Dominica: Waterfalls + Volcanic Earthquakes

Kristy Ramnarine

The Caribbean region is one of the most active seismic zones in the world.

With that being said, there was no cause for alarm when I felt my bed shake at Ocean’s Lodge in Dominica on June 15 around 3 am. I thought for a moment that it might have been the effects of the flu which was coming on since I touched down on ‘The Nature Island’ on June 13. 

I was in Dominica for a media tour, hosted by the Discover Dominica Authority (DDA), from June 13-16. A tour which showed the resilience of a country and its people as it continues to recover from the effects of the horrific Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017.

A few minutes after I dozed off I felt another shake. This time with a rumbling sound. Was I dreaming? Or was it the feeling you get after soaking in the amazing “Papa Falls”, one of the two waterfalls which make up Trafalgar Falls (the other aptly called “Mama Falls”)?

Papa Falls can be seen on the left while Mama Falls is located on the right.

Papa Falls can be seen on the left while Mama Falls is located on the right.

The famous twin waterfalls which plunge about 125 feet and 75 feet respectively, are about a 20-minute drive from Dominica’s capital, Roseau. After about 10 minutes of walking along a well-maintained hiking path, you can view both falls from a wooden platform. For the adventure seekers like myself, it will take another 30 minutes to climb to the top, of course with a tour guide leading the way.

The trek to the top has gotten more difficult according to our tour guide Marvin. A major rockslide in 1996 buried the once existing trail to the base of Papa Falls. Although Tropical Storm Erika moved some of the landslide boulders away in 2015, tour guides are left to maneuver their way to the top.

Trying to keep up with the guide there were moments when I used my upper body to pull myself up onto the rocks, and there were other times when my buttocks lead the way. It was not as bad as I thought and quite an accomplishment for someone who is not in the best physical shape. Being the softy I am, tears even came to my eyes as I climbed my final rock and thanked God for the opportunity to bask in such tranquility.

After relaxing under Papa Falls the media team starts it journey back down.

After relaxing under Papa Falls the media team starts it journey back down.

My gratitude continued as I ‘felt’ the added bonus. While Mama is cold, Papa is hot. Hot as in hot water springs marked by orange sulphur deposits flow through his rocks. It was the perfect spot to relax and rejuvenate, which I did for just about 10 minutes before we started our trek back down.

Obviously, after this experience, I thought the shaking of my bed was the result of the sound of water falling from Papa and Mama Falls still in my head. It’s only when the third earthquake struck on Saturday morning, that I flew off my bed, opened the room door and started surveying the hallway at Ocean’s Lodge. By that time another door had opened and producer/videographer, Jameel Bellerand appeared from his room. He looked at me bewildered and I looked at him. “Did you feel that?” I asked. His response: “Thank God! I thought someone was shaking my bed.” I replied: “I’m very concerned.”

After looking out at the Atlantic Ocean to ensure everything was normal, I headed back to bed. And as I forced myself to get back to sleep the fourth earthquake shook. It was at that moment I remembered Marvin pointing out when we were at Trafalgar Falls that it was “a ticking time bomb”.

“What a time to rupture?” I laughed and thought to myself. At this time, I pulled out my phone which was hooked up to the hotel’s wifi and started googling earthquakes in Dominica. I even updated my Facebook post about the experience and started seeing the comments coming in. Eventually, I put the phone aside, placed my head on my pillow and fell back asleep. It was a short nap filled with many dreams. By 7 am on Saturday I was up and ready for breakfast. As I sat down to eat I pulled out my phone and saw that Attala Maharaj had tagged me on Facebook on a UWI Seismic Centre release.

It read: “A burst of volcanic earthquakes was recorded in southern Dominica. Some of these have been reported as felt. These earthquakes were smaller than magnitude 3.8. This activity is part of an ongoing series of earthquakes in that area which may be described as volcanic unrest. The unrest does NOT necessarily mean that an eruption will occur but as seen in 1998, larger magnitude earthquakes can occur and so the public should remain vigilant.”

By now my curiosity was ticking with a million questions in my head. What is the difference between volcanic earthquakes and tectonic earthquakes? How many volcanoes are there in Dominica? Are they active? Questions which were answered when I came across some research done by the University of the West Indies.

According to UWI Seismic Centre, as magma makes its way through the crust to the surface of the earth, it breaks apart surrounding rock thereby generating volcanic earthquakes. Dominica has nine active volcanoes making it extremely susceptible to volcanic hazards.

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In fact, Dominica has one of the highest concentrations of potentially active volcanoes in the world. Frequent swarms of volcanic earthquakes and geothermal activity in both south and north Dominica indicate that the island is still underlain by an active magma reservoir system and that future eruptions are highly likely, possibly within the next 100 years.

Who would have ever thought that my Saturday in Dominica would begin with a trip to Trafalgar Falls then lead experiencing four volcanic earthquakes in less than 24 hours. What an experience! Dominica is definitely ‘The Nature Island’.

Dominica’s volcanoes

Au Diable

Diablotins 

Trois Pitons

Wotten Waven Caldera

Valley of Desolation/Boiling Lake

Morne Anglais

Morne Watt

Morne Plat Pays Volcanic Complex

Grand Soufriere Hills

Signage shows the way along the well manicured trail to Trafalgar Falls.

Signage shows the way along the well manicured trail to Trafalgar Falls.

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