Pitons Management Area, Saint Lucia


Pitons Management Area is a World Heritage site in Saint Lucia located at 13°48'N and 61°04'W.

Geographical Location

Saint Lucia is an island of 617 square kilometers (km2), located between Martinique and Saint Vincent in the Lesser Antilles islands of the eastern Caribbean. The Pitons are two volcanic cones on the southwestern coast at 13°48'N and 61°04'W, just south of the town of Soufriere.

Dates and History of Establishment

  • 1986: Most of the reef system fringing Gros Piton was declared a marine reserve;
  • 1994: The Soufriere Regional Development Foundation (SRDF) was founded and the Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA) established under the Fisheries Act of 1984;
  • 2002: The Pitons Management Area (PMA) established under the Physical Planning and Development Act, 2001.
  • 2003: The Pitons Charter affirmed national commitment to the Protected Areas.


caption Pitons Management Area. (Source: UNESCO)

Total Area: 2,909 hectares (ha), comprising: Marine Management Area: 875 ha within the PMA; Terrestrial Conservation Areas: 467 ha - 341ha (public), 126 ha (private); Multiple Use Area: 1,567 ha (80% private, 20% public).

Land Tenure

Mixed public (53%) and private ownership (47%). Terrestrial areas are administered by the Ministry of Physical Development & Housing with the Forestry Department, and marine areas are administered by SMMA under the Department of Fisheries.


Ranges from 75 meters (m) below sea level to 777 m (Gros Piton) and 743 m (Petit Piton) above sea level.

Physical Features

The Lesser Antilles are the island peaks of a 700 km-long volcanic arc of 18 volcanoes, overlying a tectonic plate subduction (under-thrusting) zone. The Pitons are two steep forested cone-shaped mountains rising side by side from the sea on the southwest coast of Saint Lucia with spectacular abruptness. Gros Piton is three km wide at the base, Petit Piton is one km wide and is linked to it by the high Piton Mitan ridge. The peaks are the degraded dacitic cores of two lava-dome volcanoes probably formed on the side of a collapsed andesitic strato-volcano. They rise on the edge of the geologically complex caldera-like gravity-slide formation known as the Soufriere Volcanic Center, also the Qualibou depression which surrounds the whole area, including the town of Soufriere. In the center of the depression are the Sulphur Springs, a geothermal field or solfatara with sulphurous fumaroles and hot springs surrounded by a variety of other volcanic features: explosion craters, lava flows and deposits of pumice and ash. The volcanic area has been dormant for at least 20,000 years. If the Pitons are remnants of cumulo-domes, and not volcanic necks or plugs which are common, they are geologically unique. The soils are skeletal on steep slopes but are deep fertile clay loam elsewhere.

The Marine Management Area is a shoreline 11 km long by 1 km wide. It comprises a steeply sloping continental shelf down to the 75 m contour, with fringing and patch reefs, boulders and sandy plains. 57% of the nominated area is covered by healthy coral.


The island has a moist tropical climate with a rainfall of 2,000-2,500 millimeters (mm). It is dry between January and April, wet in November and December and the temperature is constant at 26.7° Celsius (C).


The dominant vegetation is tropical moist forest grading to subtropical wet forest with small areas of dry forest near the coast and on steep slopes, and small areas of wet elfin woodland on the summits. On the Pitons especially, small undisturbed natural forests remain, preserved by the steepness of the land. At least 148 species of plants have been recorded on Gros Piton, and 97 on Petit Piton and the ridge, many St.Lucia species being found only or mainly there. Many mosses, lichens, orchids and bromeliads thrive in the rainforest conditions. There is a relatively high level of endemic or rare species: the endemic shrubs Acalypha elizabethae, and Bernardia laurentii, found only on the summit of Petit Piton, the rare shrubs Justicia carthaginensis and Piper reticulatum, the rare vines Gonolobus coriacea, Amphilophium paniculatum and Melothria pendula and a herb, Eipatorium microstemon. There are also eight rare species of tree: one found only on the summit of Petit Piton - the pencil cedar Juniperus barbadensis (CR), Ocotea coriacea, Guarea kuntheana, Krugiodendron ferreum, Picrasma excelsa, Forestiera eggersiana, Randis nitida and Myrcianthus fragrans.


Twenty-seven bird species have been recorded on Gros Piton, including five endemic birds: Saint Lucia oriole Icterus laudabilis, St.Lucia black finch Melanospiza richardsoni (EN), Saint Lucia flycatcher Myiarchus oberi sanctae luceae, St.Lucia peewee Contopus oberi and St.Lucia house wren Troglodytes aedon sanctae luceae. There are 3 rodents, the indigenous opossum Didelphis marsupialis, 3 species of bat, 8 reptiles including the endemic Saint Lucia anole Anolis luciae and 3 amphibians; and many butterflies among the numerous invertebrate species which have not yet been completely surveyed.

The coral reefs are healthy and diverse, comprised of fringing and patch reefs. A short survey to a depth of 20 m revealed 168 species of finfish, 60 species of cnidaria, including corals, 8 molluscs, 14 sponges, 11 echinoderms, 15 arthropods and 8 annelid worms. Hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata (CR) are seen inshore and whale sharks Rhincodon typus and short-finned pilot whales Globicephala macrorhynchus, are seen offshore. A comprehensive survey would certainly reveal greater diversity.

Cultural Heritage

Archaeological sites - megalith, petroglyphs and middens - prove the existence of an Amerindian Carib population which was displaced by Africans brought by the French who settled in the mid 17th century. In 1814 the island was ceded to Britain from which independence was gained in 1979. There was a history of slave rebellions and the Soufriere area, especially the slopes of Gros Piton, was a base camp for runaway slaves and their settlements. This, aided by the rugged topography, nurtured a local tradition of independence. There are also old plantation estates and sugarmill ruins.

Local Human Population

No one lives permanently in the conservation and marine areas of the PMA. The surrounding rough topography and local traditions have favored diversified medium-sized estates and small hill farms in the region where 1,500 people live within the terrestrial multiple use zone of the Management Area. There is a thriving artisanal fishery.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

caption Sulphur Springs of St. Lucia. (Source: Kent State University)

For thirty years tourism has been the only growth sector in the economy, and visits by cruise ships are a growing trend. The Sulphur Springs are the island's most visited site, averaging 200,000 visitors a year and have an excellent visitor center and trails. The Pitons, majestic forested coastal volcanoes beside a Caribbean reef, are a natural and accessible tourist goal but walking trails are rudimentary as yet. The Gros Piton summit trail starts at Fond Gens Libres where there is an interpretation facility. Soufriere town has three resort hotels, two within the PMA which are supportive of conservation, and several smaller hotels; also three jetties for access from the sea for cruise ships. The Soufriere Regional Development Foundation (SRDF) and Soufriere Marine Management Association have been established to increase community participation in the development of local tourism. The SRDF offices house an information center. There are commercial dive operations and marine tours including whale and dolphin watching. This marine area tourism is closely monitored by the SMMA.

Scientific Research and Facilities

Several recent studies have been made of the flora and fauna, terrestrial and marine, and of issues affecting the conservation of the Pitons. Species lists from these studies are given in the nomination document. A team from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad, has studied the geology and geomorphology; the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute has supplied planning and monitoring expertise. There is a plan for comprehensive research and monitoring of key species, wildfires and visitor use. Coordination will be by the Pitons Management Area Scientific Advisory Committee.

Conservation Value

The Pitons are a spectacular area of iconic coastal scenery with highly productive subtropical wet and tropical moist forests harboring endemic species, and an adjacent fringing coral reef in excellent condition. Its volcanic geology illustrates the history of an andesitic composite volcano over a crustal subduction zone.

Conservation Management

The Pitons are already within the borders of Qualibou National Park, the prime tourist attraction of Saint Lucia, and are almost revered for their distinctive character and as symbols of national identity. The Pitons Management Area Plan incorporates a Land Use Plan and management plan for the whole site. The final version was approved in 2003. The Indicative Land Use Plan agreed between all relevant agencies and stakeholders proposes three zones: Terrestrial Conservation Area for both public and private lands, Terrestrial Multiple Use and Marine Management Area. Controls in the Terrestrial Conservation Area will be strict to ensure that access by visitors will have minimal impacts. Within the Multiple Use zone development will be controlled by existing laws supported by the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment and by detailed Design Guidelines to minimize the impacts of building, physical development and farming. Management of the various private lands within the PMA will be by stewardship arrangements, incentives and where necessary, through acquisition. The Marine Area is divided into five sectors: reserves, fishing priority, yacht mooring, multiple use, and recreational areas based on shore. Fishing and tourism do not have detrimental effects at present

The Soufriere Regional Development Foundation was set up in 1994 to increase the local area's involvement in the development of tourism. The award-winning Soufriere Marine Management Area Plan augments this for the Marine Reserve. The nominating committee is well aware of the need to finalize and enforce a land use policy and guidelines for development and to coordinate the fifteen or more different government and other organizations with authority over the area. These issues are fully addressed in the Management Plan. Coordination of planning and management will be by the PMA Advisory Committee and of scientific work by the PMA Scientific Advisory Committee.

Management Constraints

The local use of most forest resources is sustainable. Dry season restriction of access to prevent man-set fires, and educating local people on the values of the uncommon flora to forestall further impacts were strongly recommended by Cox. Hurricanes, dry-season fires, deforestation for timber, fuel and agriculture, livestock grazing and noise from tourist helicopters are threats. But the strongest impacts are from proposed developments in inappropriate places, such as the large luxury hotel already built on the almost pristine land between the Pitons, and marine pollution from solid wastes and eroded sediments from construction and mining which threaten coral and marine life. The government is acting to combat these. At present however, there is a lack of adequate staff and funding for the Pitons Managed Resource Area.


The SMMA has one Manager and five part-time specialists: Range Forest Officer, Fisheries Biologist, the Executive Director of the St. Lucia National Trust and two SMMA administrative staff. There are also 4 full-time rangers. The PMA is to have a Manager, two administrative assistants and two rangers, and an on-site office will be built.


The anticipated annual expenditure for the first two years is $162,000, initially to be supplied by the government. In the future the SMMA will also gather revenue from user fees, visitor, research and conservation operator fees, grants, donations and sales. The World Wildlife Fund has funded preliminary resource studies.

IUCN Management Category

  • VI (Managed Resource Protected Area) Soufriere Marine Management Area
  • Unset Pitons Management Areas
  • Natural criteria i, iii. Natural World Heritage Site

Further Reading

  • Anthony, D. (1997). Inventory of Flora and Fauna of Gros Piton, St. Lucia. Environmental and Coastal Resouces Project, Castries. 83pp.
  • Bloom, A. (1998).Volcanoes in: Geomorphology: a Systematic Analysis of Late Cenozoic Landforms, pp 92-115. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 1577663543
  • Cox, C. (1999). A Rapid Inventory of the Flora and Fauna of Petit Piton and the Ridge Between the Pitons. Forestry Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Castries. 30pp.
  • De Beauville-Scott,S.,Moore, P. & Mortley, K. (1999). Report on Baseline Biodiversity Study of the Marine Area Adjacent to Gros Piton and Petit Piton: Anse l'Ivrogne to Malgretoute. Department of Fisheries, Castries. 56pp.
  • De Beauville-Scott, S., George, S. & St.Lucia Heritage Committee (2003). Pitons Management Area Management Plan. Working Documents for Consultations.
  • Devaux, R. (1999). Bibliography [of ] the Pitons of Saint Lucia. St. Lucia Research Centre Ltd.
  • Dingwall, P. & Thorsell, J. (2004).World Heritage Nomination - IUCN Technical Evaluation. Pitons Management Area (St. Lucia). IUCN.
  • Francis, P. (1993). Volcanoes: a Planetary Perspective. Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN: 0198540337
  • Global Volcanism Program. Geoscience Press Inc.,Tucson, Arizona.
  • IUCN (2003). Global Strategy for Geological World Heritage. Draft report.
  • Lindsay, J. et al. (2002). Volcanic Hazards Assessment for St. Lucia, Lesser Antilles. 46pp.
  • Ministry of Education (2003). Nomination for Inclusion on the World Heritage List of the Pitons Management Area, Saint Lucia. [Contains a bibliography of 34 references.]
  • Putney, Allen 1999. Potential Natural Sites in the Caribbean.
  • Simken, T. & Siebert, L. (1994). Volcanoes of the World. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, U.S.A. ISBN: 0945005121.
  • Sullivan S., Bustamente, K. & G. (1999). Setting Geographic Priorities for Marine Conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean. TNC. ISBN: 188676509X.
  • Wilkinson, C. 2002. Status of Coral Reefs of the World. Reefbase. ISBN: 0642322090.
  • Wood, C. (2002). Geological Significance of the Proposed World Heritage Site in Saint Lucia. Report to St. Lucia WH Committee, 24pp.
  • World Heritage Centre (2002). Proceedings of the Marine Biodiversity Workshop, Vietnam.
  • World Heritage Committee (2000). Synthesis Report on the Seminar on Natural Heritage in the Caribbean . Information document, Surinam. 17pp

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Pitons Management Area, Saint Lucia. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155253


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