Pitons: Soufrière Volcanic Center (Saint Lucia)
The twin Pitons, two towering volcanic spires, are the major iconic landmarks of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. The Pitons Management Area in the southwest of the island contains the greater part of a collapsed stratovolcano within the volcanic system known to geologists as the Soufriere Volcanic Center.
The Pitons are two towering volcanic spires located in Saint Lucia. Gros Piton is 798 m (2,618 ft) high and Petit Piton is 743 m (2,438 ft) high. They are located on either side of Jalousie Bay.
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 are two large lava domes that formed 200 to 300,000 years ago, before the formation of the caldera; ever since then, other domes have filled the caldera floor. There was a phreatic eruption in 1766 that deposited ash over a wide area.
They are bridged by an inland ridge (Piton Mitan ridge) and tower above an accessible caldera-like formation known as the Qualibou Depression. The volcanic complex includes a geothermal field with sulfurous fumaroles and hot springs.
Qualibou, also known as the Soufrière Volcanic Center, is a 3.5 X 5 km-wide caldera that formed between 32,000 and 39,000 years ago. This eruption also formed the Choiseul Tuff which covers the southeastern portion of the island.
Pitons Management Area
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. It 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 Pitons Management Area, inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2004, encompasses a wide range of geological features, including a site of geothermal activity with fumaroles and hot springs known as the Sulphur Springs.
Despite the small area, there is a high diversity of terrestrial flora and fauna habitats. 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.
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.
Marine Management Area
The Marine Management Area within the Pitons Management Area is a strip of roughly 11 km (7 miles) long and about 1 km (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 mollusks, 14 sponges, 11 echinoderms, 15 arthropods and eight annelid worms.