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2012 May 11--18
Dominica, in the eastern Caribbean

Nobody told On Wings Of Care that 2300 statute miles over open ocean was too ambitious a trip for a small plane, even for dedicated conservationists and experienced pilots.  So we went.  And was it ever worth it.

We went there to help biologists in Dominica working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). (More about the good work they're doing there later.)  In short, they want to understand the varieties and numbers of whales and sea turtles that inhabit the deep waters that surround this uniquely undeveloped and steep island.  Said to be the only remaining island in the eastern Caribbean that Christopher Columbus would recognize, Dominica has cherished itself as the "nature island" of the Caribbean and resisted too much development.  To scuba divers, snorkelers, and whale watchers, Dominica is a unique treasure.  Because the ocean floor falls off as steeply as the rest of the island (at about 1000 feet per mile), one can find sperm whales, beaked whales, pilot whales, and huge leatherback sea turtles within a few miles of the shoreline.  While it seems obvious that much of Dominica's surrounding waters deserves to be protected as a marine reserve, there are political and economical battles that challenge the accomplishing of that protection.  On Wings Of Care was asked to come down and try to establish, through aerial surveys, the extent to which these species are present.

Barring bad weather, aerial surveys of ocean wildlife are work-as-usual for On Wings Of Care. But Dominica offered some unique challenges, over and above being about 2000 miles away with not much land betweeen there and Florida, USA.  The island is not large -- oblong in shape, slightly smaller than New York City at about 188 square nautical miles with 225 nautical miles of coastline. But it is very steep with mountains in the center as high as 4,750 ft.  Winds often come from the east and northeast, leaving waters on the eastern side of the island quite rough and difficult for aerial viewing of ocean life. But worse, these winds come over the island and down the steep western side, making the air quite rough on the west side. So the very place we wanted to look for whales and such -- on the western side -- was merciless in terms of air turbulence for much of the time we were there.

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See the full article here, with lots of photos and videos!