Finding and Re-Finding Yourself


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Interview with Senator the Honourable Robert Tonge, Minister of Tourism and Urban Renewal for the Commonwealth of Dominica

For my project, I wanted to meet with the government ministers and get a pulse for what they feel is needed in order to create more jobs on the island and reduce poverty. Tourism seems to be one of the biggest ways to make that happen. What are your thoughts on tourism as an avenue for employment generation?

As you rightfully know, here in the Caribbean our choices are somewhat limited in terms of bringing economic activity to the country. The tradition here has been agriculture, but when Dominica and some of the other Caribbean islands lost preferential treatment in agricultural trade, we really couldn’t compete on the same scale as the larger nations. We can still sell our produce to other island nations, but it obviously does not generate the income as exporting to Europe once did. So now, many are turning to tourism as an economic driver. For example, countries are using a citizenship by investment program to create income. For families who have the means and interest in purchasing land or traveling, this is sometimes of interest for them.

Tourism is one of the major drivers for Dominica now because we see it as a way to create more jobs for our people. Entering the tourism market however is not without its challenges. One of the major challenges we’ve faced is how to promote the country. The average person does not know about Dominica. More than likely, they know of the Dominican Republic and so when they hear about Dominica they assume the Dominican Republic. But if they were to see our island and compared us to the Dominican Republic, there would be no mix up.

IMG_2438We have to be very clear with our marketing for the country. Spending is limited, so we cannot just cast out a wide net; we have to be very pointed with marketing. If we place our advertisements in front of people who are more interested in a white sand beach and drinking a tequila, as opposed to someone who is into nature and sustainability then we are marketing to the wrong crowd. But if can place our advertising in front of people who appreciate what we have to offer, then we we believe that we can provide the kind of experience that they are looking for. So the idea is to be very pointed with are marketing. We try to use technology and analytics that allow us to place our advertising in front of people who are interested in nature, healthy food, hiking and diving. Using analytics helps us to connect with the right people in a much shorter period of time and at a time of decision when they are actively in the market for a tropical destination like ours. We want Dominica to be a country where it is all about finding and re-finding yourself. Dominica is a place to come enjoy nature, taste wonderful food, meet friendly people and find yourself again.

Sustainability is also very important for us here in Dominica. We want our hotels to provide the type of experience that shows sensitivity to the environment. When you hear that Dominica is the “Nature Island” of the Caribbean and the world, you expect to see certain things when you come here. Something that we are concerned about right now is keeping our country clean. It all starts with us. I always use the phrase: “Garbage has no legs, no feet and no hands; garbage cannot walk or crawl. We are the ones that determine where garbage ends up.” We have the ability to reduce our impact upon the environment. We want visitors to see that our island is clean. One of the efforts I have embarked on is the cleanliness of the gutters in Roseau. We have guys that wake up at 5:00 AM in the morning to go out and clean the streets of the capital city. Rather than campaigning first, let us begin to clean first and set the example. Let us start the trend and then say, “Hey, I am Dominica and I do not litter.” A city that is cleaner, a city that doesn’t smell, a city that is not overrun with rats and cockroaches will be more pleasant for residents and more attractive to visitors. We are passing legislation that require restaurants to have grease and food traps so that waste is not running off into gutters and polluting our waters.

IMG_2303We also want to make Dominica more accessible. Sometimes booking travel to Dominica can be very difficult. Many travel agents do not know who we are, so we are joining different travel associations that will make more people of aware of who we are. We are trying to put our name in the Global Distribution System (GDS) so that more travel agents will have visibility of Dominica and so that when you go on those different search engines, Dominica will pop up more. Someone trying to book a flight to Dominica should have more information and options on how to get here. We can potentially lose around 20% of our business if someone goes to a travel agent wanting to book for Dominica, but not enough data is available quickly. After spending 15 to 20 minutes searching, the agent may suggest someplace else.

We want to increase our budget for marketing so that we can get more people to come to Dominica. If we can fix the awareness, we know that people will come here and have a fantastic experience. From the time a guest hits the ground, we want our customs and port officers to welcome them with a smile. We want our receptionists to be welcoming. We want our bus drivers to exemplify courtesy and safety. We want our hotel staff and bartenders to practice hospitality. We know that we will need to improve in all of these areas to make our tourism experience better and so that what a guest experiences matches what has been advertised. The government is making an effort to encourage this mindset and invest in developing these kinds of accommodations. We are looking for ways to promote our unique hotels, describe their various amenities and facilitate hotel bookings through a hotel booking system that can be utilized by guests to make and pay for a reservation online.

Another step for us would be to improve our human resources by ensuring that more people are properly trained and certified. We will utilize a strategy to train trainers in different areas of hospitality. This will not only improve our services, but it will help our workers feel more confident and content in their roles. A certified worker will be more marketable in the industry and more trained workers will raise the standards of excellence island-wide. We have to improve on our hotel stock and we have to ensure that the sites that our guests go to are more people friendly. We are more or less soft-adventure, but we are going to have people who come here who cannot walk to the waterfall. So at some point we are going to have to build a track that will make it possible for anyone to be able to see and enjoy beautiful waterfalls.

So the idea is that, if we can put all of these things in place: marketing, awareness, sustainability, accessibility, technology, hospitality and training; then more people will come to Dominica, more jobs will be required in the tourism industry and many others will be indirectly employed as a result of the influx of people. From the perspective of the Ministry of Tourism, we can make our stakeholders happier by attracting more people to our shores. We are guided by principles in our tourism master plan and we have tourism initiatives taking place around the island, but when all is said and done it is about creating as many jobs as possible.

What about tourism niches like agri-tourism where guests are taken out to visit farms or pesca-tourism where people are taken out on fishing excursions that support local fisherman and at the same time helps to mitigate the exploitation of fish populations?

As a tourism destination, Dominica is unique in that we are all about the experience as opposed to just spending your entire vacation just relaxing on one beach. What is offered at hotels on most of the other Caribbean islands is all-inclusive and they are more profitable by making it so that you never leave their hotel. Dominica is different because we want you to go out and explore. Passengers of a cruise ship in port can take an agri-tourism excursion to an organic farm, survey the island landscapes, learn about local practices, sample some of the produce and make a donation. One farmer said that the tips he made on the tour were more than he could make by selling the produce in the market. Tropical Storm Erica has damaged some of the roads that lead to those farms and the cruise ships are only here for a season, but these are still areas that we feel can benefit tourism in the local communities. We want to advise our hotel owners, stakeholders and potential entrepreneurs with some ideas that have been successful on other islands to see if they might be interested in capitalizing on some of those same tourism and ecotourism opportunities here.

How do you encourage communities to develop their own special tourism niches?

We have also been supporting Community Based Tourism so that individual communities can benefit from tourism. The reality is, if the communities do not benefit from tourism then they really do not care to uphold the standards that we would like to reflect. One of our better projects is the village of Mero, where the entire community has realized that the beach is a major asset. So now they make sure that the beach is clean and they ensure that the area is safe for people to come. Even among the locals, on a Sunday the number of Dominicans that visit Mero beach is amazing compared to what it was before. This is all a result of the tourism and cleanup efforts that have been put in place there.

There are other areas around the island where we are trying to encourage community-based tourism projects. In the North of the island, for example, we have the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, (PAYS), which provides nightly security in the harbor, island tours, hikes, dives and other services for people and their boats that are anchored in Prince Rupert Bay. This has been so successful that we are looking at the possibility of providing moorings for boats in other coastal areas of the island so that they too can offer similar services in those communities and introduce more customers to their shops who might purchase fresh produce, water, food and other items.

Another idea we have been thinking about is developing an App like Uber or Lift that not only provides transportation but also puts tour guides on board. So if you are visiting the island you can open up the App and find a tour guide in your area. There is a company out of Jamaica that does this. This app will give better visibility and improve the chances of persons in those respective areas of generating business as a result of this technical tool. Community tourism really makes a difference because it can decrease unemployment in specific areas and give people a sense of responsibility to care for and protect those areas.

If university students were to come to Dominica to complete their internship projects in the areas of tourism or entrepreneurship, what particular projects would you suggest?

I think that for short projects one of the best things that a university student could offer is training. That could be training in the areas of tourism or concepts in entrepreneurship and also some motivational speaking. Also, as previously mentioned we could certainly benefit from assistance with marketing and creating awareness about our Nature Island.  In the area of technology, we could use some assistance in App development from computer programmers. Students could also assist in other areas like water and sewerage management.

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It was really great for Senator Tonge to take the time to meet with me. We had a great conversation and the focus of his work was so fresh on his mind that he answered many of my questions even before I could ask them.  Dominica offers so much in regard to ecotourism, adventure tourism, beautiful landscapes, healthy food and undisturbed natural environments.  Though it’s tourism industry is relatively young, that is what makes it a great opportunity for entrepreneurship.

Ecotourism Meets Cultural Heritage


For some travelers, sun and fun on a popular beach surrounded by creature comforts, modern amenities, and easy accessibility to restaurants and shops is their idea of vacation. More and more people, however, are hoping to truly experience something unique in a place that is hard to get to, that is surrounded by sites and sounds entirely different than the familiarity of home and that involves a certain degree of adventure.  Ecotourism is a way for people to really capture the pulse of a place and to discover the spectacular wonders of the natural environment.  When I am in Dominica, I am always amazed at the sounds of birds at dawn and at dusk, I find peace in the quiet solitude of a mountain overlooking the sea, I feel the exhilaration of jumping into a crystal clear river and I tap into my sense of adventure with a hike through the cinematic rainforest.  Exposure to these kinds of special experiences is the real magnetism behind ecotourism.  Additional value comes in the preservation of the environment, the economic benefit to indigenous people and the introduction of guests to the cultural heritage.

Dominica is perhaps the greatest location for ecotourism in the entire Caribbean.  It’s biodiversity is still intact and the cities have not been overdeveloped like other places of tourism.  For that reason Dominica is often a destination for reality TV shows that showcase adventure travel, secluded resorts or extreme competitions.  I have literally hiked a jungle trail, swam up a river gorge to a waterfall, and relaxed on a black sand beach all in the same day.  You can easily experience a whole lot with a vehicle and a roadmap, but if you hire a local guide for the day you get the backstory to everything that you are witnessing.  For example, you can travel to the village of Belles and hike the trails carved out by the maroons who had escaped into these forests during the days of slavery.  An African chief name Jacko was the pioneer and leader of an entire encampment in the rainforest.  Large steps, some three feet high, gave them an advantage over the French and English soldiers who had battled over this island for years.  Ruins of military fortifications still exist in places like Cabrits National Park near the village of Portsmouth.

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Dominica also offers the opportunity to connect with the living history of the Kalinagos, who are the largest remaining colony of Carib Indians in the world.  Travel to their territory, taste the cassava-coconut bread, watch them make wooden boats by hand, purchase some of their intricately woven baskets and if your timing is right you can experience some of their cultural celebrations that reveal ancient dances and traditions.  Their everyday lifestyle already reflects principles of sustainability and their new developments are considerate of these same values.  Their cultural center, for example, is running on electricity generated by solar panels.  I had the opportunity to meet the Kalinago chief and he said he would welcome the opportunity for university interns to come and help them develop new strategies that generate employment for their mountain community.

These days, information about cultures, cuisines and customs can be found on the internet and television, but it is so much better to encounter the people for yourself and enjoy a great big world beyond the screens that are always in our faces.  I encourage you to discover Dominica at least once in your lifetime.

Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

A Showcase for Sustainable Living


An interview with the Honorable Ian Douglas who serves the commonwealth of Dominica in leadership over the Ministry of Trade, Energy and Employment.

Dominica is considered to be the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  With that standard, the government, the business community and the people are committed to developing a nation that is sensitive to sustainability principles.  Around the island you will find solar panels on homes, street lights and other buildings; I even saw some photovoltaic panels over a Save-a-Lot grocery store and a KFC.  You will also find hydropower, wind-power and the early stages of geothermal power.  This opens up a great opportunity for USF students interested in sustainable energy to come to Dominica and experience firsthand the work conducted by engineers from Iceland and the development to come.  There are high hopes that the geothermal project will reduce electricity prices, provide jobs and encourage more business development.  I was able to interview the Minister of Trade, Energy and Employment to discuss how these three areas contribute to Dominica’s overall Green Economy.

With the demand for organic agriculture rising, how is Dominica fulfilling that demand and ensuring that these products are making it to market in good condition?

Because of the shelf life of many products, getting to the market in good condition can be a challenge. So we are working with the boat owners right now to equip them with refrigeration, cold storage and capacity onboard their boats to get the produce into the markets and on the shelves in the condition that the customer would want it. We have also invested in multi-purpose stock houses. All the stuff leaving Dominica, must go through these stock houses so that they are properly washed, sorted and packed properly. This is a multi-pronged approach. We are an agency committed to raw standards. Another thing that we are doing is certifying the farms to make sure that the farming practices of the farmers conform to this kind of conveyor belt system from the farm to the market. We are looking at all of the aspects up and down the product chain to ensure that what eventually ends up on the market is what the brand says it is.

Are there any plans for marketing to the U.S. or other nations?

Our exports are more or less targeted toward the regional, Caribbean markets. There are a lot of requirements for products entering the U.S. from Dominica, so initially, our export strategy is to grow our smaller markets like Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, and Anguilla and then eventually move on to some larger markets. We have our eyes set on expanding to places like St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which are U.S. territories but we will need to grow incrementally and get more transportation involved. As we open more markets and create more demand for Dominican products, then we can encourage our farmers to produce more. Creating the demand is important. If we ask Dominican farmers to produce more now, but we cannot get those products to the market, then we will consequentially create a glut which will discourage the market because the farmer cannot sell. Therefore, we have to grow slowly and do it right.

We have to be able to enter the market and sustain it because what the supermarkets are looking for is consistency, regularity and reliability. We cannot send 10,000 pounds of ripe bananas today and then the following week only send a box; that just doesn’t make sense. So, we also have to stagger our production. Farmers have typically planted around the seasons, but now they will need to plant non-traditionally to ensure that they can sustain regularity on the market.

What challenges in trade have those in the agriculture sector faced in Dominica?

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This image of workers loading bananas at the docks in Portsmouth Dominica was sent to me by a friend on WhatsApp.

Back in 1998, Dominica made over a hundred million dollars sending bananas to the United Kingdom. We, along with some other small island nations were given preferential treatment because of the 400 years of exploitation that England had engaged in throughout the Caribbean. For those in the U.S. and around the world who supported Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte bananas, they believed that Dominica and other small islands had an unfair advantage and that they should compete on the same level as all other nations of the world. Consideration was not given to fact that small islands had less arable land, and smaller population sizes that could not compete on the level of those nations with hectares of agriculture bigger than the whole size of Dominica and which could easily out produce the island nations in quantity. When Dominica lost preferential treatment on the U.K. market, the price of bananas dropped, the farmer couldn’t produce for the price that he was getting, the boxes used to contain the bananas were costing more than its contents and many had to abandon their fields. This disillusioned some farmers, but we are determined to find our way in the market.

What other commodities will Dominica export and to what other destinations?

Bananas, both green and ripe; ground provisions including potatoes, sweet-potatoes, dasheen, yams; vegetables, especially those that have a longer shelf-life like cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbages, teas, spices, fruit and others. We just spent about 5 million dollars (XCD), developing two new buildings in both Portsmouth and Roseau and equipping them with a conveyor-belt system for washing, sorting, spraying, weighing, packaging and preparing produce for export.

The government had considered investing in a transport vessel for export, but it was determined that the issue wasn’t so much a lack of vessels but rather upgrading existing vessels and organizing them with better direction and more efficient trade routes. Some boats were traveling to St. Martin and back, but in between Dominica and St. Martin are other islands like Montserrat, St. Kitts, Antigua, and Anguilla among others, which are not being serviced. Those vessels traveling to Martinique, for example, could easily add Barbados as an additional stop on their trade route. There is a bigger market out there and we need to be more proactive about helping these vessels expand their routes and providing the facilitation that they need. The regular markets for Dominica, right now, include Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua and St. Martin. The next step would be to market to the greater Caribbean region and then grow from there. We hope to expand into Anguilla, Tortola, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Thomas, and St. John.

There are some things that are produced here in Dominica that would certainly be of interest to other economies. Two in particular would be coconut oil and bay oil. Producers of these products are doing very well. The Ministry of Trade is requesting some funding for them so that they can improve their packaging and labeling and so they can purchase more machinery which will enable them to supply more volume to the market.

How could marketing better reflect what Dominica has to offer?

We could definitely improve our marketing on the internet; I don’t believe we do enough web based commodity marketing because it takes a lot of funding. Even with tourism marketing, we only spend about 4 million (XCD) per year marketing the country and about half of that goes to trade shows leaving very little for e-marketing. This is a lot less than other competing small islands like Grenada and St. Vincent who spend about 10 million per year in marketing. Barbados probably spends about 20 million in marketing which enables them to capture even more of the world’s attention. This is not even considering the larger island economies like Jamaica and Trinidad. We are increasing our marketing budget to about 6 million for next year and are very hopeful for the future. The same goes for commodity marketing, we are going to have to put more into it.

Recently, eight representatives from Dominica, including a member from the Dominica Export Import Agency (DEXIA), a farmer, the manager of the multi-purpose packing houses, the director of training and others went on a trade mission within the Caribbean. The team traveled to around six or seven different islands and they returned saying that there is definitely a demand for Dominican produce which has developed a reputation for being fresh and tasty. The challenge facing Dominica is the ability to enter the market with the necessary quantity and reliability necessary to maintain those trade relationships.

Do you have high hopes for Dominica’s new coffee industry?

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Coffee Tree

Absolutely. I believe that Dominica’s coffee can rival Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee easily because we have the elevation. Dominica is one of the most mountainous places, per square mile, on the face of the earth. Dominica also has the volcanic soil and tropical environment that have also proven great for growing coffee.

Ultimately, what we would like to do is brand Dominica as a totally organic, sustainable, renewable energy island. That is why we are going after the geothermal so much, because it presents so much potential for us to be able to reach that goal. Already in tourism, we are marketing the island for the ecotourism; if we can do that in other aspects, then the entire island itself can, in fact, become a showcase for sustainable living.

I’ve heard that in the long run, geothermal energy is the most affordable, most renewable source of energy but that the initial investment can be very expensive. How has Dominica financed their geothermal project and what is the present state of development?

Yes, it is true, the project has cost us an arm and a leg up front but the outcome can be very beneficial for Dominica.  We have drilled about five holes so far, tested the power, purchased turbines and spent about 100 million, 40% of which has been made up of local funding. We also received some assistance from the E.U. Engineers from Iceland assisted us with the drilling and testing and now we are ready to move on to the turbine stage which again will cost us around 70 to 80 million. It is believed that up to 120 megawatts of power can be generated from the wells. Dominica only needs between 10 and 15 megawatts, which allows for the potential to export energy to neighboring islands. Our geothermal wells are not just dry heat or wet steam either, they spring up hot water. We pump the hot water up, separate the steam from the water, and then re-inject the water back into the well.

Initially we were working with the French because we knew that viability of the whole project was in the export of the geothermal power to Martinique and Guadeloupe. We believed that a partnership with a French Consortium of companies could assist with this project, but they are holding out for now. Nevertheless, we will pursue our small plant on our own because our government has a particular agenda and a commitment to the people for the reduction of our light bills and we need to be able to deliver that. We are putting together a geothermal development company to move the project forward. The government will have a majority of the shares but we are going to open up the opportunity for other companies and individual investors to buy shares and have some equity in the company.

Would you be open to university students coming out to learn and volunteer with the geothermal project?

We would love that.

How does the geothermal project open up opportunity for job creation?

If we drop the price of electricity, more companies will be able to come here for manufacturing. Businesses will be able to allocate funds for expansion and new hires. Hotels will be able to offer more affordable room rates. The price of electricity right now is just prohibiting. For many of our hotels, the price of electricity makes the room rate uncompetitive and for that reason, some our hotels right now are self generating with off grid energy systems. All of this puts the need for the development of a renewable energy source as a top priority. If too many people are self generating, it could threaten the viability of the grid system and compromise the ability to make electricity available to everyone at a fair price. Geothermal energy will allow us to drop the price of electricity by more than 50% per kilowatt hour. Right now the price is around 55 to 60 U.S. cents per kWh and we need to drop that to around 15 and 20 cents per kWh to be competitive. One of the other spinoffs of geothermal is hydrogen gas which can potentially be used to power our vehicles. Even electric cars could plug up and be charged through our geothermal power generation.

What are some recommendations going forward for anyone interested in getting involved?

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New Coffee Production Facility in Portsmouth

For the geothermal it could be investment into the geothermal company. For trade it could be marketing and getting Dominican products out on the shelves of other countries. Dominica can readily produce ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric and other spices and herbal remedies that are gaining popularity. Dominica also has a brand new coffee production facility which needs some investors and farmers to realize that potential. Dominica could also export various teas which are not limited to the black and green teas but also include the basillic, sorrel and other gourmet teas. Pureed fruits like mango, guava, pawpaw, and sweetsop could also be made ready for export.

How can village communities benefit from regional/international trade?

There are agents here called hucksters who go into the villages to buy produce for export from local farmers who on their own cannot reach the regional/international markets. The hucksters handle all of the shipping details and often times serve as agents for their local governments for importing particular agricultural products. Though the local farmer does not deal directly in the trade, they are benefiting from the additional sale of products beyond their local area.

Dominica is such a wonderful place that the world needs to see. What else would you say is advantageous about your green economy?

Being the Nature Island of the world, we are at a comparative advantage and we have the resources like fresh water, geothermal energy, and quality produce coming out of our soil to prove it. Using sustainability principles to our advantage, we can bring about economic stability in Dominica.

Mr. Douglas and I had a great conversation and some good laughs too.  Looking to the future, I believe that at the Patel College of Global Sustainability, we have a world of opportunity in partnering with Dominica and their sustainability initiatives. – Jerry John Comellas

 

Journey to the Sea – Leatherback Hatchlings at Rosalie Bay


Journey to the Sea – My Experience with Leatherback Hatchlings at Rosalie Bay, Dominica. (Be sure not to miss the video posted lower down in this blog)

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Through the rainforest on winding mountain roads we set out for Rosalie Bay. We had left the tranquility of the Western coast of Dominica and the Caribbean Sea for the unique opportunity to witness sea turtle hatchlings on the Southeast, wilder Atlantic coast.  Between March and July of each year leatherback turtles weighing up to a thousand pounds complete their migratory journey to Iceland and right back to the place of their birth, here in Dominica. The views along the jungle roads were spectacular, the air was cooler at the higher altitudes and for a time it felt like we were someplace else. Our 4WD vehicle was driven by my internship supervisor, Mr. Renneth Alexis, who shared his thoughts on entrepreneurship and tourism along the way. Traveling with us was my friend Pastor Eddie George and his daughter Charissa.

We came to a break in the canopy that opened up to a village community along the Rosalie River.  We crossed over on a bridge that literally had no railings and you could see where it emptied out into the Atlantic Ocean.  Up the mountain was the village of Grand Fond, and in the valley below, just beyond a field of bananas and plantains was the Rosalie Bay Resort.  Once a site of grand plantation, it is a perfectly situated flat piece of land with a river on one side and a mountain on the other.  As a private resort it is really the tropical escape that many people are looking for; but beyond the pool, spa, fitness center, restaurant, garden and first class lodging, is an environment meticulously created with green principles including renewable energy through a 225 kW wind turbine, really clean spring water that is sand filtered and treated with UV light, eco-friendly sewage disposal, organic produce, responsible seafood, locally sourced building materials and marine habitat protection. Rosalie Bay resort owners Beverly Deikel and Patris Oscar are true visionaries with green initiatives, excellent hospitality procedures, and generators of local employment.

Activities director, Judy Joyce took us on a resort and garden tour where we learned about all kinds of native plants, the production of bay oil with bay leaves, varieties of tropical fruit and nuts, herbal remedies and flowers.  She picked a flower and said, “Smell this flower. This is Elang Elang and they make Chanel No. 5 out of this stuff.  Here, smell this leaf!  What does that smell like to you?”  “It smells like Cinnamon.” I responded.  Enthusiastically she sounded: “Exactly!  Here now; take some in your pocket and when you get home tonight, boil it in some water to make your cinnamon tea.  You are going to love it.”  And you know what?  I did.  It really was delicious.

Back to the story.  Judy led us on a trek all the way up to the humongous wind turbine, which she said has the potential to generate enough energy for the resort and surrounding villages.  After returning to the valley, we had a delicious fish lunch and set out for the beach to look for turtles.  Judy introduced us to the president of Rosalie’s Nature Enhancement Team (NET), Simon George who spends a whole lot of his time on that beautiful black sand beach.

IMG_2676“Welcome to my humble maternity ward.” Simon announced.  “Three species of sea turtles come to nest here at Rosalie Bay: the Green Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill and the Leatherback.  The Green Turtle mothers which can weigh between 500 and 800 pounds, will most often crawl up high onto the beach to lay their eggs.  Hawksbills will climb up even higher into the vegetation above the beach.  But the leatherback mothers can weigh between 800 and a 1,000 pounds and it takes them around two and a half hours to leave the ocean, come ashore, select a spot, prepare it, dig the chamber, enter into a trance while laying their eggs, bury the eggs in the sand and camouflage the site. And, that is if everything goes right.”

Simon went on to explain that because of their size, it is more difficult for leatherbacks to come up far enough on the beach to lay their eggs in a safe location.  Often times the tide rises and the water table drowns the nests.  Sometimes the ocean erodes the sand, scattering the eggs all over the place and washing them into the water.  After the mother returns to the sea, the eggs are on their own without any protection.  Turtle eggs are vulnerable to poachers and young hatchlings are vulnerable to predators.  For this reason, the Nature Enhancement Team (NET) at Rosalie Bay has developed a plan to improve the chances of survival for the leatherback turtles.  Volunteers scan the beach everyday looking for mother turtles, hatchlings and nests.  Simon identifies new nests that are in poor locations, digs up the leatherback eggs and relocates them to the turtle hatchery. Each nest in the hatchery is placed in a grid system, 90cm apart from each other and organized by the the date when it was placed in the grid.  Knowing the time frame that it takes for turtles to hatch, they can expect turtles to start crawling out after about 60 to 70 days. Here in Dominica, they’ve noticed that it takes around 65 days.

When a leatherback turtle lays her eggs about 80 out of 100 will be fertile eggs.  She lays those eggs first, followed by yolkless eggs which create space and cushion for the fertilized eggs below them.  The yolkless eggs vary in size from golf ball to marble.  The turtles have an egg tooth which allows them to break through the eggs and follow each other up through the yolkless eggs and sand.  Those who lag behind do not have the advantage of several turtles pressing to the surface simultaneously.

When young turtles begin to leave the nest, Simon ensures that they are counted and protected from predators.  On the average, the leatherbacks lay around 100 eggs, but not all of the turtles make it out of the nests successfully.  Some never develop, some never mature and some turtles never dig their way out of the sand.  For that reason, Simon will dig out the remaining shells and contents from the nest.  He does this for three reasons.

  1. To rescue the remaining hatchlings that were straggling behind whether because they were weak, deformed, trapped or just having a hard time digging out.
  2. To collect data on the nests
  3. To get rid of all of the residue in the nests, so that they do not attract predators like dogs and frigate birds.

When it is time for the leatherback turtle nest to be excavated, members of the Nature Enhancement Team document the remaining contents in the nest and complete a “Dominica Sea Turtle Nest Excavation Form.”  This form requires time, date, name of principal observer, beach name, location, turtle species, tag numbers associated with the mother turtle and the nest, evidence of an existing nest (tracks, hatchlings, depression), hatch results and number of turtles released. Hatchling Release information must also include date, time, number to turtles, and number of guests witnessing the release.

The hatch results are differentiated by the following descriptions:  Live/dead hatchlings out of nest; live/dead hatchlings in the nest; hatched shells; rotten eggs; undeveloped but not rotten eggs; pipped (partially hatched) live/dead turtles; full-term live/dead embryo; early-term (premature) embryo; yolkless; deformed embryo (twins, albino, undeveloped flippers).

All the collected information is submitted to a database managed by the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network out of Duke University (WideCast).  This is the parent body that gives guidance to Sea Turtle Conservation to 40 countries in the Caribbean.  There are seven species of sea turtles in the world and six of them frequent the Caribbean waters.  The Nature Enhancement Team is a member of the Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization (DomSetCo).

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Leatherbacks come to Dominica between March and July and during that period each mother lays eggs around four or five times.  They do this in nine day intervals.  At the end of this time period, the leatherback turtles head north to Iceland, feeding on jellyfish along the way.  DomSetCo and the Nature Enhancement Team puts transmitters on some turtles so that they can monitor their travel routes.  They have watched mother turtles swim out thirty miles and then come back to the beach after nine days to lay more eggs.  The mother leatherbacks do not come back every year because they have to build up fat and calcium.  It takes between two and five years for them to return.  Adult male leatherbacks have no reason to come ashore and primarily stay out at sea.

This has been a great year for sea turtles at Rosalie with hatchlings being released almost every evening.  In the two days that I visited Rosalie Bay Resort, which were a couple of weeks apart, 34 turtles were released on the first day and 60 the next.  They do not place the turtles into the ocean but rather give them a stretch of beach to crawl so that the location of their birth and their journey to the sea will be imprinted upon their memory and then around 25 years later those who have survived will return.  One in a thousand will live to become adult sea turtles.

I watched a Simon stretched the entire length of his arm into a nest to remove the egg remains and rescue any trapped turtles.  He said with a smile, “Did you know that when young turtles are hatched it is unknown whether they are male or female.  Because turtles are reptiles, it is believed that the temperature of the sand can determine the gender of the turtles, hotter sand revealing more females and cooler sand revealing more males.  Look, here is a lively one!  Hopefully this one will return back to Dominica and we will learn if it was a male or female.”

We watched as these baby turtles took their journey to the sea.  It was a remarkable thing to see them take their first steps down the beach and their first flipper strokes into the ocean.  Even more remarkable to consider is that somehow these turtles will remember this experience.  I know that for me, I will never forget the turtles and the people of Rosalie Bay.  I keep thinking to myself that somehow I am now part of a greater story and that one day, 25 years from now, some of these same turtles will return and someone else will be looking out from this black sand beach, watching as giant sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs on the beach where they were born.  This is the stuff that produces the stories of legend and fantasy.  Come and experience Dominica for yourself.

 

NET grew out of the original “Rosalie Sea Turtle Initiative” (RoSTI), which was founded by Rosalie Bay resort owners Beverly Deikel and Patris Oscar.  Judy shared that several universities have come out to study the leatherback turtles at Rosalie Bay.  Students from the University of South Florida interested in studying or interning here can prepare by viewing Rosalie Bay’s website, Facebook page and reading their project reports and history online at http://seamap.env.duke.edu/seamap2.5/widecast/references/dm_105.pdf  Students can also coordinate with Beverly and Oscar or Jerry John Comellas to organize a trip.  Simon said that BBC TV was recently out at Rosalie Bay filming a documentary for children called “Our Ocean, Our Future.”

Rosalie Bay Resort was the first to launch a sea turtle conservation program in Dominica and their example has encouraged other turtle protection programs around the island.  In 2012, Travel+Leisure Magazine awarded Rosalie Bay with the “Global Vision Award for Conservation.”  The resort makes turtle conservation a part of the sustainable tourism experience for all of their guests and even provides wake up calls for those who want to be notified when turtles come ashore at night.   (Rosalie Bay, 2015)

 

Works Cited

Rosalie Bay. (2015). Sea turtle nesting and hatching at Rosalie Bay. (Website and marketing by Madigan Pratt & Associates.) Retrieved 2016, from RosalieBay.com: http://rosaliebay.com/activities/turtles.html

 

 

 

…and a River for Every Day of the Year


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Interview with Bernard Ettinoffe – General Manager of DOWASCO

Managing Dominica’s Most Precious Resource – WATER

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WATER SECURITY

Though it is said that in Dominica “there is a river for everyday of the year” the Dominica Water and Sewerage Company (DOWASCO), does not want to take their abundance of water for granted. Mr. Bernard Ettinoffe, General Manager of DOWASCO knows all to well how finite and vulnerable the water resource is and how it can be negatively impacted by climate change, human activities and new development, quite easily.  Therefore, DOWASCO is determined to manage this precious resource appropriately and ensure the sustainability of water resources for all Dominicans now and into the future.

What is the current statistic on water provision throughout the country?

Presently over 97% of the islanders have potable water.  We would have been at 100% had it not been for Tropical Storm Erika in August of 2015.  At the time a new water system was set to be commissioned in the village of Belles by October of that year, but the storm wreaked havoc on our work there. 1,443,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD) have been requested to complete that project.

CLEAN and SAFE DRINKING WATER

 

IMG_0059What efforts are in place to ensure that clean drinking water is supplied?

The way that DOWASCO maintains clean water systems is to obtain intakes from way up stream where the soil is not loose, where the rocks are more solid and where the water is not prone to silting.  Our best water sources are higher up and some  within the UNESCO World Heritage Site where people do not live and where agriculture and the felling of trees is not permitted.  Because there is no construction of any kind in that area, the water is very, very clean.  The water is pulled from those sites, chlorinated and delivered to the communities.  Depending on turbidity levels, others checks and treatments may include sedimentation, filtration, coagulation, and flocculation.  We always ensure that the water is very clean.  When cruise ships come into port, Dominica supplies the vessel with this same water which is double checked on board in the ship’s water testing labs.

The raw water quality is already very good, so most of the time chlorination is the only necessary treatment.  This is because we choose areas that are higher up in the mountains and have less interaction with people.  If we require a water intake in an area that has agriculture, the farmers in that area are paid a subsidy and are no longer allowed to utilize that land.  There is zero tolerance for the felling of trees and the planting of crops near a water intake area to ensure that no fertilizer or other runoff enters the water system.  In cases where turbidity can be high, for example with the Springfield/Antrim system that serves Roseau, (after the road was constructed, a lot of debris was dumped on the hillside), we have introduced coagulation and flocculation with that particular system.

HYDROPOWER

I have noticed the Hydroelectric Complex near Trafalgar falls. How does water in Dominica help in the generation of electricity?

The Dominica Electricity Services Company (DOMLEC) uses some hydropower which is generated from water coming down Trafalgar Falls from Fresh Water Lake.  DOWASCO has a bulk waterline that extends from the mountain power plant all the way down to the seashore and which has the potential to load ships with six million gallons of water per day.  Our intention is to use that water to load the ships, but once no ship is loading, to use that water to generate hydropower and upload it onto DOMLEC’s grid. DOWASCO has a Power Purchase Agreement with DOMLEC for this process.  There is a trade-off from the electricity that DOWASCO utilizes and the balance which is uploaded to the grid.  More specifically, there is a designated price that DOMLEC would pay for the generated electricity, which is included in the Power Purchase Agreement.  If the water company uses more electricity than what is uploaded, then we pay the difference; if we use less, then the electric company will refund the difference based on the prearranged price.  Presently, less than 20% of the community is using hydropower.  The goal has always been to utilize more, but recently investment and focus has moved toward the development of geothermal energy.

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OPPORTUNITIES FOR UNIVERSITY RESEARCH  

If students from the University of South Florida had the opportunity to participate in an internship here, what kinds of water projects could they be involved with?

If university students were interested in water projects in Dominica, they could study the linkages between forestry, the water resources and the impact of climate change.  Some water resource studies have already been conducted by the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) of the University of the West Indies.  A team of students could follow up that work.  Presently Dominica is looking at a water audit to determine the quantity and quality of both surface water and underground water, along with the identification of the water recharge rate and an understanding of the water balance as a whole.  The country could also benefit from a study of the independent efforts at rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and water reuse and turning that study into a campaign that encourages the sustainable use of water island-wide.

MITIGATING WATER SCARCITY IN THE CARIBBEAN

With all of this water on the Nature Island, is there any opportunity for entrepreneurship?

Not all islands in the Caribbean are as blessed with the abundance of water like Dominica.  Water-scarcity is a problem for several countries in the region and there is an opportunity to leverage the existing capabilities of Dominica to meet that need.  Dominica is known as the Nature Island; building along that theme with the promotion of quality Nature Island water from the tropical forests of Dominica, we could be a supplier to water-stressed areas in the region like Antigua, Barbuda, and Barbados, among others.  Dominica has the highest per capita of water in the region.

WATER-ENERGY-FOOD NEXUS

At the Patel College of Global Sustainability we have learned about the Water-Energy-Food Nexus and how a change to one sector can significantly impact another.  How is this systems thinking approach considered in Dominica?

 

In Dominica, energy is used to provide water and water is used to generate energy.  As much as possible, gravity is used to deliver clean water to many of the residences and business on the island.  In some areas, however, we are obliged to use pumping stations to deliver water to communities that are above the waterline. Although the cost of that water is high, DOWASCO does not pass those costs on to the consumers in that area.  Instead, we make up some of the cost of energy used to deliver that water through earnings from the hydropower production and the power purchase agreement with the electric company.  More and more, demand for water is also required for the irrigation of agriculture.  In the minds of most people, gone are the days when gardens could rely solely on rainwater.  Certainly rainwater harvesting could provide some of this water requirement and productivity could increase significantly if people would simply learn how to better manage their water usage.  But for now, the food production levels are still heavily dependent on the water system.  This all contributes to the Water, Energy, Food Nexus in Dominica.

Even though it is believed that Dominica has 365 rivers, Mr. Ettinoffe is hopeful that best practices in water management will be utilized all over the country which will conserve this finite resource and contribute even more to their status as the Nature Island of the Caribbean.

Jerry John Comellas; University of South Florida; Patel College of Global Sustainability

Down Time in Dominica


There are a routine number of activities that are common among the locals on the weekends: Saturdays involve time in the garden, going to the market and washing clothes; Sundays are about going to church, eating a big lunch and taking a long nap.  And when time allows, you fill find them hiking forest trails, swimming in the river or relaxing on the beach.

For me personally, I just spent a whole week lining up appointments, creating surveys, making phone calls, sending emails, popping in to government office buildings, connecting with tourism organizations and networking with people on the island for the development of my capstone internship project.  So to get a little down time over the weekend has been a real joy.  On Saturday I participated in an amazing ecotourism adventure called Hike Fest, which I will write about in another blog.  So let me tell you what I did today.

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Today is Sunday.  After attending a local church service filled with island style music, dancing, special artistic presentations by the youth and some powerful preaching, I decided to hike into the jungle forest to try and find that cocoa fruit that I had promised to show you guys.  As I made my way to the trail head I could smell the lemon grass that had recently been cut and all the evidence of a tropical island was around me.  The Caribbean Sea was shimmering in the distance. Village streets were lined with trees adorned by mangos, bananas, kokoi-plantains, limes, soursop, breadfruit and pawpaws (papayas).  I passed three kinds of nut trees too – coconut, almonds and cashews. (I try to avoid the cashew tree even though it has a tasty plum;  I’ve learned the hard way that tampering too much with a raw cashew nut can cause a severe allergic reaction.) Moving on.

As I entered the trail I was greeted by five baby goats that were leaping on and off of a large stone – cute and curious.  The trail meandered along a river which created the soundtrack for my afternoon trek.  I found several guava trees along the trail but the fruit was still green; so I helped myself to some of the young red leaves to make into a delicious tea later on.  I located some cocoa (cacao) trees but most of the fruit that remained had already dried up.  Finally I found a ripe one, but it was so high up I couldn’t get to it.  I started to climb the tree, but I had to step on a termite mound… so I changed my mind.  I threw a couple of rocks at the cocoa even making a direct hit but that thing was not coming down.

I decided to walk further up the mountain trail toward one of the Waitikubuli entry points (the Waitikubuli is the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean).  This segment of the trail has a primitive but adventurous swinging bridge like a scene right out of a movie.  Passion Flowers, Flamboyant Trees and wild Caribbean Orchids gave color to the green landscape.  Bananaquit birds were chirping loudly all around me, Green Throated Carib Hummingbirds buzzed by quickly then darted into the trees and two Jaco Parrots squawked overhead. At last I found more chocolate trees and one of them was ripe and in reach.  Hooray!

The walk back home was just as nice and natural as the walk up the trail and it concluded with a not as natural dip in the swimming pool, but hey, I’m not complaining.  Come discover Dominica for yourself.

Cocoa (Cacao) Fruit

One Lump or Two?


Saturday morning in Dominica is when most people head to the open market to purchase their organic produce for the week.  My favorite stop is for the coconut water, affectionately called Jelly Water in Dominica, because after you drink the water, they will split the young coconut for you so that you can eat the coconut jelly inside.  The coconut has so many uses as food, drink, oil, lotions, crafts and other uses.  Here’s a picture of my good friend Eddie and I enjoying some jelly water at Saturday market.

Coconut Water in the Market

Another favorite is the homemade cocoa that is made from the cacao fruit that is grown in gardens and even wild throughout the island.  There is a delicious white pulp around the cocoa beans that tastes sooooooo delicious, I wish I could make a juice out of it.  After the beans have been dried, roasted, peeled, pulverized into a paste and formed into sticks, they can be boiled in coconut milk and spices to make cocoa tea (a version of hot chocolate).  Once while making the tea, I didn’t have coconut milk and so I used hot water which made it kind of thin, but someone had told me that a little flour could thicken it up.  I had no idea what I was doing and I ended up with lumps of flour floating in my hot chocolate.  I would have preferred marshmallows or even lumps of sugar over lumps of flour.  That story traveled fast and to this day the locals all laugh at me for making cocoa dumpling tea.

In another blog post I will have to show you the fruit that surrounds each cocoa bean – so delicious.  But for today feast your eyes on a cocoa stick used for making hot chocolate or as they say here, “Cocoa Tea.”

Video – Cocoa Tea in Dominica with Jerry John Comellas