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The La Soufrière National Park

Date of Submission: 18/06/2012
Criteria: (iii)(viii)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust
State, Province or Region:
St. Vincent and Grenadines
Coordinates: N13 20 W61 11
Ref.: 5751

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The island of St Vincent is one of a chain of volcanic islands known as the Lesser Antilles that forms part of an island arc where there is active volcanism.  The volcanic activity is caused by the subduction (underthrusting) of the Atlantic Ocean floor below the Caribbean Sea floor.  La Soufriere volcano located in the northern part of the island is the only active volcano on the island and is one of 20 other live volcanoes located in the Lesser Antilles. A live volcano is described as a volcano that is currently erupting or has the capacity to erupt again. La Soufriere occupies almost a one third of the island, and embodies several geographical features such as hot springs, several craters and dry rivers. La Soufrière is one of the most active volcanoes in the Lesser Antilles and has a long history of eruptions with the historical records showing eruptions in 1718, 1812, 1814, 1902-1903, 1971-72 and 1979. Loss of life was recorded in the 1812 and 1902-03 eruptions when 56 persons died in 1812 and over 1500 in 1902-03. The volcano first evolved some 700,000 years ago and has a long history of continuous growth to a stratovolcano comprising mainly of pyroclastic rocks and minor basaltic andesite flows and dome lavas.  The entire island of St Vincent is composed of volcanic rock and shows that the island had a volcanic history beginning as far back as 2.7 million years. There are at least 3 extinct volcanic centres on the island located to the south of La Soufriere. These are the South-East volcanic centre, the Grand Bonhomme centre and the Morne Garu centre and represent the early evolution of the island of St Vincent.  The La Soufriere volcano by definition can be described as a Geoheritage site. The word geoheritage is defined as the heritage of features of a geological nature. The mixed nomination will include a cultural heritage aspect in the form of the Lasham Sugar Factory Ruins, and natural features such as the West Petit Bordel Bay, and the mountain range which spans the East of Georgetown on the Windward side of the island.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

It is the only recorded Stratovolcano in the Eastern Caribbean. The La Soufrière volcano along with the other volcanoes in the Caribbean "Volcanic Island Arch" all originate on hot spots where the Caribbean and Atlantic Plates meet. Thus, all these islands of the Caribbean were formed by volcanic eruptions over many years. The earliest recorded eruption was in 1718  with activity lasting for three days. Another eruption took place in 1812 which destroyed the conical dome within the old crater. The Volcano again erupted in 1902 and again in 1979 which fortunately killed no one.

Criterion (viii) Extensive research has been conducted on the volcanology of La Soufrière including three doctorate theses, and it continues to be monitored by the Seismic Research Centre through its observatory located in the north of the island. La Soufriere is associated with a unique style of eruption known as a St Vincent style-eruption. This style of eruption has been used internationally to describe and classify other volcanic eruptions universally. It was first described after the open crater eruption of basaltic andesite in the 1902 eruptions.  It is characterized by a high eruption column (>15 km) that collapses under gravity to form scoria and ash pyroclastic flows, surges and ash falls of basaltic andesite composition (Smith & Roobol, 1975). The St Vincent-style eruption is one of several styles of eruption associated with active volcanoes in volcanic arc settings such as the Lesser Antilles. Others are Pelean-style eruptions named after Mt Pelee volcano in Martinique from the 1902-1905 eruptions, Plinian-style eruptions first described by Pliny the Younger at Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD,  Asama-style eruptions based on the 1783 eruption of Mt Asama eruption in Japan, and Vulcanian-style eruptions described in the 1888-90 eruptions on the island of Vulcano.

Criterion (iii) The archaeological sites within the La Soufrière area contain very early and very late prehistoric pottery, petroglyphs, boulders with cup-holes and the ruins of a colonial sugar plantation and processing factory.  All bear a unique and exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of the early occupants of St. Vincent.   For example, the Lasham Sugar Plantation lies within four miles of the crater of La Soufrière.  Buried by an eruption of the volcano, it has several structures which are partially visible but it invites archaeological discovery because of the potential it offers for the unearthing of a moment lost in time.   Shortly after the birth of Christ, people traveled in dugout canoes from their Orinoco River homeland to St. Vincent bringing their distinctive pottery with them.  This pottery has been found on nine sites in very close proximity to La Soufrière.   Cultural remains at these sites have also confirmed the arrival of the Kalinago people, the last prehistoric group to colonize St. Vincent.  These prehistoric sites are of great significance to the archaeological community because of the link they provide between people and their pottery.  Another prehistoric site, which is on the Petit Bordel Peninsula, has amazing views of La Soufrière.  Here, thirteen boulders are filled with somewhat mysterious manmade, circular holes and suggest the site may have a religious or ceremonial significance.  Nearby, four Petroglyphs (rock engravings) with distinctly patterned humanoid forms are quite unique.  Unlike the other Vincentian Petroglyphs, these drawings were created by abrading the rock into wide, shallow lines.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

La Soufrière’s diversity in topographical change allowed for the indigenous peoples of the land to maintain a stronghold against colonization for a very long time.  In fact,St. Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG) was one of the last islands in the region to be colonized.  Serious colonization did not occur until 1797, when 2000 Black Caribs (Garifuna) were exiled toBelize.  It can be argued that the topography of La Soufrière would have lent itself well for the staging of guerilla warfare against the European quest for colonization, such as the attack at Morne Ronde by the “Caribs” (Kalinago) on the British forces in August 1795.

La Soufrière is a live stratovolcano on an island archipelago. Furthermore, La Soufrière is the largest volcano of its type found on an island the size of St. Vincent.  Added to this, La Soufrière is home to several Lesser Antillean endemics which are found on the volcano’s slopes.  Moreover, La Soufrière is home to five endemic plants of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and provides habitat for two endemic birds and four endemic reptiles.  The combination of the Soufrière and Richmond Peak is home to 14 flowering plant taxa which are considered unique to SVG. The volcano has been designated a land mark forSt Vincent and the Grenadines. It has been a proposed National Park and will be the first declared National Park for SVG it is also proposed as a Forest Reserve under the Forest Laws of the country. It is also a site under the National Protected Areas System Plan managed under the National Parks Rivers and Beaches Authority.

The 1979 eruption destroyed at least a third of the vegetation that covered the slopes of the volcano. However, the eruption gave opportunities to observe the re-colonization and succession of vegetation types unique to a small tropical volcanic island.

The cultural heritage of La Soufrière includes pre-historic and historic elements; such as, pre-historic Amerindian habitation sites that are well known and that have been documented.  The great Duvalle’s (De Volet) plantation that was owned and controlled by Duvalle, brother and deputy to Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyér is located within the boundaries proposed for the La Soufrière National Park.  In addition, evidence of several historic sites is can be found throughout the area, including the ruins of sugar mills and arrowroot mills.

Lasham Sugar Plantation 

The cultural heritage of the Soufrière area includes the ruins of the historic Lasham Sugar Plantation, which was covered by the eruptions of the volcano in 1812 and 1902.  A half-buried water wheel that powered the cane crushing operation is still visible as well as foundations of the boiling house and other buildings.  This site is a Pompei-like time capsule and its archaeological excavation may someday reveal little-understood details of plantation life.  It is located near the West coast ofSt. Vincent, approximately 4 miles from the crater.

Prehistoric Archaeological Sites

Within a three mile radius of the crater are nine documented archaeological sites, places where cultural remains of prehistoric populations have been discovered.  These sites are situated around the northern edge of St. Vincent from the Falls of Baleine on the West side of the volcano to Sandy Bay in the East, which is the location of the Cayo River and type site for Cayoid pottery, a particularly important kind of  prehistoric ceramics.  The Cayoid period covers the time from A.D. 1450 to the date of European contact and significant recent discoveries of this pottery have now convincingly linked Cayoid pottery to the arrival of the ‘Island Caribs’.   All of the nine sites have great time depth and reflect occupation by people from the earliest ceramic (Saladoid) period; radiocarbon dates for this pottery onSt. Vincentgo back to A.D.160.

Petit Bordel Site

Mysterious cup-holes exist in thirteen boulders located on a flat spot about 300 feet above sea level on the Petit Bordel Peninsula, which has stunning views of La Soufrière.  The holes are circular in shape with two to three inch diameters and a depth of two to seven inches.  Arranged in a seemingly random pattern on all sides of the boulders, one rock contains almost a hundred holes while others contain only a few.

Scientists have determined that the cup holes in the boulders do not occur naturally but were man- made.  Because of the site’s strategic location, archaeologists suggest the cup holes may have been created by prehistoric people who were participating in ritual or ceremonial activities.   Perhaps Shamans ground hallucinogenic cohoba seeds in the holes or ceremonial body paint was prepared in them.   With La Soufrière so much a part of the background, the boulders probably reflect a response of some kind to the powerful volcano.  The presence of four Petroglyphs (rock engravings) located only a short drive from the boulders are further confirmation of the cultural significance of this area to the prehistoric people.

Comparison with other similar properties

La Soufrière can be compared to related Caribbean sites designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Dominica's Morne Trois Pitons and St. Lucia’s Pitons. The Pitons, like La Soufrière, also has geological features such as hot springs.  La Soufrière being a Geoheritage site can also be compared with other Geoheritage sites that are also World Heritage sites and form a natural site, or a mixed (natural + cultural) site. Some examples would include:

  • The Grand Canyon (USA)
  • Shark Bay (Australia)
  • Limestone karst caves (Slovakia)
  • Dinosaur Park (Canada)
  • Galapagos (Ecuador)
  • Giant’s Causeway (UK)
  • Yellowstone Park (USA)
  • Surtsey Volcano (Iceland)
  • Kilimanjaro volcano (Tanzania)
  • Kamchatka volcanoes (Russia)
  • Hawaii volcanoes (USA)

La Soufrière can be distinguished from other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in that it is the only stratovolcano on an island archipelago, in addition to the fact that it has a unique cultural legacy as demonstrated by its rich archeology and rock art.