The Pitons Management Area in the southwest of Saint Lucia contains the greater part of a collapsed stratovolcano within the volcanic system known to geologists as the Soufriere Volcanic Center. The twin Pitons, two towering volcanic spires, are the major iconic landmarks of the Caribbean island.
Belonging to the Lesser Antilles, the volcanic island of Saint Lucia is located in the Eastern Caribbean Sea and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. The Pitons Management Area in the Southwest of Saint Lucia is a multiple use conservation and management area of 1,134 ha (2,802 acres) of land and 875 ha (2,162 acres) of sea, respectively.
The eponymous Pitons, two towering volcanic spires, are the major iconic landmarks of the island. These spectacular twin pinnacles, Gros Piton and Petit Piton, rise side by side from the sea. They are bridged by an inland ridge and tower above an accessible caldera-like formation known as the Qualibou Depression.
The Pitons Management Area is located within the Soufriere Volcanic Center and encompasses a wide range of its diverse geological features, including a site of geothermal activity with fumaroles and hot springs known as the Sulphur Springs. Petroglyphs and diverse artifacts bear witness of the Amerindian Carib population which historically inhabited what is now the Pitons Management Area.
Despite the small area there is a high diversity of terrestrial habitats, flora and fauna. The dominant vegetation is comprised of various forest types, including rare elfin woodland on the summits. Small, little disturbed patches of natural forests remain, preserved by the steepness of the land. At least 148 plant species have been recorded on Gros Piton, 97 on Petit Piton and the intervening ridge, among them eight rare tree species.
The Marine Management Area within the Pitons Management Area is a strip of roughly 11 km (7 miles) long and about one kilometer (0.6 miles) wide along the shore. It comprises a steeply sloping continental shelf with healthy fringing and patch reefs covering more than 60% of the marine area, boulders and sandy plains.
The diverse marine and coastal habitats harbor important marine life. Hawksbill turtles are seen inshore, as well as whale sharks and pilot whales offshore. A survey has revealed 168 species of finfish, 60 species of cnidaria, including corals, eight molluscs, 14 sponges, 11 echinoderms, 15 arthropods and eight annelid worms. The Gros Piton is home to some 27 bird species (five of them endemic), three indigenous rodents, one opossum, three bats, eight reptiles and three amphibians.