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Signature Program in Tropical Ecology and Sustainability Studies – Montserrat

The Bard College at Simon’s Rock Signature Program in Montserrat is an opportunity for students to engage both theoretically and practically in tropical ecology, conservation biology, and island and global sustainability issues.

stream-emptying.jpg As home to the Soufriere Hills volcano, a recently active volcano in the Caribbean, Montserrat presents unique study opportunities.

The island contains numerous rare plants and animals, including over 800 species of plants, 1,240 invertebrates, and at least two critically endangered species found nowhere else in the world, the Montserrat Oriole and the Montserrat Galliwasp lizard. Montserrat is also one of two habitats for the critically endangered mountain chicken frog.

From a sustainability viewpoint, Montserrat’s numerous challenges make the island a fascinating microcosm of the larger planet. These include maintaining water and food supply, energy independence, effects of climate change, and the development of sustainable tourism and education. This program will allow Simon’s Rock students to engage directly with these issues.

For four weeks over winter intersession, students will study the island’s ecology, including endangered and endemic species; receive training in ecological survey methods including snorkeling and coral reef survey techniques; and participate in one of several opportunities for community service. Students will live in residence with Simon’s Rock faculty and staff.

Research and Academic Opportunities in Montserrat

Areas of study/research possible in Montserrat include:

  • conservation biology
  • tropical ecology
  • botany
  • marine and fisheries biology
  • volcanology
  • numerous opportunities in the humanities and social sciences
  • interdisciplinary study: interactions between biology, ecology, sustainability and civic planning, politics, community activism, and social services

The Faculty

The program is staffed by faculty members from Bard College at Simon's Rock and Bard College. Each faculty member is responsible for teaching in the two-week modules within the tropical ecology and sustainability course.

Program Director: Dr. Thomas Coote - Environmental Studies, Landscape Ecology and Genetics

BA, Bard College at Simon's Rock; MSES Bard College; PhD, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (Department of Environmental Conservation).

Dr. Coote's research focuses on landscape ecology and genetics with a particular focus on aquatic ecology and molluscs. In his teaching and research, he draws from several disciplines including agroecology, environmental science, political ecology, and landscape ecology and genetics. Dr. Coote has been the recipient of the Hudson River Foundation's Polgar Fellowship as well as the New York National Sea Grant Fellowship. Before coming to Simon's Rock he spent a decade in the fish farming industry and taught at Waynesburg University and California University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his responsibilities at Simon's Rock he is a director of the Berkshire Environmental Research Center, Ltd., a private non-profit environmental education firm based on the Simon's Rock campus.

Dr. Bob Schmidt, Faculty Emeritus at Bard College at Simon's Rock
Environmental Studies, Zoology

BS, University of Rhode Island; MS, PhD, University of Connecticut

Dr. Schmidt’s specialty is ichthyology, with current interests in biogeography and the fishes of Guyana, South America, and the Hudson River. His grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Hudson River Foundation, among others, have enabled him to do research resulting in over 70 papers published in scientific journals including Copeia, Ecology, Northeastern Naturalist, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, and Freshwater Ecology, and contributions to several symposia on Hudson River ecology. He is an associate director of Hudsonia Ltd., located at Bard College, a director of the Berkshire Environmental Research Center, Ltd. at Simon’s Rock, and adjunct curator of fishes at the New York State Museum.

Dr. Bruce Robertson, Faculty at Bard College

B.S., University of Notre Dame; Ph.D., University of Montana

Dr. Robertson completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoological Park; as well as postdoctoral research and teaching experience at the University of Montana and Michigan State University. He has also served as a field biologist/ornithologist at the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center, Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. His research on the direct and indirect impacts of human activities on biodiversity and animal behavior has been featured in Scientific American, Christian Science Monitor, Ethanol Producer magazine, and on the Discovery channel.

Dr. Erin McMullin, Faculty at Bard College at Simon’s Rock

BA, Oberlin College; PhD, The Pennsylvania State University

Dr. McMullin has previously taught at Denison and Bowling Green State Universities (Ohio). Her research specialization is in ecological genetics, using genetic tools to address ecological and evolutionary questions. As a doctoral student, she assessed levels interbreeding between deep-sea chemosynthetic communities at oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. Her more recent research involves the conservation genetics of captive cichlid and wild salamander populations. Her research has been published in the journals Marine Biology, Deep Sea Research II, Symbiosis, and Molecular Ecology Notes.



Winter Intersession Program Outline

When: December 28, 2014-January 24, 2015


A four-credit course in sustainability and tropical ecology is embedded in this study abroad opportunity. The course consists of four two-week modules in tropical ecology (e.g., botany, fisheries, biogeography, ornithology) and community service projects.

Classes and the community service programming will take place between 9:00 am-5:00 pm Mon-Fri. Evenings and weekends will involve studying and reading for the courses and community service activities as well as recreational activities organized by the program faculty and staff.


All Simon’s Rock students are eligible pending good academic and social standing. Students from the greater Bard system are also welcome to attend on a space-available basis but will receive credit through Simon’s Rock.

Simon’s Rock students are required to take the Study Away Preparation course (LR 202m) during the Fall semester before the program and the Study Away Reflection course (LR 203m) during the Spring semester following the program; other students are required to participate in these courses as reasonable from afar.


The program fee is $5,000* and includes:

  • 4 credits
  • Room & Board
  • Round-trip transportation from Antigua to Montserrat
  • All required activities
  • Simon’s Rock financial aid is available to Simon’s Rock students who qualify

* Students are responsible for booking and purchasing their own round trip airfare (mainland US – Antigua) within program guidelines. (Last year airfare was between $500-$600 when purchased 2 months before travel. This implies no guarantee of this year’s airfare.)

Medical Concerns

No shots are required to travel to Montserrat but both typhoid and hepatitis vaccines are recommended by the CDC.


Getting to the island is fairly straight forward, consisting of direct flights to Antigua and then either a 20-minute flight or a one hour ferry to Montserrat. No special visas are needed to travel to Montserrat, although students will need to have a valid passport.

A Note on Room & Board and Other Activities in Montserrat

  • Housing – Housing and food are provided. Housing will be in a hostel and students will be 3-4 per room. Each student is required to bring a sleeping bag.
  • Water - Tap water is considered safe to drink.
  • Meals – Meals are included in the cost of the program.Students will be expected to participate in preparing meals and keeping the kitchen clean.
  • Entertainment – There are very few shops in Montserrat and little in the way of entertainment. Besides focusing on their work, students are encouraged to bring their own entertainment. While the island is considered very safe the college requires that students wishing to explore on their own do so in pairs and only by day. Extracurricular programming will be provided. Transportation is very limited so students should expect to do a lot of walking.
  • Communication – Montserrat is fully linked to both phone and internet. Internet service is reliable and there are a few shops that offer wireless. Calling Montserrat is the same as making a long distance call in the US and Skype or similar service is the least expensive way to make a call.

About Montserrat


Montserrat is an island in the Caribbean Sea, part of the chain of islands known as the Lesser Antilles. The island is approximately 39.5 square miles in size and has 25 miles of coastline. Montserrat is nicknamed the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean both for its Irish ancestry and its verdant green topography. Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory.


Montserrat is a tropical island with ecological habitats ranging from black sand beaches and coral reefs to desert scrub and sub-tropical woodlands, to tropical moist forests. The island has three distinctive volcanic ranges, one of which is currently active – the Soufriere Hills Volcano, located in the southern part of the island.

The Volcano Eruption in 1997

Montserrat suffered catastrophic destruction when the long-dormant Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted in 1995, devastating the southern two-thirds of the island, along with most of its agricultural, residential, and government infrastructure. As a result, two-thirds of the population left the island, leaving behind fewer than 5,000 residents to rebuild on the remaining habitable northern third of the island.

cove.jpgMontserrat Today

Though Montserrat has not fully recovered from the eruption that began in 1995, the nation has come a long way since 1995. A rebuilding effort has focused on restoring infrastructure, resulting in a new airport sea port, roads, energy facilities, agricultural lands, government facilities, and residential communities. Following the devastation, tourism came to a halt and thus the primary economic driver left the island as well. Currently, several government initiatives are beginning, all designed with sustainability in mind. These range from a national food sustainability/security program to environmentally sound mining practices for volcanic deposits, to geothermal energy generation and ongoing climate change monitoring and planning programs.

The volcano, located in the south of the island (in the “Exclusion Zone”), is under constant monitoring by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Scientists report that the volcano has been active at low levels since 2010. The Simon’s Rock program site is located in the Northern Zone of the island, the island region furthest from the volcano, and the area deemed low risk and suitable for residential and commercial activity by the MVO. For more information on safety in Montserrat, see the following websites: