Geography of Dominica: Discovery
Discovering Dominica: Geography
Dominica is located between the French islands of Guadeloupe (to the north) and Martinique (to the south). Don't mix up Dominica with the Dominican Republic! It is one of the leeward islands with 29 miles (47 km) from north to south and 16 miles (26 km) wide for 290 miles (780 km2) in total surface area. Roseau, the capital, is located on the southwestern coast. The mountain range extends from the north to the south and has an average altitude of 3000 feet (1000 m), and the highest point is Morne Diablotin at 1447 m, followed by Trois-Pitons at 1387 m. Weak volcanic activity can be noticed in different places, including the Valley of Desolation and the boiling lake at 701 m above sea level, and both are located within the world heritage site. This lake was formed in the crater of the volcano, and the great pressure caused by the gases coming off of it can make the water level rise by 1 m or more. The trade winds coming off the Atlantic blow over the mountains and provide nearly 762 cm in precipitation each year. The temperature remains almost constant year round, at about 30 °C in the summer, and their is a lot of humidity.
Appearance of life
Plants began to take root even before the end of volcanic activity, 45,000 years ago. Different theories have been suggested as to the origin of life on Dominica. Fruits and seeds most likely came from the coast of Venezuela and were carried over by the currents. Initially, seeds and fruit crossed the ocean, from South Africa to South America. Then, a part went down the Orenoque then followed the currents to the Caribbean. These seeds had dry husks, allowing them to remain in water for extended periods of time and then germinate in fertile soil. Afterwards, Christopher Columbus brought mangos, breadfruit and coconuts. The squalls of violent wind and hurricanes probably transported animals such as birds, insects, and bats, which play an important role in pollination. In addition, bird migratory movements were easy along the coasts of the Caribbean islands. A few insects and reptiles got here thanks to ocean currents, drifting along on tree trunks or other debris. Frogs, snakes, lizards, rats, mice as well as agoutis were accidentally brought over on the boats by the Caribbeans or Arawak Indians.
One hundred and sixty-six species of birds are referenced on Dominica. The sovereign king is of course the Sisserou or King Parrot. This parrot is the emblem of the island, it appears on the national flag. In the treetops you can also see the Jaco, another parrot, with its red neck. They are both protected by the forest protection law. They live in the Morne Diablotin region, and in order to observe them, you'll have to set aside time for at least a day's hike with a guide. Otherwise, you'll have to settle for seeing them in a cage, in the Botanical Gardens in Roseau. Other birds can be distinguished, such as mountain whistlers and their special tremolo or eagles called malfinis and their shrill cry when they fly over the valley.
Much smaller, the robins making their nests in the rooftops, tremblers and other myzomela (Bananaquit) add to the list with the multicoloured hummingbirds with their magnificent ballets around the many tropical flowers … The manioc cuckoo or « mangrove Cuckoo », thrushes, grosbeak, pigeons and the partridge come next. Near the rivers, you'll see the heron or pond heron, looking for shellfish under the rocks. On the sea, you'll have the opportunity to see the « bayas » or « sandpiper », spotted bird, large fregatebirds and other pelicans and occasionally a sea hawk gliding above the shoals of fish.
Shellfish and reptiles
In the rivers, you'll find crayfish, crabs, mullet, mountain-chicken (large frogs that are much appreciated for their delicious legs). Amongst the reptiles, you'll find lizards (Zandoli), iguanas – which are protected – and five kinds of non-poisonous snakes. Species that are not protected are hunted from September to February. Five other species of non-poisonous snakes are also referenced, of which the most impressive is the boa constrictor.
Outings to observe turtles (even during the night when laying eggs) and their protection are provided by a very dynamic association under the leadership of Irishman Rowan Byrne, a marine biologist, who is fascinated with turtles. He knows how to get you interested in these sea turtles called « Hawksbill », « Leatherback » and « « Green turtle »«. He also organises local protection and research educational activities because the Caribbeans are particular fond of turtle meat and turtle eggs. Thanks to his very dynamic efforts across the island, he has gained respect for his magnificent turtles that come to give birth on the eastern coast of the island! Egg-laying season lasts from the end of March and October.
Whales have chosen the waters of Dominica because they are not polluted and are silent. Mother whales arrive with their little whale-calves and their job is to fatten them up for a few months, teaching them the basic skills of life before returning to the colder waters of Canada or other countries! Many companies organise boat excursions so that you can discover these cetaceans, for which seven species have been seen (as well as eleven species of dolphins) in the waters of Dominica. The clarity of the water, the beauty of the landscapes and the impressive size of the animals make for a memorable and exciting experience.