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Dominica's massive Soufriere/Scotts Head Bay is now a marine reserve

Written by Roxan Kinas on .

Ocean kayaking isn't exactly a common Caribbean pastime. Then neither is dolphin or whale-watching. Yet you can do both together in Dominica's recently-named Soufriere/Scotts Head Marine Reserve (SSMR).
An immense bay, the SSMR is formed in the south by the Scotts Head peninsula and extends north some two miles to the coastal area of Anse Bateaux, providing a cove-like setting for the fishing villages of Soufriere and Lydiaville.
This bustling marine area accommodates a medley of recreational and income-generating activities. Not only does it furnish a vibrant and essential share of Dominica's fishing industry, the bay also harbours several unique and exotic dive and snorkel sites.
Other major bay attractions include paddling a kayak in search of dolphins and pilot whales, sea bathing in warm, bubbling shore waters, and conducting scientific research.
Yet designating this area a marine reserve did not curtail these activities, it merely enabled officials to set protective guidelines and limits, and to allocate specific areas to each specialty group, thus preventing what officials refer to as 'user conflicts'.
The Dominica government, realising the potential for both growth and destruction of this valuable, multi-use marine area, began incubating plans back in 1987 for maintaining the pristine state of the bay and its ecosystems.
The Marine Reserve was officially launched on June 25 with a day of activities that united an entire community. Government officials, fishermen, school children, local residents and even tourists came together for an event that launched a massive public awareness campaign designed to underscore the value of this marine environment.
In a special flyer promoting SSMR Day, Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Nigel Lawrence, told readers the June launch of SSMR was designed to enlighten the population on the importance of this marine environment "and the need to preserve, conserve and manage this spectacular and unique yet fragile marine setting."
No matter what endeavour is undertaken in the SSMR, he stressed, "it will have to demonstrate economic viability; be environmentally sound and be respectful of the rights and traditions of the community."
Aside from a massive public awareness blitz, officials from Dominica's Fisheries Division, in conjunction with the French Government, set guidelines and rules for use of the area to further ensure the bay remains pristine. French technical and financial assistance also helped initiate the reserve's integrated management plan, which regulates use of use the bay.
The bay is segmented into five zonal areas, the largest of which is the fishing priority area in the heart of the bay. The north and the south ends, which house a wealth of unusual underwater formations, are designated dive sites. Between the fishing and southern dive zones is a designated recreation area and niched in the cove off Soufriere village is a fish nursery and research zone.
The zones provide both protection and opportunity for area users by safeguarding the bay environment and resolving conflicts, particularly between the principal users, fishermen and divers, who will no longer 'get in each other's way'.
The French government is also financing more direct efforts such as constructing special moorings for yachts and dive boats to halt reef damage from anchors.
Consultants will also assist fishermen in adopting new fishing techniques and devices less harmful to the environment, and scientific work, such as monitoring reef life, will be conducted.
Aside from its massive size and proliferation of edible fish, what makes Soufriere/Scotts Head bay so unique? One might best ask any diver that question.
And the husband and wife team of Barb and Ian Collombin launched Nature Island Dive in Soufriere precisely because they saw the bay's excellent diving potential and the need to protect it.
Involved in assisting with the appropriate development of this bay, the only dive operation based in the area has assisted in promoting the bay as a conservation-minded tourism attraction.
The SSMR contains both sea life and underwater volcanic formations that rank among the most prolific and varied in the region. In addition, "Due to the presence of fresh water, the area has a unique and incredible reef that is home to an abundance of soft and hard corals," Barb says.
With these special sights, it is no wonder so much emphasis is placed on protection of the reefs and other sea life in the bay. Several regulations are specifically designed to halt reef damage and maintain water purity so the bay's sea life continues to flourish.
This placid bay is also a playground for dolphins and pilot whales during the January to May season, while the Atlantic rim of Scott's Head is an occasional haunt for Humpback and Sperm whales.
A spin around the bay in a kayak around sunset gives watchers about an 80 percent chance of seeing anything from dolphins to flying fish frolicking around the vessel, says Barb. "You're pretty much guaranteed to see something between January and May."
With conservation and wildlife preservation so much a part of the 1990s thinking, it may well be that before too long a very common Caribbean pastime will be searching for a dolphin or whale siting in an ocean-going kayak.

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