Dominica Nature Island
Dominica is nicknamed the “Nature Isle of the Caribbean” for its relatively unspoiled lush mountainous rainforests and many rare plants and animals.
In fact, because Dominican forests and native animal species are relatively pristine compared to neighboring islands, it is often regarded as the only Caribbean island that Christopher Columbus would recognize if he returned today. Dominica is a large island for the region (754 square kilometers) and is located in the Lesser Antillean island chain, just north of South America between Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Dominica is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles as evidenced by a high level of geothermal-volcanic activity. To be sure, Dominica is considered to be among the most geothermal active places on Earth and cradles the world’s second-largest boiling lake. The island is carpeted with lush rainforest in the interior and dry forest along the western coastal regions. The endemic Sisserou Parrot (a.k.a Imperial Amazon) is the island’s national bird and featured on the flag.
The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Caribbean Program has been based on Dominica since 2007, and we have already made significant strides towards protecting wildlife and assisting with conservation management.
We concentrate our research on the endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana, which was once common on most islands in the northern Lesser Antilles. The species is now threatened with extinction across its range because of habitat destruction, introduction of exotic predators, and hybridization with green iguanas. These threats are now emerging on Dominica and we hope to advance efforts to effectively protect the species from extinction on the island and across its range.
Working with coastal Lesser Antillean iguanas on Dominica is a means to close the gap in connecting different landscapes using charismatic species as conservation flagships. Currently, parrots are seen as a flagship for inland mesic forests, while sea turtles represent beach habitat. However, the coastal scrub areas lack such a focal species and the Lesser Antillean iguana has charisma and conservation appeal. Additionally, Dominica is one of the last strongholds for the iguana and our methodologies and results can be used as a model for other islands in the Lesser Antilles.
Iguanas are charismatic conservation ambassadors and we work with local educators to develop programs focusing on iguanas and their importance to the island. We also build capacity by providing hands-on, field-research experiences with local government wildlife officers in the Dominican Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks Division. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is also reaching out to other islands that still harbor remnant populations of the iguana in order to build a collaborative conservation management platform that will help us reach our goal of protecting the Lesser Antillean iguana as a symbol of pride throughout the region.