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20th Dominica Dive Festival an Aquatic Success

(DiverWire) For ten days in July, residents and visitors to the “Nature Island” schooled around Dive Fest activities like fish darting around a reef. From one end of the island to the other kids, families and visitors gather at various events. Food, spectacle and ecology combined for several lionfish tastings, restaurants with special lionfish menu items and a lionfish chef competition. Everywhere burst with local music and party nights like Jing Ping Ting hosted by Al Dive, complete with dance contests. Other activities included a football match, a whale watching tour, treasure hunts for kids and adults, as well as the grand finale Calinago Canoe Race. While Dive Fest is filled with fun and excitement, during my stay, I came to find there was so much more than just an island-wide party. Dive Fest is a party with a purpose.

FeestivalThe primary focus of Dive Fest is to introduce kids, locals and tourist to the island’s lush underwater world through handson experiences, in an effort to support and grow the local dive community. Members of the Dominica Watersports Association devote extensive time and energy to ensure a smooth, top-notch event, well staffed and prepared for the flurry of activity that is Dive Fest. The main sponsors, Digicel Dominica and Kubuli Beer, were consistently on hand welcoming guests, passing out goodies. Several instructors from a variety of dive shops worked together to volunteer time at each Discover Scuba event.  You really see everyone pull together, making it feel even more rewarding to see numerous participants “take the bait” so to say, get geared up, work through a few basic skills and practice kicking around. Some moved on to tour the reef for the first time. How can students go back to science class and not feel empowered with first-hand knowledge of the ocean?

Dive Fest has something for divers of all ages. The waters were churning for the kid’s main event, the snorkel Treasure Hunt at Champagne Reef. Friends, schoolmates and sea cadets signed up in teams of two to snorkel out and gather painted rocks, each worth different points. The top three teams in each age group went home with gift certificates for books and their own snorkel sets sponsored by Cressi-Sub. What could be more exciting than exploring the ocean with our own gear? For adults the DWA has trolled the waters by offering Open Water or Advanced Open Water Certifications as prizes. Each year is different. What will 2014 bring?

Lisa FestivalOne of the most wonderful aspects of Dive Fest is the sense of community. The events overflow with participants from ever corner of the island’s dive population. While attending different affairs, I met Ian Douglas, the first Minister of Tourism who is a certified diver as well. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Fitzroy Armour, who named Champagne Reef back in the late 80’s, and in 1989 became the first Dominican dive instructor. Staying active in the dive community, he worked with DAN (Diver’s Alert Network) to bring a recompression chamber to the island. Dr. Armour currently oversees all chamber treatments and organized the first international medical DAN training which was hosted on Dominica. I also crossed paths with the first female Dominican dive instructor, land excursion operators, and several working dive masters and instructors who were introduced to scuba through past Dive Fests. A few of them now reside off-island but come back for the annual festivities. Each year they are drawn back by the value they find in building the dive community, not to mention the amazing street festival.

CertClass12The most inspiring moment came when diving with Warren Lawrence. Warren’s dad, Woody, won a basic certification class during the 1994 Dive Fest, and the following year, entered another Dive Fest competition, going on to win an Advanced Open Water course. From there, Woody started working in dive stores and became a dive master, eventually taking part in an instructor’s course. He’s worked in the dive business both on Dominica and internationally for years.

Last year, Warren was old enough to do a Discover Scuba course and participated again this year, adding a reef tour, and diving for the first time with his Dad. That’s two generations of new divers, directly from Dive Fest. And the family shows no signs of stopping their new aquatic lifestyle: Warren went on to get his Junior Open Water Certification with Al Dive this week.

By all standards, the 20th Anniversary of Dive Fest was a huge success. Thousands participated in events over the ten day period. Hundreds were educated about the encroaching lionfish population, got a fresh sampling of how good they taste and were encouraged to help suppress them. Equipment was rotating as fast as possible to allow numerous Dominicans and visitors the chance to experience SCUBA for the first time. And overall it was most impressive to see the commoratity between locals and the many transplants that now call Dominica home, working in sync together for the common good of growing the diving community from within the resources they have at their fingertips.