In its heyday, Montserrat was self-sustaining with an economy based on villa tourism, light manufacturing, agriculture, and medical education. More recently, Montserrat’s story has been told in the press as one of devastation and despair due to the volcanic eruption that made the town of Plymouth and surrounding areas inhabitable in 1995.
With Easter just passed, the theme of renewal and resurrection is fitting. By 2020 the island hopes to return to a state of self-sufficiency. The development of a town in Little Bay is a major part of that progress. In 2014 Montserrat achieved the highest growth in tourism in the Caribbean region at 37.9%, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), despite from relatively low levels. Growth in 2015 is expected to increase by at least 10%. Not bad for an island with one hotel!
Montserrat: New beach created from volcanic ash. Photo: ©Ursula Barzey.
Windstar Cruises, recently named as World’s Best Small Ship Cruise Line by Condé Nast Traveler, opened their 2016 voyages for sale last month. The itinerary features a stop at Little Bay, Montserrat, where Windstar will be one of a select number of small cruise liners to make regular calls.
The Soufriere Hills Volcano is part of the tourist attractions that also include other environmental activities such as nature tours where you can see beautifully rich flora, fauna, and endangered wildlife species like the Montserrat Oriole Bird and Mountain Chicken (a large frog) unique to the island. The volcano is no longer a symbol of fear; but an attraction – signifying rebirth, renewal, and opportunity. Twenty years on, nature is taking charge again and changing the script.
Staying true to the island’s heritage – the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, with its rich, lush green hills and historical connection to Ireland, is transforming the output from a natural disaster into natural green energy. What created the crisis in 1995 may be the key to the island’s future. This hasn’t happened by accident – the Montserrat Sustainable Development Plan 2008-2020, which outlines a number of areas that need to be addressed to rebuild the future of Montserrat, has provided a roadmap over the last eight years.
The focus on key industries has enabled Montserrat to take small steps towards its goals through the facilitation of key agriculture, tourism, renewable energy, and mining/manufacturing sector projects. Entrepreneur Richard Branson has been quoted as saying that the only businesses that will survive in the future will be green, ethical businesses, and in turn, the countries that support and promote those businesses will benefit.
Montserrat has started its journey on the road to building a green economy. Billionaire philanthropist Ted Waitt’s Institute focused on sustainable ocean governance practices, launched the Blue Halo initiative in Montserrat earlier this year which will make the island a regional leader in responsible ocean management practices, coupled with the Geothermal program where in 2013, the Iceland Drilling Company drilled Montserrat’s first two geothermal wells. While testing is still ongoing, the initial results suggest that the fluid flowing from the wells will be able to generate more natural power than needed by the island proving an alternative to fossil fuel.
The Blue Halo Initiative funded by the Waitt Institute helps Caribbean destinations like Montserrat to plan and implement sustainable ocean policies for their waters. Photo: ©Wait Institute.
In addition to these initiatives, the ash for cash program enables the island to mine volcanic materials used for construction and sell them to neighboring islands; the agriculture industry is also being re-engaged, utilizing the fertile land and favorable shower and sunshine that provides the perfect climate for superfood crops.
With several projects afoot, including the re-establishment of the fiber optic cables, which will provide high-speed internet to the island — the future looks bright. Montserrat’s ability to achieve its potential will be no different from the challenge of all economies – developing talent, attracting the right skills, and foreign direct investors to the island.
NOTE: This blog post was originally published in the Cayman Islands Employment Weekly newsletter and is republished here with written permission.