It was on Sunday November 3 in 1493 when Christopher Columbus officially discovered the island of Waitikubuli which is what the Kalinago natives of the island called it. The rough translation of the name is, tall is her body. Columbus wasn't quite the imaginative one so he named the island Domenica which is Italian for Sunday; the day it was first spotted. Attempts to begin colonization by Spain met with great resistance until about the 1600s. This is when the British and the French began to fight each other as well as the island natives for control of the island itself. It ended up under British rule until 1978 when it was granted its independence.
Dominica is part of an island grouping known as the Lesser Antilles of which Dominica is considered the youngest having been formed by geothermal volcanic activity. There are 7 main volcano centers on Dominica (with a total of 9 active volcanoes) which lays claim to the highest concentration of "live" volcanoes in the world. The topography of the island consists of peaks and valleys with very little actual shoreline. The highest elevation is Morne Diablotins, a volcano that reaches 4,747 feet skyward. Most of the available shoreline consists of gray or jet black volcanic sand though there are some lighter colored beaches to be found.
There are currently three marine reserves in the waters off of Dominica. Soufriere Scotts Head Marine Reserve, Cabrits National Park Marine Section and The Salisbury Marine Reserve. The first two reserves are already established while the Salisbury Marine Reserve is pending legislative approval. Each area has designated areas where snorkeling is allowed. As with any area that is designated a marine preserve, there are rules that need to be adhered to. The rules are in place to ensure that the area will still be there for future generations to enjoy. Most of the Land and Sea Preserves on Dominica do require that a fee be paid which helps to sustain the preserves.
Soufriere Scotts Head Marine Reserve is the oldest of the Reserves having been established in 1998. Located in the southwestern portion of the island, it is home to one of the most requested snorkeling sites in Dominica, which is:CHAMPAGNE REEF
Snorkeling is one of the predominant beachfront activities on the island and one of the "must do" snorkeling spots is Champagne Beach. Soufriere Bay was actually formed by a volcanic crater and it is the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets up with the Pacific Ocean. The actual beach area here should not be walked barefooted due to the pebbles and rocks scattered along the shoreline. As you enter the water and start to snorkel out, you start seeing streams of bubbles rising up from the depths. This is due to the volcanic activity going on deep below the sea floor. The gasses make their way through the substrate and escapes as bubbles into the water. It is almost as if you are snorkeling through a glass of warm champagne. There is an old shipwreck in the area on which there are still cannons. It is in about 25 feet of water. Marine life that is hard to find in other parts of the Caribbean seem to be easily spotted here. Frogfish, flying gurnard can be found during your exploration. Seahorses and squid have often been seen in this area as well as rather large specimens of stoplight parrotfish and the bright yellow sponges seem surreal near the thermal vents. Snorkelers have also reported seeing dolphin frolicking about upon occasion. This area can get a bit crowded when cruise ships are in. This can be booked as an excursion or you can venture forth with your buddy. It is a pretty large area so you could visit again and again and always see something new.CORAL GARDENS
This area is located in the central portion of the westward coast of the island with Castaway Beach being a reference point. Coral Gardens in in a depth of about 15 feet of water and is host to a wide variety of marine life. Stingrays are known to cruise the area and the colorful sea anemone compliment the corals and sponges in the area. Garden eels, upside down jellyfish and around 200 different types of marine life can be spotted in Coral Gardens.CABRITS MARINE RESERVE
The Cabrits Marine Reserve is located on the northwestern side of the island around the town of Portsmouth. It was originally a part of the Cabrits National Park but it was separated out and is under the same jurisdiction as the Soufriere/Scotts Head Reserve. Shallow snorkeling can be found close to shore in this pristine area. The hard and soft corals show off there full range of color and are a perfect home for the lobsters and crabs that live there. Sea urchins a plentiful here and you might see a few graceful rays lazily dancing about the coral.DOUGLAS BAY
This is a rocky shoreline but there are a few sandy areas to be found here. Snorkeling is a true pleasure. Under water rock formations form a base for the colorful mix of soft and hard corals you will see. The unspoiled beauty is alive with marine life. Barrel sponges can be found as well. Douglas Bay is located about 2 miles Northwest of Portsmouth.
Dominica has been dubbed the Nature Isle not only for having some of the healthiest reefs in the world but but also for the unspoiled beauty of its hiking trails, rainforest and waterfalls. Visit the Boiling lake or take a hike through the Valley of Desolation. This is one of the of the most touted eco-tourist spots in the world.
By Roy Jamason
Written January 11, 2015