Dominica is home to productive fringing coral reefs, large numbers of whales and the world’s second-largest hot spring. Three marine reserves have been established to reduce fishing pressure and support the growing dive tourism industry; these are overseen by the Dominica Marine Reserve Service.

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Reefs in Dominica

There is a total of 70 km2 of reef around Dominica. There is a very narrow coastal shelf and the most productive coral reefs are found within 250 m of the shore. There are very few well-developed offshore banks as the shelf can drop steeply within 30 m of the coast. Off the south, west and northwest coasts, coral veneers on rock are well developed. In 2004 it was reported that the reefs exhibit high hard and soft coral abundance, very low algal cover and no observable disease or bleaching (Reef Check surveys). Healthy populations of Diadema urchins and algal grazers (parrotfish / doctorfish) were observed, which appear to be controlling algal growth. The presence of some large groupers was noted, which is rare for the Caribbean. Sedimentation due to heavy rainfall was seen at some southern reefs around Scott’s Head.

Recreational and commercial use

Tourism in Dominica accounted for 22% of GDP in 2002 and was valued at $64 million. A popular tourist attraction is the world’s second largest hot spring, known as the Boiling Lake. This lake is evidence of the formation of the island by geothermal-volcanic activity. Dominica is still forming and is the youngest island of the Lesser Antilles. Known as the “Nature Isle of the Caribbean”, Dominica boasts unspoilt natural beauty and lush mountainous rainforests, home to many rare plants, animals and birds. Although the reefs are less developed than some other Caribbean nations, the underwater topography of steep slopes and vertical walls not far offshore, as well as lava chutes, makes for spectacular SCUBA diving. Marine based tourism has become increasingly popular in recent years. In addition, the diversity and abundance of cetaceans in these waters make it a popular destination for whale-watching. There are over 2,000 registered fishers in Dominica, of which nearly 70% are full-time. This accounts for approximately 3% of the population. In 1994, fish production accounted for 1.77% of GDP. 15% of fishing vessels are based at Scott’s Head on the southwest coast. Most fish is sold direct to the consumer at beach landing sites.

Threats to reefs

Key environmental threats to reefs include coral bleaching and sedimentation. The terrestrial topography of steep sided mountains gives rise to extensive sedimentation during times of heavy rainfall. Although there has not been a direct hurricane hit since 1979, Hurricane Luis (1995) resulted in heavy sedimentation and wave destruction of reef-building corals along the southwest coast. All of Dominica’s reefs are threatened by human activities including; overfishing, coastal development, and pollution from land-based sources. Marine-based pollution threatens approximately 15% of the reefs. The presence of mooring buoys in some areas helps to reduce the threat of boat anchor damage. According to climate modelling reefs in the area will experience thermal stress severe enough to cause bleaching every year after 2040. Ocean acidification is expected to cause declines in coral calcification by 2040 of ~10%. 

Reef management

Dominica has established 3 marine reserves to preserve and protect the marine environment for all users. Cabrits Marine Reserve is located in the north, Soufriere Scott’s Head Marine Reserve is located in the south. Salisbury Marine Reserve, which is currently awaiting legislative protection, is centrally located. The reserves are all fisheries driven, protecting important fish nursery and spawning grounds, in conjunction with supporting the growing dive tourism industry. The reserves are overseen by The Dominica Marine Reserve Service, which was established with full backing by the Fisheries Department to provide an effective management body to protect, promote and educate about the marine environment. The Soufriere Scott’s Head Marine Reserve was established under the Fisheries Act of 1987, due to increasing demand on the limited marine resources and associated user conflict. It is a multi-zone reserve consisting of; fish nursery area, recreation area, fishing priority area and SCUBA diving area. SSMR is managed by the Local Area Management Authority, which is comprised of stakeholders including representatives from the tourism and fisheries industry, Dominica Coast Guard and the  Fisheries Division. Due to low resource levels for enforcement, commercial dive operators collaborate with the Fisheries Division and assist in patrols and monitoring.

The information used to prepare this report was compiled from the following reports and articles:

Bouchon, C., Miller, A., Bouchon-Navaro, Y., Portillo, P. and Louis, M. (2004) Status of Corals Reefs in the French Caribbean Islands and Other Islands of the Eastern Antilles. In: In: Wilkinson, C. (ed.). Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, Australia. pp 493-507.

Burke, L. and Maidens, J. (2004) Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean. World Resources Institute, Washington DC. 80 p.

Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism. Quick Facts: Dominica

Dominica Marine Reserves website

Soufriere Scott’s Head Marine Reserve website