Mission Ocean visited the beautiful island of Dominica in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and witnessed the devastation there for ourselves. Read about our experiences with the wonderful people there and find out how you can get involved in the relief effort, as early as this weekend!
Sitting between Martinique and Guadeloupe, Dominica is one of the lesser-known Caribbean islands, popular with hikers, nature-lovers and bird-watchers due to its lush volcanic landscapes. We had always planned to stop over there, but the hurricanes in 2017 gave our visit a very different meaning.
Wrecks and debris on the beach in Dominica
Fully independent and without the support or resources of a wealthy government, Dominica’s infrastructure suffered significant damage in Hurricane Ericka in 2015, and was still recovering when first Irma then Maria hit in late 2017. As we sailed up the island’s eastern coast from Martinique, the damage became evident to us. Bridges were ripped away by flood waters, trees were stripped of their branches leaving whole rainforests of bare trunks, and buildings were raised to the ground. Communication lines had been severed by Irma, and so no-one could be warned when Maria suddenly changed her path to hit the little green island with all her Category 5 force.
The ruins of the primary school in Castle Bruce
The island’s political situation, as well as complex Caribbean importation laws, have reportedly hindered the arrival of the supplies that the Dominicans need to rebuild their homes, schools and hospitals, and so 6 months later only temporary repairs have been done.
Mission Ocean in Dominica
And yet despite all of this, the island has managed to retain its beauty, and the people their dignity and good humour. After a brief stop overnight on a mooring buoy in Roseau, we first anchored in Mero Beach on the western coast. We were met on the beach by Sandra from Help for Dominica, a charity that we had contacted through Facebook a few weeks previously, and five giggling teenagers from the small town of Castle Bruce, all of whom we learned had lost their homes in the hurricane. We went for a sail together and showed how we take plankton and microplastic samples on board. Afterwards, the kids fell on our fruit bowl on board, devouring a pile of oranges; they had not seen fresh fruit for months.
Kids from Castle Bruce onboard Mission Ocean
Before we left Europe, we had worked hard to obtain equipment from superyachts along the Riviera, to be distributed along our route to anyone in need. We had collected some further donations from cruisers in Martinique, and had even gone as far as asking all the launderettes for their lost property. Thanks to all who donated, we were very pleased to be able to go ashore with three dinghies-full of clothes, shoes, medicines, school supplies, fishing gear, toys, masks and snorkels to Help for Dominica, who have been busy distributing them throughout the community in Castle Bruce and Mero ever since.
Our new captain
Later that week, we paid a surprise visit to the kids in Castle Bruce, and were able to witness the heartbreaking damage for ourselves. We met a family of five who are still living in a tent next to the one small wall panel that remained of their former home. But life goes on, and the families continue to smile, dance and laugh whilst waiting for the building supplies that they need to put their lives back together.
A temporary family home
We asked Sandra what Dominica really needed. Simple building materials and tools, including nails, screws and corrugated iron to repair their damaged roofs and make sure that their homes were secure was top of the list. Seeds for fruit and vegetables are in high demand, to help the farmers replant the crops that they have lost and make healthy, local food available once again. Fishing is also a big part of the Dominican culture, and upwards of 80% of the fishing fleet was lost to the floods after the hurricane. Fishing supplies and boat building materials are therefore in desperate need.
What can you do to help?
If you are based in France, yachting charity Yachts With A Heart (Yachts du Coeur) is organizing a collection of donations of building supplies, tools, clothes and other non-perishable goods to fill a “container of hope” this Saturday 21st April at the entrance to the shipyard in Port Vauban, Antibes. The container will be shipped to Dominica, where the contents will be distributed to those in need.
Here’s what organizer Jean-Luc Annone had to say: “Hurricane Maria severely affected the housing stock, schools, small business owners, fishermen, tourism, jobs, infrastructure, community and health centers, and agriculture on the island of Dominica…The island of Dominica does not enjoy the support of a large country, which means there is a great opportunity for the communities of the sea - international sailors of all kinds - to come to its aid.”
So dig around in your cupboards and bilges, and see if you can’t spare a few boxes of nails or screws, an old fishing rod or some uniforms that never get worn. And if you can’t get down to Antibes on Saturday, give Jean-Luc a call on +33 (0) 6 84 76 84 53 and arrange a pick-up from your boat.
It is terrifying to think that Dominica could be hit by another hurricane as early as August this year, and the economy and people need all the help that they can get to ensure that they are prepared, otherwise the loss of life could be much higher in Dominica in 2018.