Ilet Chancel Robert MartiniqueIlet Chancel Robert Martinique
©Ilet Chancel Robert Martinique|MDES
Chancel Islet and its iguanas

Chancel Islet and its iguanas

Many tour operators offer tours of Chancel Islet in Robert Bay. You can get there by kayak, yole, catamaran or jet ski. Appreciated for its white bottoms, this is where you can observe the last iguanas endemic to the Lesser Antilles in Martinique.

Visit to the Chancel Islet

L’îlet Chancel is one of the nine islets of Robert. It is the largest of the islets of Martinique (2 km by 0.9 km). It has had a rather eventful history and has changed its name several times. At the beginning of the colonization, the islet was inhabited by the Caribbean Indians. In 1637, the Caribs ceded it to Madame Duparquet who named it “Ilet Monsieur”. In the 19th century, the islet was bought by a man named Chancel who gave it its current name.

On land, you can walk around the islet and observe the remains of a sugar dwelling, a dungeon, a pottery and a boiler house destroyed during cyclones. As you walk around the west side of the islet, you will see many remnants of the seaside pottery: walls, pipes, and kilns.

The site is bordered by the rather well-preserved lime kilns of the chaufournerie (lime factory). One features a circular staircase that allowed access to the mouth of the kiln where limestone and fuel were poured. The other, quadrangular in shape, has a ramp in good condition. Both were used to make the lime needed for the preparation of sugar and for construction, from the shells and corals plentiful around the islet.

To know …

Like many islets, Chancel is part of the sites protected both by two statutes:

– The Prefectural Order of Protection of Biotope which designates the protection zone set up on a defined site to ensure the biological balance of the environment and protect a habitat necessary for the survival of species.

– The Ministerial Order of 2007 which aims to preserve the landscape by submitting any modification or work to the examination of the Architect of the Buildings of France. The zone includes the islet as well as a 100-meter strip at sea around it.

– The Ministerial Order of 2007 which aims at preserving the landscape by submitting any modification or work to the examination of the Architect of the French Buildings.

The iguana of the Lesser Antilles

The endemic protected species living on the islet

During your walk, you will probably have the chance to see the famous iguana that everyone wants to see! This is the perfect opportunity to observe this strange reptile, with prehistoric looks, whose size can reach up to 1m50. The main concentration of iguanas is found in the wooded areas of Case Nègres Street and at the eastern end of the islet, which are also the main egg-laying sites for the females.

The Lesser Antillean Iguana (Iguana delicatissima) endemic species protected at the national level by the ministerial decree of 17 February 1989. This species is, moreover, listed in critical danger of extinction,by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On the islet Chancel several egg-laying sites have been developed to promote the reproduction of this species. It is the subject of a National Action Plan (NAP) whose objectives are to improve knowledge of the species, raise awareness of its protection and implement conservation actions.

This species is thought to have once occupied the entire northern Lesser Antilles from Anguilla to Martinique. The iguanas delicatissima of Islet Chancel represents the southernmost population in the West Indies. Further north, it is also found in Dominica, Desirade, Petite Terre (the largest population) and St. Barts.

Male or female?

The female of the endemic iguana is brown-green in color when young and turns gray as she ages. The male is brown-gray from infancy and remains gray. Its dorsal spines are larger than those of the female.


Not to be confused with the green iguana

Today the greatest threat to the Lesser Antillean iguana is the proliferation of the common iguana (“iguana iguana”), also known as the green iguana, which is larger, stronger and a better predator. The risk of hybridization of the two species could lead to the disappearance of the endemic species. The common iguana is classified Exotic Invasive Species and is the subject of a Control Plan to regulate its populations.

One characteristic makes it possible to differentiate them for sure: the common iguana possesses a large scale under the eardrum that reaches 2.5 cm in diameter, all the larger the older the individual, and extended by small scales. In addition, the common iguana has a black barred tail.

Zamana and cursed fig tree

two exceptional trees

The vegetation of the islet presents two curiosities of (great!) size.

The saman tree (“rain tree”) is one of the largest trees in the West Indies. In rainy weather, its leaves close to let water seep into the ground and irrigate its roots. Conversely, when the sun is shining, the foliage catches the light and forms a natural barrier against the rays to allow the soil to be shaded and retain its moisture.

In Martinique, the cursed fig tree is considered both magical and evil. It is one of the strangler ficus trees: it chokes other trees to grow and feed on them. Appreciated by the first settlers for its nourishing qualities, its latex, its medicinal virtues, the cursed fig tree is surrounded by more or less scary superstitions. It is said that it hides spirits ready to catch you if you pass too close to it…