Signature Program in Sustainability – 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.
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
- marine and fisheries biology
- 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 program is staffed by faculty members from Simon’s Rock and other colleges and universities. Each faculty member is responsible for teaching in the two-week modules within the tropical ecology and sustainability course, residing in one of the homes and supervising 6-10 students.
Program Director & Faculty: 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. Robert Schmidt , Faculty –Environmental Studies (specialty in Biology of Marine Species)
- Dr. Erin McMullin, Faculty: –Ecological Genetics (specialty in Marine Ecology)
Mr. Andy Cassini, Faculty – Ornithologist and Conservation Biologist
Andy Cassini is an Ornithologist, Conservation Biologist and Educator currently working on his Ph.D. in Zoology at University of Wisconsin – Madison. He is passionate about exploring nature and studying wildlife, while working for its conservation. Andy has spent time working as an interpretive naturalist at zoos around the world, including the Bronx Zoo in New York, the Animal Kingdom in Florida and the Taronga Zoo in Australia. He taught high school biology and environmental science for nine years and even received the Herb Kohl Award for Outstanding Teachers. For his dissertation work, he has spent the last four years doing ornithological conservation research on the island of Montserrat. His research primarily focuses on evaluating the conservation parameters for the critically endangered Montserrat Oriole. He is evaluating the genetic diversity of the species and assessing key habitat and behavioral variables influencing oriole survival. He is extremely excited about returning to Montserrat this January to help teach about conservation and ornithology on the island.
Winter Intersession Program Outline
When: December 28, 2013-January 25, 2014
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 a four-week community service project.
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.
The program fee is $5,000 and includes:
- 4 credits
- Room & Board
- All required activities
- Round-trip transportation to and from Simon’s Rock
- Financial aid is available to those who qualify.
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 and food are provided. Housing consists of private homes sleeping 6-10 people. Students share a double room and each house has at least one staff member. Kitchens are communal and cooking is organized by teams, with students and staff rotating the cooking and cleaning responsibilities. Tap water is considered safe to drink.
- Rooms – Each student will be assigned to a double room but sleeping arrangements are flexible, meaning that each house will have an initial house meeting where sleeping arrangements will be decided based on the particulars of the spaces available. In many cases it will be possible for students to sleep either in assigned rooms or outside under the stars, either on decks or in hammocks in the yard. Each student is required to bring a sleeping bag.
- 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.
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.
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: