Dominica, officially the Commonwealth of Dominica, is a sovereign island nation. The capital, Roseau, is located on the leeward side of the island. It is one of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. The island is located south-southeast of Guadeloupe and northwest of Martinique. It has an area of 750 square kilometres and its highest point is Morne Diablotins, which is 1,447 metres above sea level. The population was 72,301 at the 2014 census.
The island was originally inhabited by the Kalinago people and was later settled by Europeans, especially the French from the 1690s onwards, who arrived long after Christopher Columbus passed through the island on Sunday, 3 November 1493; the island’s name is derived from the Latin word for “Sunday”. Britain took it over in 1763 after the Seven Years’ War and gradually established English as the official language. The island republic became independent in 1978.
Its name is pronounced with the stress on the third syllable, which is related to its French name Dominique. Dominica has been dubbed the “Nature Island of the Caribbean” because of its unspoiled natural beauty. It is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles, still shaped by geothermal and volcanic activity, as evidenced by the world’s second largest hot spring, Boiling Lake. The island has lush mountain rainforests and is home to many rare species of plants, animals and birds. There are xeric areas in some western coastal regions, but heavy rainfall occurs inland. The sisserou parrot, also known as the imperial Amazon and found only on Dominica, is the island’s national bird and is depicted on the national flag. Dominica’s economy depends on tourism and agriculture.
Dominica is essentially volcanic and has few beaches; therefore, tourism has developed more slowly than on neighbouring islands. Nevertheless, with its mountains, rainforests, freshwater lakes, hot springs, waterfalls and dive sites, Dominica is an attractive destination for ecotourism. Cruise ship calls have increased following the development of modern berthing and port facilities in the capital, Roseau. Of the 22 Caribbean islands surveyed, Dominica received the fewest visitors in 2008 (55,800, or 0.3 per cent of the total). This is about half of what was visited in Haiti. The island’s volcanic nature has attracted divers.
Dominica is an island nation in the Caribbean, the northernmost of the Windward Islands (although it is sometimes considered the southernmost of the Leeward Islands). The area of the country is about 750 km2 (289.5 square miles).
Dominica is mostly covered by rainforest and is home to the second largest hot spring in the world, Boiling Lake. Dominica has many waterfalls, springs and rivers. The Calibishie region in the north-east of the country has sandy beaches. Some plants and animals that were thought to be extinct on the surrounding islands can still be found in Dominica’s forests. The island has several protected areas, including Cabrits National Park, and 365 rivers.
Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a tropical forest mixed with picturesque volcanic features. It was recognised as a World Heritage Site on 4 April 1995, a distinction it shares with four other Caribbean islands.
The Commonwealth of Dominica has long been in dispute with Venezuela over the latter’s territorial claims to the sea around Isla Aves (literally Bird Island, but actually called Bird Rock by Dominican authorities), a tiny islet lying 225 km west of the island of Dominica.
During a visit to Venezuela in June 2006, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit declared that the island of Aves belonged to Venezuela, ending the territorial claim but not the maritime claim.
There are two major population centres – Roseau (with a population of 14,725 in 2011) and Portsmouth (with a population of 4,167 in 2011).
Dominica, called the “Nature Island of the Caribbean” because of its spectacular, lush and diverse flora and fauna protected by an extensive nature park system; the most mountainous of the Lesser Antilles, whose volcanic peaks are cones of lava craters and include Boiling Lake, the second largest thermally active lake in the world, has the most pristine wilderness in the Caribbean. It was originally protected by steep mountains, which prompted European powers to establish ports and agricultural settlements on other islands. More recently, the citizens of this island have sought to preserve its spectacular natural beauty by pushing back against the kind of high-performance tourism that has damaged nature in much of the Caribbean.
Visitors will find large tropical forests, one of which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, hundreds of rivers, coasts and coral reefs.
Dominica has many local and traditional artisans catering to tourists, but no thriving high-end art scene.
The Sisserou Parrot (Amazona imperialis) is the national bird of Dominica and is found only in the mountain forests. A related species, the Jaco or red-necked parrot (A. arausiaca), is also a Dominican endemic. Both birds are rare and protected, although part of the forest is still threatened by deforestation, in addition to the long-standing threat from hurricanes.
The Caribbean Sea, off the island of Dominica, is home to many whales and dolphins. In particular, a group of sperm whales live in this area year-round. Other cetaceans commonly seen in the area are spinner dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. Rarer animals include killer whales, false killer whales, minke sperm whales, Risso’s dolphins, common dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, humpback whales and Bryde’s whales. This makes Dominica a destination for tourists interested in whale watching.
Dominica is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes as the island lies in the so-called hurricane belt. In 1979, Dominica was directly affected by Hurricane David, a category 5 hurricane that caused extensive and extreme damage. On 17 August 2007, Hurricane Dean, then a Category 1 hurricane, hit the island. A mother and her seven-year-old son died when a landslide caused by heavy rains crushed their house. In another incident, two people were injured when a tree fell on their house. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit estimated that 100 to 125 houses were damaged and that the agricultural sector suffered significant damage, especially the banana crop. In August 2015, Tropical Storm Erika caused extensive flooding and landslides on the island. Several communities were evacuated and over 30 people were killed. According to a rapid damage and impact assessment prepared by the World Bank for Dominica, the total damage and losses caused by the storm amounted to US$484.82 million, equivalent to 90% of Dominica’s annual GDP.
The vast majority of Dominicans are of African descent. There is a growing mixed population, as well as a large group of Indo-Caribbe or East Indians, a small minority of European descent (descendants of French and British settlers, as well as a few of Irish descent), and small numbers of Lebanese, Syrians and Asians. Dominica is also the only island in the Eastern Caribbean where there is still a population of indigenous pre-Columbian Kalinago (formerly known as Caribs) who were exterminated or displaced from neighbouring islands. In 2014, there were still more than 3,000 Kalinago. They live in eight villages on the east coast of Dominica. This Caribbean Special Territory (now Kalinago Territory) was granted by the British Crown in 1903. There are also about 1,000 medical students from the United States and Canada studying at Ross University Medical School in Portsmouth.
Dominica’s population growth rate is very low, mainly due to emigration to other countries. At the beginning of the 21st century, the numbers of emigrants to the most popular countries are: USA (8,560), UK (6,739), Canada (605) and France (394).
Dominica has a relatively large number of centenarians. In March 2007, there were 22 centenarians in a population of 70,000, three times the average incidence of centenarians in developed countries. The reasons for this phenomenon are the subject of ongoing research at Ross University Medical School.
Dominica was partially incorporated into the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands in 1832. Later, in 1871, it became part of the Federation of the Leeward Islands. From the beginning, this was a special relationship, for previously Dominica had played no part in the political or cultural traditions of the other, more English-speaking islands of the Federation. Now this much larger territory, with thousands of acres of unused forest land, was available to the inhabitants of Montserrat and Antigua as Lee Island. In the early 20th century, Rose’s Company, which made Rose’s lime juice, saw a demand for its product that exceeded its ability to supply the product from Montserrat. It responded by buying land in Dominica and encouraging agricultural workers from Montserrat to settle there. As a result, there were two language communities in Dominica, Wesley and Marigot.
In 1902, on 8 May, the volcano Mount Pelee erupted on Martinique and destroyed the town of St. Pierre. Refugees from Martinique arrived by boat in the villages of southern Dominica and some stayed permanently on the island.
About 80 % of the population is Roman Catholic, although a number of Protestant churches have been established in recent years. There is also a small Muslim community in Dominica, and the country’s first mosque was recently built near Ross University.
Dominica’s currency is the East Caribbean dollar. In 2008, Dominica had one of the lowest per capita gross domestic products (GDP) of the Eastern Caribbean countries. The country was on the verge of a financial crisis in 2003 and 2004, but Dominica’s economy grew by 3.5 per cent in 2005 and 4.0 per cent in 2006, after a decade of poor performance. Growth in 2006 was attributed to gains in tourism, construction, offshore and other services, and some sub-sectors of the banana industry. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently commended the government of Dominica for its successful macroeconomic reforms. The IMF also pointed to remaining challenges, including the need to further reduce public debt, strengthen financial sector regulation and diversify markets.
Bananas and other agricultural products dominate Dominica’s economy, and almost a third of the working population is engaged in agriculture. However, the sector is highly vulnerable to weather conditions and external events that affect commodity prices. In 2007, Hurricane Dean caused significant damage to the agricultural sector and the country’s infrastructure, including roads. In response to the reduction of European Union (EU) trade preferences for bananas, the government has diversified the agricultural sector by promoting the production of coffee, patchouli, aloe vera, cut flowers and exotic fruits such as mango, guava and papaya.