Twenty years after a devastating volcanic explosion, life on Montserrat is flourishing. Eager to report on the island's recovery, I recently traveled there and spent most of my time underwater, exploring the beautiful reefs. I was amazed by the abundance of rare and endangered sponges, hard and soft corals and healthy schools of tropical fish. While natural disasters cause great damage, nature seems to bounce back and Montserrat is no exception. (Picture by Vita Wade)
The beauty of Montserrat lies in its total lack of overdevelopment. There are no high-rise hotels and unspoiled beaches like this one can only be reached on foot or by boat. While the rest of the Caribbean falls prey to the sway of casinos and cruise ships, Montserrat remains quiet, clean, and delightfully different.
Two-thirds of Montserrat remain inside the "Exclusion Zone", a demarcated area where entry is strictly controlled. Chaperoned visits are now offered to the former capital of Plymouth, which now stands buried under some 20 feet of ash, mud and stone. Exploring the recent ruins was a haunting testament to the force of nature, as if time had stopped for that place some 20 years ago. Since the volcano is still active, and sporadic pyroclastic flows can still tumble down the mountain at any moment, all visitors must be accompanied by representatives from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
After mass evacuations from the volcano in 1997, some Montserratians are beginning to return to their island. These three students (Jaida Gerald, Elissia & Elisha Daley) represent a new generation of islanders who were born in the United Kingdom but moved back with their families to the northern side of Montserrat. About 5,000 islanders now live here, about a fourth of the island's population from 20 years ago. The government hopes that increased tourism can provide jobs that encourage islanders to remain.