Article by: Jean-Marc Claes
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Dominica does not mean the Dominican Republic! So, the first thing you do: Take the world map and try to ‘find’ the island of Dominica! Did I just spoil it a bit by telling you it is an island??
Yes, it is an island well-hidden between 2 French territorial islands: Martinique and Guadeloupe. And that is where any possible link with these islands stops. Dominica is just unique on its own.
In the middle of the Caribbean chain of islands, Dominica takes its place with a tender touch of being original to its roots, culture, and background. When you enter the island, you will need about a full five minutes to understand.
Dominica is in many ways unique: the lush green nature meets you everywhere you look and go; it is always surrounding you. But, the inhabitants are taking it: one day at a time!
To visit a stress-free place and “back to nature” is a great feeling that we hardly remember in most of the 1st world countries where the rat race guides our daily lives!
But Dominica doesn’t get it all for free or as you could, not the easy way! So many times in the past, Dominica made the headlines in the world press as being ‘eaten’ alive by superclass hurricanes; even a rare Category 5 hurricane landed on Dominica in 2017. The results are even visible today, above and below the surface. First, you can see airstrips of forest being completely ripped away, indicating the supertron windy path of the hurricane. Then below the surface, parts of the coral reef are literally covered by a 6ft thick blanket of sand and mud, driven into the ocean by the million gallons of rainwater that hit the island and caused numerous landslides, finally ending up on top of the coral reefs.
Diving Dominica is an experience you will not easily forget! To understand this, we need to go a little into detail as we do not want to get into the rhetoric as the best reefs, The most beautiful corals or the most fish around. So how will you, as a diver, compare all this to what?
Isn’t your or mine opinion of comparison based on previous visits to islands, reefs and experiences? Visiting a beautiful reef with a dive operator with only money on his mind and who offers no service really influences your opinion about the reef.
So, details matter, and so here we go!
Diving Dominica is like taking a giant step back in time, which needs some explanation!
Island Dive Operations, owned by Fabian Honoré, is a beautiful example of how dive operations were run many years ago in the nowadays most popular places in the world. Island Dive Operations is a one-person show where Fabian is the boat captain, tank handler and your personal dive guide! To do his job right, he takes no more than four guests with him diving. That is what we call ‘personal’ service. His dive boat is comfortable, spacious and super fast to get you to the many widespread dive sites on the island. The spots where you will be diving are chosen by you! Personal service is his standard service, and you will not be charged extra, as this is the only way that Fabian operates!
Diving the Dominican reefs is rather an experience of seeing (again?) the full picture of a completely alive and kicking coral reef!
How many years has it been since the last time that you/ I saw a complete and unspoiled eco-system underwater?
From the first feet below the surface, the schools of Clepticus parrae greet you in their blue colours with yellow tails. The reefs are vibrant, and the reef fish are active and numerous; no lack of movement here. Every 10ft of distance, diving along the reef, a Diodon holocanthus will swim up to you, have a look with its gentle, big eyes, and gently disappear between the coral blocks that offer the needed shelter against possible enemies. The reefs are covered with Pseudoploria strigosa, even serving as a cleaning station for the earlier mentioned Creole Wrasse. Now, do you remember which fish carries that name in Latin?
Is the use of Latin fish names confusing?
Well, two solutions there:
One is to get your hands on a Marine Pictolife guide for the Caribbean waters. These waterproof marine guides offer the names of the fishes, corals, and so much more in 6 different
languages, including Latin.
Another solution is to study up on your Latin language and just ‘get it right’ here and now. However, as we are an international dive magazine, using the translated fish names would just create too much confusion for Google Translate for our international readers.
The reef offers a large combination of sponges. Believe me when I write that Sponge Bob would not stand out here, and you would have a hard time looking & finding him. But, the most spectacular of all is the Xetospongia muta, easily reaching up to 7ft high. It’s quite an impressive sight, and looking inside of them always gives out a surprise. Sometimes you will find a giant Magiumithrax spinosisimus inside of them. The place is also a favourite hideout for the Pterois volitans during the day, but not during the night. It is that time that they become the super-predators of the reef. This subject will be handled in a different article soon: Lionfish to Liondish!
An average of 150 reef fish species cover the reefs of Dominica, giving Dominica a high up rating among the world’s richest reef systems. Consider the amount of healthy coral, both soft and hard, sponges, algae and hydroids, and the picture becomes full of colours and life.
What about the blue water? Larger predators, oceanic fish life and what we like to say the bigger stuff?
If you are looking for sharks, Dominica is NOT the place to go! Except for the rarely seen sleeping Ginglymostoma cirratum, you will not find any other sharks in the waters around Dominica.
But other bigger stuff is plenty around. In one particular dive site, Toucari Cave, the resident Sphyraena barracuda easily reaches up to 5ft. They are so numerous that you will not miss them, showing their large teeth to you as you swim past them. When passing through the cave, your air bubbles are caught by the coral ceiling and slowly released into the water above, like champagne bubbles in a glass. The sight of the barracudas swimming through these tiny bubbles creates the feeling as if you are inside a giant cocktail. A strange visual effect on both diver and barracuda, I imagine?
Dominica has protected its reefs, and commercial fishery is not allowed! So instead, the local fisherman go out by local ‘canoe’ and fish with one handline. This kind of fishing can be seen in the abundance of blue water fish stock versus other countries where commercial net fishing completely wipes out the blue water fish.
When I stated earlier that the coral reef displays a complete picture, that is just half of it. All the above-mentioned life is also part of it.
Dominicans live in harmony with nature and the sea, and that lifestyle has brought them many advantages in the past. For example, when hurricanes destroyed their homes and broke their contact with the world, they could survive on what each house had to offer: plenty of fruit and vegetables carefully planted in the garden around the house. No, they do not live off tourism. They do not need to import food to stay alive. During decades of living with hurricanes, they learned to stay true to their history and not forget about nature.
Even during the last two years of complete lockdown due to Covid, they managed to survive, to use and eat the products in their gardens. Dominica is super-rich, but not in gold or currency!
It is up to you to go there and experience it all for yourself!
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