/3 of the island is uninhabitable.

The roughly 6500 people living in the south lost everything but what they could pack in their rucksacks quickly.

Many who evacuated north had only low quality accommodation available. Often people would be packed into small rooms with bunk beds and people they had not met before, with 6 bedrooms in a house. There was frequently little or no sanitation, and no electricity or gas available.


The people living in the southern half of the island were evacuated northwards. This plan backfired somewhat as half the population emigrated overseas that had been displaced.

The infrastructure is being rebuilt. A new airport has been completed.

The UK and EU have spent about £200 million on regeneration projects.

Since 1995, scientists have started carefully monitoring the volcano, and updating the public on any changes, and, where possible, warning people as to what impacts there were likely to be. Thanks to measurements of seismic activity, volcanic gases and ground deformation, they have warned people early of pyroclastic flows and allowed preparations so people could evacuate.


Thousands of people arrive in the Maldives annually, generating 75% of the country’s economy. Outside resorts, visitors can only spend short amounts of time on inhabited islands, to cut down contact with a stricter Muslim population.

As in many cultures, tourists generally have very different sets of values and opinions to local people, so remaining together could either upset both parties or cause cultural dilution- both options are best avoided.

Locals are often very poor and resent the rich tourists. Most of the money brought into the country is brought in on package holidays, which, although easy for the customer, are often more expensive for them, and also cause economic leakage- most of the money made from them is not kept in the host country.

The food market is put under pressure, particularly fishermen and farmers due to tourists’ demands. These pressures extend even further as fishermen turn to the reefs for fish supplies, while tourists want to watch them under more natural circumstances. Tourists produce a lot of waste which is difficult to get rid of on an island; the waste is then dumped out of site… near the local people’s homes.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

On the 20th April 2010 an oil spill started in the Gulf of Mexico, which was still releasing oil on the 29th of September that year.

This is the largest accidental marine oil spill in US history.

11 people died in the accident; in addition 500 turtles died and 64 dolphins died. 3,000 dead birds were found but there were doubtless more killed. There are no estimates on how many fish died. If the accident had occurred further out, in a less fragile ecosystem, then the impacts would have been less severe environmentally at least.

210 x 10^6 barrels of oil were released.

US$2.5 x 10^9 were lost on fishing with 78,597 square miles not allowed for fishing. Hotels close to the accident saw a big increase in business due to people  arriving to help clean up the spill. A total of US£23 x 10^9 of damage was estimated to have been caused.

Further reading: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special_reports/oil_disaster