Dominica’s unspoiled marine habitat is home to the largest, toothed whale in the world: the sperm whale. While female and juvenile sperm whales can be sighted throughout the year, the best time to watch for these majestic ocean giants is between November and March—when the male sperm whales migrate. Dominica is one of the best […]Read more
Hailing from Massachusetts, Susan Copelas has been a pioneer in women’s diving, youth outreach and environment protection throughout her 35 years of diving. And, by founding her own independent scuba instruction business, she has introduced and educated over 1,200 of tomorrow’s leaders in the sport of scuba diving. This past November, Susan led a group trip to her favorite diving locale in the world, Dominica, and embarked on an unforgettable excursion with Fort Young Dive. We sat down with Susan to get insight into why the Nature Island tops her list and how each site opens her eyes to something entirely new each time.
Where are you from? Where else have you dived around the world?
A loaded question. I presently reside on the North Shore of Boston, MA so I’m a cold water diver. I have had the good fortune to make diving a career on a variety of levels from diving in unexplored areas of the Antarctic; doing relief work in coastal areas that have been hard hit by natural disasters; working for tourism boards as a consultant to help evaluate dive resorts in what they can do to be more eco friendly and market themselves differently; and I run a dive travel business and instruct. So, the answer to the other half of the question is 49 countries as of 2018.
What about diving in Dominica sets it apart from all other locales you’ve experienced?
The variety. On every dive you see great stuff. The DMs for Dive Dominica are really great and use slates to tell you what you are seeing. They know where the critters live and use their time wisely in the water. No two dive sites are alike.
What was the most interesting underwater creature you saw? Anything that you’d never seen before?
I love diving so anything is unique to me. The creatures are real as humans are, each individual and unique in their own way. A couple that stand out to me the most are the first mandarin fish I saw in Palau; orange princess nudibranchs mating in Alaska, octopus mating in Martinique; an octopus eating another octopus at 25 feet in Barbados; and a three hour encounter with a juvenile whale shark on Tioman Island in Malaysia last May. I’ve seen a lot of great stuff and the variety in Dominica still keeps my interest and keeps me coming back. They have some of the best night diving that I have ever experienced worldwide.
We understand that you’ve partnered with numerous global organizations to lead protection and environmental advocacy efforts—which, of course, is amongst our greatest values in Dominica. Do you foresee working with Fort Young Dive on any of these efforts?
YES, YES, YES.
You’re known as a women’s diving pioneer, having gone where no woman has gone before. Did you discover any new and fascinating spots in Dominica?
This is my go-to island. Whenever I recommend a Caribbean trip for diving, the first on my list is DOMINICA. The island pretty much offers everything people want on a vacation. Fort Young has beautifully renovated oceanfront rooms, the food is exquisite and the land tours are awesome! They have everything from watching local indigenous people make handcrafts, jungle hiking, rappelling down waterfalls, soaking in hot springs and beautiful vistas.
The dive sites are just as interesting. You have Champagne Reef, which has warm little sulfur bubbles coming up through the sand so you feel like you are diving in a champagne glass, and Swiss Cheese, which has some current so tons of color and aquatic life, swim-throughs and walls. You see something super interesting on every dive—sea horses, spotted eagle rays, nudibranchs, a new species of corals, turtles. The list goes on.
What was your favorite aspect of Fort Young Hotel?
This is a tough question to answer since I really love this place. I would have to say the apre dive area, though. After a fulfilling day of diving, it’s so nice to sit down by the infinity pool, dangle my feet in the hot tub after getting a cold one at the Palisades Bar and catch up with other divers and talk about what they saw on the dive really works for me. So relaxing!
What would you say is Fort Young Dive’s greatest strength?
The manager of the dive shop, Francisca. She is intelligent, knows diving, works well with people, has a heart for helping when divers need direction and making sure the divers are all set for their day of diving.
Both Dominica and Fort Young Hotel are considered back on the map and ready to be enjoyed once again. Would you say that’s true during your time on the island?
Hurricane Maria hit them hard and that is not to be forgotten. These people are some of the most resilient I have ever met. For an independent island, they have come back in full and frankly much improved. There are still a couple of restaurants that aren’t open yet and you can visually see some damaged homes that need assistance, but the dive sites, the hotel, the side trips and staff are ready to roll.
Where was everyone from in the group you guided? Was this each diver’s first time in Dominica?
I travel all over the world doing relief work. And the people who joined the trip to Dominica are from all over the U.S.—Florida, California, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, Ohio and North Carolina. I generally run two trips a year, and a larger trip to the far east every two years, and these divers often tag along. Half of people in this group were repeat divers to Dominica and readily jumped at another opportunity to go.
Can you share a bit about their experiences and/or reactions to the Nature Island and their diving excursion?
We were scheduled to come in November of 2017, which was just three weeks after the hurricane hit so we rerouted to Grenada that year and worked in an orphanage with the promise to raise funds and awareness for the island of Dominica. Throughout the year we continually sent supplies and financial support so once the airport reopened and the hotel was starting to book, we quickly reserved a week. We were pleasantly surprised at the progress they had made and were SHOCKED by how well the reef looked. There is one site that has changed and looks quite different now that trees are there, but I never dove a palm tree grove before so that was very interesting. The best part was finding a 200 lb turtle just hanging under a ledge claiming his territory amongst the palm fronds. So fun!
When you and your crew weren’t diving, what did you do/enjoy most about Fort Young Hotel?
Having a cocktail at Jacko’s, watching the sunset, dining at The Palisades, sitting around the infinity pool and waterfall recounting stories about our dives that day. One group was there filming the whales, and it was super interesting to hear about their adventures on a daily basis. The place is spacious and boasts so much peace and tranquility.
We understand that you caught a great deal of fresh lionfish and made a feast one night with additional ingredients bought at Roseau’s Farmers Market. What was that experience like for the group?
Fort Young Dive works with Dive Dominica to provide the best dive experience possible. Over a couple of days we took spears and caught local fish. We went to the local market and we all spread out and bought fresh ingredients from several vendors to help support the community as a whole and made a fresh, wonderful ceviche. I am working with the Lionfish Foundation to try and set this program up as a permanent program and help teach some of the locals how to make jewelry with the Lionfish bones to sell to tourists visiting the island. My group was all over this experience. We also had snorkelers in our group and they were all over joining us, helping clean the fish we brought up and help in the preparation of it—definitely a highlight of the trip.