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Dominica’s Freshwater Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Although water is the world’s most abundant resource — 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in it — only 1% of all the water is liquid fresh water of which only about 1% is found at surface. Life depends on access to fresh water, yet we often misuse this valuable resource. According to United Nations Water, “the value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment”.

For many Caribbean small island developing states, water scarcity is a way of life despite being surrounded by water. The region has 7 of the 36 most water scarce countries in the world according to the World Resources Institute. This scarcity is compounded by climate change-related pressures, such as drought which limits the available water quantity and extreme weather which, e.g. through contamination, can limit quality. While some islands have access to surface water sources, others have no permanent flowing streams. Many island governments and residents have had to find measures for management and conservation of their freshwater resources.

The 2020 ‘The State of the Caribbean Climate Report’ (SOCC) warned that the “Caribbean as a whole will gradually dry through to the end of the century…Global Climate Models (GCMs) suggest for the central and southern Caribbean basin, drying up to 20 per cent for annual rainfall, while Regional Climate Model (RCM) based projections suggest up to 25 and 35 per cent less rainfall by the end of the century”. By the 2050s, “the region is in the mean up to 6% drier, and by the end of century, the region may be up to 17% drier”.

At the moment, these water scarce Caribbean islands are experiencing a rapid depletion of freshwater aquifers, increases in saline intrusion and the pollution of groundwater resources. For example, in a 2010 case, the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) saw it necessary to implement Stage 1 of its Drought Management Plan on March 8, after the water levels in aquifers reached extremely low levels during the drought.

World Water Day, recognized annually on March 22 celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. A core focus of the observance is to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.  Under the theme of ‘Valuing Water’, the 2021 campaign is generating a global, public conversation on social media about how people value water for all its uses.

As part of the online celebrations to mark World Water Day, the Caribbean Protected Areas Gateway is pleased to feature Dominica’s Freshwater Lake.

Dominica, unlike many other Caribbean islands, is blessed with several freshwater lakes. The Freshwater Lake, characterized by shimmering shades of blue and emerald, is the largest of Dominica’s four lakes, and the second deepest after nearby Boeri Lake. As part of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (MTPNP) –the first to be legally established in the country– the Lake is often shrouded in heavy fog, but can quickly change to full sunshine. Everything within the MTPNP, home to one of the largely intact forest areas remaining in the Insular Caribbean, is protected by law and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

The Freshwater Lake thought to have originated about 25,000-30,000 years ago is the second deepest of Dominica’s four freshwater lakes, has a surface area of approximately 6,900ha and is at an elevation of 762m above sea level. This area receives some of Dominica’s highest rainfall, almost 9000mm a year, making it just about the wettest place on the island.

© Valentina Futac

Wild anthuriums, orchids and Apoplèxi or Chinese Lantern plant with its pendant red-and-yellow flowers, and delicate filmy ferns can also be found growing around the lake trail. The uppermost forest is usually buffeted by the strong Trade Winds and draped with clouds. Some of the plants have small, leathery leaves to prevent them from being torn by the wind.

Migratory Blue-winged Teal may be seen swimming on the lake on rare occasions, and a lone Egret or a Green Heron may be seen gliding over the water. The aquatic life in the lake includes the brown-and-yellow crab locally known as “siwik” and introduced Tilapia, tropical freshwater fish species belonging to the cichlid family.

In recent years the lake has become a popular eco-tourism destination with boating and kayaking trips available on the lake itself. The most common trees in swampy areas around the lake are Mang Wouj and Mang Blan. Their prop roots, which extend from well above the ground, give them support on the waterlogged soils. Looping out of the ground are breathing roots that enable the roots to breathe in the oxygen-poor soils. Other common trees include Maho Kochon, Gombo Moutany, and Palms.

The responsibility for the protection and management rests with the Division of Forestry, Wildlife and National Parks of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Day to day responsibilities for the MTPNP resides in the National Parks Unit of the Division.

Dominica’s Freshwater Lake is an excellent example of how clean freshwater in a Small Island Developing State can provide for valuable ecosystem services, when properly protected.

For #WorldWaterDay on 22nd March, learn more about “Valuing Water” at https://www.worldwaterday.org/. Join the conversation with #Water2Me#Water2Me #WWD2021 #ValuingWater #WorldWaterDay2021 #CPAG #Caribbean

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