ERUPTIONS DEVASTATE HILL FOREST HOME OF MONTSERRAT ORIOLES19/03/2007 00:00:00
A Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust local team on the Caribbean island of Montserrat has reported widespread devastation following volcanic activity in May. In their first detailed assessment of the stricken area since the collapse of the dome in the Centre Hills region on May 13th, Durrell’s team say that over 1000 square meters of Centre Hills forest have been badly impacted.
In the worst affected areas, tumbling boulders, vast mudflows and thick, superheated ash have left behind swathes of destruction, with seedlings and saplings destroyed, and larger shrubs and trees left leafless and broken.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust was initially called in by Montserrat's government in 1997 after a major eruption in the Soufriere Hills in the south destroyed 60% of the hill forest habitat of the island’s national bird, the Montserrat oriole, a critically threatened, single-island, endemic species confined to Montserrat. Durrell has been heavily involved in conservation on the island ever since, with much being done to try to reverse the decline not only in orioles but also in other endangered species such as the ‘mountain chicken’, Montserrat’s giant frog.
Sadly the latest eruption was in the previously intact Centre Hills, home to the largest remaining population of orioles, and causing grave concern for their plight. With a breeding season that runs from April to September, the orioles’ main nesting sites are in succulent Heliconia plants which have been devastated – their fleshy leaves unable to stand the heat and weight of ash.
The ‘mountain chicken’ frogs have also been hard hit. Four of eighteen mountain chicken transects under study in the area were badly damaged in the eruption, including one at Killiecrankie which was completely destroyed. Durrell’s team found numbers of mountain chickens which appeared to be blinded, either by ash or by acid rain that fell, and such frogs will now almost certainly become prey to rats and other feral animals.
It will be many months before more is known on how the mountain chicken and Montserrat oriole have fared, and in the meantime, Durrell continues to look after the small populations of both species which have been successfully bred in captivity at its 31 acre wildlife haven in Jersey as a precautionary measure.
Courtesy of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.