Dominica’s Dive Fest, the Caribbean’s longest running scuba diving festival, encourages visitors to discover the beautiful landscapes and colourful marine life within the island’s waters. Would-be divers and snorkellers as young as eight can participate in pool- or ocean-based introductory sessions to teach them the basics, with some trial sessions even offered completely free of charge.
The annual event takes place in Dominica from 11th – 20th July 2008. To mark this special 15th anniversary year, many local dive centres are offering group travel packages whereby one diver goes free with every seven that book.
“Dive Fest was established to showcase the incredible marine environment of Dominica to both visitors and residents and is now one of the island’s staple events” comments Steve Bornn, director of tourism at the Discover Dominica Authority.
Seahorses are delightful to spot, curling onto sponges, coral or sea grass. They range in size from the tiny Hippocampus denise which is just 16 mm, to the 35 cm (1 foot) Pacific seahorse.
Seahorses are not easily seen as they blend in with their surroundings. They can change skin colour to match their environment and even grow skin filaments to imitate seaweed or sea grass growths.
The seahorse is remarkable as the male becomes pregnant. The female seahorse deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch where they are fertilised. The eggs remain in the male’s pouch until they hatch, when the male gives birth to tiny seahorses. The time to hatching takes between 10 days and four weeks, depending on the species and water temperature. Male seahorses are often pregnant for as many as 7 months in the year. The natural lifespan of seahorses is not known, but believed to be from one year for small species to five years for a larger species.
Seahorses are opportunistic predators, sitting and waiting until prey come close enough and then sucking them rapidly from the water with their long snouts. Their eyes move independently of each other, maximizing their search area. They will eat anything small enough to fit into their mouths
The name hippocampus comes from the ancient Greek, loosely hippos meaning horse and campus meaning sea monster. Hippocampi refer to the mythical creatures on which the sea gods rode. Early zoologists initially classified seahorses as insects not fish.
All seahorses for which data is available are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as either Vulnerable or Endangered. This means they are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. There are many reasons for their vulnerability. Seahorses are exploited for traditional medicines and the aquarium trade. Male brooding means that young depend on parental survival for far longer than in most fish. Many species are monogamous so widowed animals don’t reproduce until they have found a new partner. Their low population density and low mobility means that this can take some time. Habitat degradation is also a real threat to populations as they mainly inhabit shallow, coastal areas, which are highly influenced by human activities.
IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 20 April 2007.
Dominica has rejected criticism that its vote on the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was up for sale, after the prime minister returned from Japan and renewed his support for commercial whaling.
Ironically, the Caribbean island markets itself as the “Nature Island”, with whale watching being one of its attractions.
As a response to the financial input from Japan, a British peer, Lord Ashcroft, has commissioned an unprecedented television advertising campaign which he hopes will persuade the inhabitants of Dominica and five other West Indies nations not to support Japan’s plan to overturn the ban on commercial whale hunting.
The campaign is being mounted in conjunction with the UK- and US-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
In recent years, the Japanese government, recognising the importance of national votes at the IWC, has been actively recruiting support from some of the world’s smaller nations, trading financial assistance for pro-whaling votes at IWC meetings. The governments of six island nations in the eastern Caribbean, with a combined population of about half a million people, have succumbed to such overtures. Along with Dominica they are Antigua & Barbuda; Grenada; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent & the Grenadines. In every case, the Japanese have provided these nations with financial support in the form of fisheries aid.
Dominica joined the IWC in 1981 then left 1983 without voting on the ban on whaling in 1982. It rejoined the IWC in 1992, mostly taking a pro-whaling position, but often abstaining on key votes, including the vote to establish the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. However since 1997 Dominica has voted almost exactly in line with Japan, with 95 out of 98 votes cast mirroring Japan’s vote.
Lord Ashcroft, who has a home in Belize, said, “Amongst the sightings of which I have the most vivid and fond memories are of humpback whales in the Southern Ocean, close to Antarctica. To watch these huge and extraordinary creatures ‘breach’ – launching themselves head first right out of the water and then crashing back down – is in my view amongst the great wonders of the world. It is entirely beyond my comprehension that the Japanese now plan to harpoon fifty humpback whales next year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary itself. We must persuade our Caribbean friends to resist the Japanese bribery, and to vote in favour of the whales and a continuation of the ban.”
The 59th annual meeting of the IWC takes place in Anchorage, Alaska, from 28th to 31st May 2007. In the run up to this meeting, the TV ad will be showing on prime time television in all six Caribbean countries that vote with Japan.
The Caribbean Whale Friends web site, funded by Lord Ashcroft, is asking people to e-mail the government departments of Dominica and the other nations, urging them to oppose commercial whaling. Contact details are at http://www.caribbeanwhalefriends.org/country_2.htm