The Other Dominicans

Tomorrow I begin my internship on the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  When I tell people that I will be working on the island of Dominica (Dom-min-EEKA), their responses are clear that they have never heard of the island nation. “Do you have to learn Spanish to go there? That’s the country that shares an island with Haiti, right? How come you pronounce it Dom-min-EEKA… isn’t it supposed to be Duh-min-ni-kah? Ohh, I have a friend that is from the Dominican Republic!”

After a quick geography lesson, I explain to them that the Commonwealth of Dominica is a Windward Isle located in the Lesser Antilles and they are closer to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe than they are to any Spanish speaking islands. The people of Dominica speak English and a version of French Creole called Patois. Dominica does not share an island with Haiti, Great Britain, France and not even the United States for that matter.

Truly, these “other Dominicans” do not like it so much that people have no idea that they exist. Cristopher Columbus sailed there too; and he encountered a tribe of Island Caribs, the Kalinagos, when he landed there. Slaves were brought to that island too and provided the work force for both French and British occupation. Dominica is the true quintessential volcanic, tropical paradise. The island has the second largest boiling lake in the world, the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean (the Waitikubuli) and beautiful coral reefs that are on the path of whale migration. Tropical fruit trees and coconuts are there in abundance. Green forests define the landscape along with magnificent waterfalls and a “river for every day of the year.” The only living species of Sisserou Parrots live in Dominica. The country has its own government, departments of government, education system, healthcare, seaport, airport, tourism and even an American Medical School.

The point that people are unfamiliar with the island nation reveals the reality that Dominica has not received the development attention and investment that many of the other Caribbean Islands have received. Some might say this is both a blessing and a curse; others might say that it is both a problem and an opportunity. However one defines it, due to the lack of attention their economy is fragile and employment outside of subsistence farming or fishing is limited. Some innovative community leaders have done well and have created jobs for others. Ross Medical School also provides some jobs. Carnival Cruise Lines now comes into port there. Expatriates from Europe and the United States have also sought opportunity in Dominica. Eco-resorts, health tourism, and organic island living are becoming popular buzz words associated with the island.

In summary, because the natural beauty of the island has been preserved and because sustainability and ecotourism are now more frequently associated with travel destinations, and because the island has so much biodiversity, forests, mountains, fresh water and geothermal activity – the opportunity is there to help create a sustainable island that serves as a model to the world of successful green and blue economies that generate employment for its people. With some creativity, we can turn current problems into opportunities for university student research, social-entrepreneurship, poverty reduction, ecotourism, pesca-tourism, agri-tourism, renewable energy generation, all of which contribute to the goals in the country’s “Organic Island Initiative.”  Follow me on my journey as I unveil some of the sustainability practices already on the island and identify innovative ways for moving forward in their Green and Blue Economies.

Sustainability and the Nature Isle – by Jerry John Comellas

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