SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 14, 2016
Dominica Climate Resilience Explorations
Ship’s Heading & Speed
From the perspective of a tourist seeking adventure, Dominica blew us away with its natural beauty and friendly citizens. On shore we wrote about how to improve tourism on Dominica to increase climate resilience, with an emphasis on promoting ecotourism activities such as hiking through rainforests to waterfalls, snorkeling, and enjoying the immense amount of untouched natural beauty on the island. Portsmouth itself was not overrun by traditional tourism marketing; it truly promoted ecotourism, which is low cost and doesn't emit to the atmosphere like cruise ships would, with the added benefit that the fees for visiting the National Park sites go back to the Parks service for future upkeep and development of the ecotourism industry. The hikes we did and the places we visited were incredible and we would love to do them again. One of the most pleasing aspects of Dominica besides the natural beauty itself were the numerous signs and murals encouraging reducing emissions, pollution, and litter to keep Dominica, the West Indies, and the Earth clean.
And as expected, water was overflowing from the island. When asked about the status of their water, a tour guide mentioned that it "never runs out." It was also interesting to see the standpipes in person. We estimate that there was at least one standpipe per block in Portsmouth. DOWASCO (Dominica Water and Sewerage Company) had a strong presence on the island as well. Of the sites we visited with the tour guide, one sign warning visitors about misusing water from Syndicate Waterfall was posted loud and clear. However, we also found out that it had become outdated since the water source was discovered to contain high levels of sulfur (sometime after 1995). Remains from the fenced gates that had protected the waterfall still exist.
From a disaster preparedness perspective, a lot of the things that we had read about on shore were clearly seen when visiting Dominica. When we anchored in Prince Ruberts Bay, we were able to see across the thin piece of land to the bay on the other side of Cabrits to Douglass Bay. It was easy to see why this particular place was very vulnerable to flooding as our research and map had shown on shore. So for us it was very surprising to see that at that same spot, a new (huge) resort hotel was being built in such a vulnerable place. As we went on our excursion and up the mountain sides, we saw a lot of places under construction due to flooding. In two locations during our tour, we saw bridges that had been demolished due to landslides and flooding during a 2015 hurricane. Big pieces of the bridges were still there next to the new bridges as a reminder. During our stay, we also saw seawalls in some places and not others. It seemed random, as if it were only those who had the money to do it that had done it. Most of seawalls were in bad shape.
We also got to see some of Dominica's marine biodiversity up close when we went snorkeling in Douglass Bay yesterday. The only other people at the bay with us were a few other snorkelers and swimmers who all seemed to be very respectful towards the ecosystem. No one appeared to be damaging the coral by touching it and everyone kept a safe distance from the fish and other creatures we saw. The one exception was a man who was spear fishing lionfish, an invasive species we mentioned in our Dominica Program for Climate Resilience document. While no one besides the spear fisherman seemed to be directly affecting the biodiversity in the bay, we did see evidence of human influence on the reefs. We saw a few sunken buoys, plastic cups, tires, and other debris amongst the coral and sea grass but the reef seemed to be doing well despite this occasional litter. We saw plenty of signs around the island telling people not to dump trash or other waste in the ocean though, so there definitely seemed to be an interest in protecting the marine biodiversity of the island.
Based on first impressions of the town, we believe that Dominicans understand the severity of human impact on the environment-more so than others in our home country. With posters and murals advocating for responsible habits (i.e. disposing plastics and Styrofoam properly) sprawled around, it appears difficult to not be in tune. However, we did hear from a local man that practices regarding climate resilience are more talked about in the local media than in his personal relationships. Dominica's abundance of natural resources is jaw-dropping, as many of us had experienced on the tour. Every turn around the bend had a fruit tree bearing some delicious treats, ripened and ready to be eaten, and everyone we've met during our short stay here want to preserve this beauty. Hurricane Erika still haunts the island with the ruins from last year, and some citizens we've encountered wonder how they'll keep up in the future with rising sea level and potentially worsening tropical storms. As tourists (and sailors!), we may never understand what it feels like to call this island "home." As neighbors, the best we could do is to play our part in mitigating the global effects of climate change. The question is, does traveling all the way to Dominica contribute to their economy and infrastructure in the long run?
John Irving, Kayla Wilson, Robin Kim & Martina Ravn