SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 13, 2016
Dominica Climate Resilience Explorations
Ship’s Heading & Speed
After a voyage full of hard work, learning, and science we finally made it across the Atlantic, finding ourselves in a place that looked like paradise. Many of us had different feelings about seeing land: sad, nervous, excited, confused, bewildered, and overwhelmed. After being at sea for a month, the plethora of lights on land was somewhat shocking. On the other hand, the majority of land was lush green mountainous terrain. We had one day of work and festivities on the boat to acclimate at Anchor. Our next two days have been full of adventure, observations, delicious fresh fruit, and relaxing on shore in Dominica. After studying a place for six weeks on shore that culminated in a Climate Resilience document, it was amazing to experience in real life. The students in B Watch focused their studies on tourism, biodiversity and freshwater.
The tourism group was particularly aware of how we interacted with the island and the locals as visitors/tourists. After studying cruise ship tourism and some of the issues it brings, we made a strong effort to thank the island and the locals for welcoming us, to be generous when we could, support their economy, and try to leave the island cleaner than when we found it. It was impossible to miss all the plastic and trash along the sandy coast. While inquiring with a local bartender, she explained that there are beach clean ups and some other efforts keep the beach clean, but there simply isn't a waste management plan to control the amount of waste they have. When inquiring further about tourism, she went on to say that she doesn't think that the trash on the beach is good for tourism. She said there is a lot of politics involved but if the government is relying on tourism for jobs and income that there should be an international airport. We were humbled by the hospitality of the people and proud of the reality of the research we had done.
We met people without any work and definitely noticed the wealth gap, from most locals living in poverty to big vacation homes. Every local we talked to seem to think tourism and eco-tourism was good for the island but needed to bring more money and jobs. One man we met remarked that the national parks don't bring in enough money or people. We used a local guide to bring us around the island and hiking in some of the national parks. It was truly an extraordinary experience, jumping into water falls and hiking up rainforest mountains with no else in sight.
It was really rewarding to see how close to reality our research on DOWASCO and freshwater management was. On our tour with our guide, Uncle Sam, we saw multiple standpipes (drinking water faucets) in the streets. As our research informed us, they were widely used by the people. One of the problems we read about in a Dominican online newspaper was people abusing standpipes and using drinking water to wash their cars. We encountered that exact example yesterday in the main street of Portsmouth.
After a short drive down the street, the freshwater management group noticed a big sign for the West Coast Water Supply Project, which will supply many towns with new ductile water pipes, water tanks, and river intakes. Walking along the streets of Portsmouth, there were signs warning against littering for $1000-5000 EC (Eastern Caribbean currency). Moreover, it was great to see a lot of standpipes within short ranges. However, a few residents were spotted washing their cars with the standpipes. Another infrastructure that stood out was the frequency of water pressure gauges for almost every home, some were for two homes. Overall, the attitudes of the people were very relaxed and did not seem to stress about fresh water availability.
From an ecological standpoint many of the key features examined by the marine biodiversity and fisheries group became clearer on shore. On the first day ashore, many of us went in search of snorkeling and swimming locations. During this experience, we observed that the coastline of Dominica does not have the crystal clear waters the rest of the Caribbean is known for. Many of the beaches had rivers from the rainforest running into the ocean at some point along them. This runoff is most likely caused by the relative youth of Dominica as an island, with geologically-recent volcanic activity and steeply sloping hillsides supporting fast-eroding rivers.
Though the beaches were still beautiful, the coastal waters were consistently hazy when one tried to snorkel in them. This was especially interesting because it gave an explanation as to why there was so little coral reef surrounding Dominica: the lack of sunlight penetrating shallow water ecosystems. The good news is that very few invasive lionfish were observed in the areas of reef that we did see.
Overall we had a wonderful time getting to see and experience Dominica as informed student travelers. In addition, our experiences ashore were enhanced by the research done prior to arriving on the island. We were naturally tuned into the infrastructure, resilience, and future of the land. Dominica is a spectacularly beautiful and natural island and we would recommend visiting it to anyone reading this.
Hannah, Gabrielle, Rob, Stefani & Danny