19 February, 2005 - Published 17:55 GMT

Pitons take their place in the world

The Pitons, the twin volcanic peaks that have become a symbol of St. Lucia and a key tourist attraction, now carry the official seal of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The forested volcanic peaks rise side by side some 2,500 feet (750 metres) above sea level near the town of Soufriere, in southwestern St. Lucia.

"The Pitons predominate over the St. Lucian landscape, being visible from virtually every part of the island and providing a distinctive landmark for seafarers," said a citation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

"The combination of the Pitons against the backdrop of green tropical vegetation and a varying topography combined with a marine foreground gives the area its superlative beauty."


Gros Piton and Petit Piton shelter several bird species, giant ferns and wild orchids.

Locals describe the wider Soufriere area as the world's only drive-in volcano.

The Pitons were named a World Heritage Site in June, but officials unveiled a plaque enshrining the status this month.

"The honour ... is very much reflective of St. Lucia's stunning beauty and commitment to principles of environmental integrity," Prime Minister Kenny Anthony said alongside Koichiro Matsuura, the director general of the UNESCO.

"The people of Soufriere have always known that their Pitons, their drive-in volcano are priceless geological treasurers. Now they must share their treasures with the world," Anthony said.

Derek Walcott, St. Lucia's Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature, recited a poem paying tribute to the peaks, which were formed by a volcanic eruption about 35 million years ago.

The Paris-based UNESCO has given World Heritage status to 788 sites around the world, which are chosen because of their aesthetic, scientific or cultural value.

Sites on the list are provided with technical assistance and professional training to safeguard the properties.

Six other Caribbean countries - Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, Haiti, St. Kitts, and Suriname - are home to World Heritage Sites.


The Pitons, two volcanic spires, rise side by side from the sea (770m, 743m high respectively), linked by the Piton Mitan ridge.

The volcanic complex includes a geothermal field with sulphurous fumeroles and hot springs.

Coral reefs cover almost 60% of site's marine area. 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.

Hawksbill turtles are seen inshore, whale sharks and pilot whales offshore.

The dominant terrestrial vegetation is tropical moist forest grading to subtropical wet forest with small areas of dry forest and wet elfin woodland on the summits.

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 Pitons are home to some 27 bird species (five of them endemic), three indigenous rodents, one opossum, three bats, eight reptiles and three amphibians.