Confronting yet another captive dolphin facility in the Caribbean: Coral World
Another swim-with-the-dolphin facility has been proposed in the Caribbean. WDC is no stranger to the seemingly perpetual proposals from existing facilities to either expand their dolphin programs in their current locations, or extend them to other islands, such as what Dolphin Cove Jamaica is attempting to do on the Turks and Caicos Islands. A swim-with dolphin program has been proposed at Coral World Ocean Park on St. Thomas, USVI, using all of the traditional arguments that such a program is necessary to enhance both education and tourism. Although these are usually the two primary justifications for siting a dolphin program in the Caribbean, or anywhere for that matter, we encourage the authorities to consider whether these programs are harmful not only for the dolphins involved in these programs, but the people of St. Thomas and all that travel there.
It is no secret that many of us want to be close to dolphins. The honest truth is that most of us want to be close, sometimes without thinking about the costs to the animals involved, the environment, or personal safety. In fact, I believe captive facilities have catered to and exploited our love for these animals by packaging an experience that appears to be made from heaven—an opportunity to get up close and personal with these animals in what appears to be a controlled setting and where the animals choose freely to engage in a relationship with us. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The project’s champions state that only captive-borne dolphins will be utilized, assuming that these statements will be enough to preempt the community’s concern that dolphins will be captured from the wild to stock the facility, or from the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan.
Unfortunately, facilities that promote dolphin swim-with programs suggest that the interactions between humans and dolphins are reciprocal—that dolphins seek out these interactions through their own will and desire. Rather, these dolphins are motivated by food in a severely restricted environment, not by a reciprocal desire to be near us. No matter how we might justify these attractions, whether through a veneer of education, or with the hope of attracting tourist revenue and bolstering the local economy, these programs are self-serving prisons for a species that naturally roams hundreds of miles a day, and should never be forced to seek an encounter with us except on its own terms. These programs are nothing more than our entertainment and amusement, at the dolphins’ expense, no matter where these animals come from, and regardless of the facts put forward by Coral World.
Furthermore, dolphin swim-with programs are not all rosy for human participants, either: injuries occur frequently, and can be serious. An unsuspecting public is not ready for a dolphin that becomes aggressive and either bites, rams or pushes them underwater. These incidents are too numerous to count, but more recently a Swedish tourist was injured near Cancun, Mexico in Isla Mujeres and has vowed never to swim with dolphins again. One high profile incident that was profiled in the media occurred in 2002 where ‘Inside Edition’ journalist Nancy Glass was severely and permanently injured by 500-pound dolphin that fell upon her during a swim-with encounter in the Bahamas.
Furthermore, Coral World’s insistence that it will only utilize captive-born dolphins in its programs should be questioned. We have seen other swim-with facilities within the Caribbean struggle to find captive-born dolphins for their programs, and have resorted to taking them from the wild, primarily from Cuba. I am certain that although Coral World claims that it will bring in only captive-born animals to its proposed facility, it may indeed end up sourcing these animals from the wild now, or in the future when its dolphins die and need to be replaced.
Whether they take them from the wild or not, Coral World and other swim-with facilities sustain an international trade in dolphins as they perpetuate the very demand for these interaction programs that instigates captures from the wild and transport throughout the Caribbean, and elsewhere.The dolphin trade is indeed lucrative, but many Islands throughout the Caribbean have refused to implement dolphin programs, including Antigua (who had even once proposed capturing dolphins in their waters), Dominica, St. Maarten, and Costa Rica. Others have banned additional imports or exports of dolphins and other marine mammals, including Mexico.
Furthermore, captive dolphin tourism is being questioned and the cruise industry has shown signs of change. More enlightened cruise lines are turning away from promoting swim-with and other captive programs to their patrons. Recently, Carnival UK noted its change of policy in promoting swim-with activities at ports of call by announcing in their 2010 Sustainability Report that as part of their green initiatives and as a reflection of their commitment to the environment, they have elected not to operate tours which involve interaction with captive dolphins. They join Regent Seven Seas, formerly Radisson Cruise Lines, who made the same decision in 2005 when they took a stand against the capture and exploitation of dolphins by announcing that they would be dropping all swim-with excursions from their rosters.
Inconceivably, many swim-with facilities are located on or near the coast, oftentimes just yards away from where these animals swim free within their family groups. I think Coral World underestimates the concerns of a public that is keen to choose environmentally-responsible activities, and contribute to the welfare and sustainability of both the local environment and a species better left and seen in the wild.There certainly are better alternatives that Coral World could pursue that don’t contribute to the destruction of the marine environment and its amazing inhabitants, and perpetuate a more compassionate ethic that isn’t reliant upon the imprisonment of another sentient species.
Send an email by the end of the day tomorrow to STOP St. Thomas from opening a Dolphin enclosure
WDC has been working for decades to put an end to the captivity of whales and dolphins.
The documentary Blackfish and the ongoing research that shows the negative impact captivity has on the health and welfare of whales and dolphins has helped change public opinion about aquaria that hold whales and dolphins captive. SeaWorld is an excellent example of a business that is suffering losses because of this change in opinion.
Given this trend, why would the St. Thomas tourist attraction, Coral World, want to expand and add a dolphin enclosure?!
We don't know, and we are supporting efforts to prevent the necessary permits from being issued. Here's where we need your help -
Write to: Edgar.email@example.com
Today is the last day to write to Army Corps of Engineers!
• Cetaceans (ie dolphins) produce a significant amount of waste on a daily basis, which is normally not concentrated in a single location. If flushing of the proposed dolphin enclosure area through tidal flow and/or current is inadequate, then the waste from several cetaceans and decaying fish parts that these cetaceans do not consume during feeding can concentrate in an abnormal manner and accumulate around and through reefs. This material, consisting of organic debris, nutrients, and fecal coliform bacteria, can cause abnormal levels of algal growth, which can smother and kill corals and also sea grass beds. Biodiversity in such affected areas can decrease substantially – a study by Goreau (2003) suggests that this negative impact on reefs near dolphin pens has already occurred in Cozumel.
• The permit application cites only one study in its discussion of mechanisms by which dolphin waste will be eliminated from the enclosure. Sazima et al. (2006) reports that dolphin waste is naturally consumed by certain fish species that associate with dolphins. The permit application implies that this fish consumption will reduce the dolphin waste burden inside and even outside the enclosure substantially. However, Sazima et al. (2006) was a study of wild dolphins, making the comparison an apples-and-oranges exercise.
In addition, the study focused on a different species (spinner dolphins) and an entirely different ecosystem (and hemisphere – the study was conducted in Brazil). While it is probable that some dolphin feces in Water Bay will be consumed by some fish, this is unlikely to be a major mechanism of eliminating waste from the enclosure or outside it, as 1) the waste will be concentrated in an artificial manner (see above) and 2) the fish species in Water Bay will not rely on dolphin waste as a food source, given that wild dolphins do not regularly inhabit this area and this type of scavenging relationship will have had no opportunity to evolve as a result.
• Coral World plans to relocate a large number of heads of the boulder coral, Montastrea annularis (now renamed Orbicella ) and Dendrogyra cylindrus, both of which have recently been listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, as they are found within the footprint of the proposed enclosure. Coral World claims that other corals outside of the footprint will not be affected, due to flushing of the enclosure area. These more distant corals include Acropora palmate which is also listed. This emphasizes at a minimum the need for references supporting these optimistic claims (no references supporting these predictions of “no impact” are provided in the permit application) and potentially the need for focused studies examining how this concentration of wastes might affect the corals in Water Bay. An ESA Section 7 consultation will also be required.
• Coral World is also claiming that water quality overall in the area will not be affected by the dolphin enclosure, either during construction or operation. These claims again are difficult to evaluate without knowing more about the water movement in Water Bay and the effect on that movement from the fencing and wave barrier to be installed. The permit application acknowledges that the fencing and wave barrier will reduce water movement, but downplays its significance. The claim that other sea pen enclosures have not experienced water quality impacts is both incorrect and irrelevant. There are in fact other facilities (see, for example, Alaniz and Rojas 2007) that have had significant water quality impacts; and while some facilities may have had minimal impacts, the water movement (and thus flushing of effluent) in these other areas may be greater than in Water Bay. Coral World provided water quality information for several other facilities, but no water movement data – both are necessary to support any comparison between two different sites.
• Coral World acknowledges that eutrophication has been an issue in Water Bay in the past but implies that this is a minor and easily addressed concern, when in fact there is insufficient information in the permit application to support this optimism.
• The permit application claims that harmful algal blooms are rare in the Virgin Islands. The lack of harmful algal blooms in the Virgin Islands historically is not a valid predictor of their future occurrence, given that the occurrence of harmful algal blooms is increasing globally.
• At a minimum, adequate references must be provided before a confident conclusion can be drawn regarding the suitability of this site for a dolphinarium in regards to water quality. The permit application mentions “a number of studies…in regard to dolphin enclosures” (p. 92) and water quality that have been conducted, but does not cite them – at a minimum, Coral World must provide these citations.
• In February 2014 Coral World violated the terms of their CZM permit by bringing in heavy equipment to clear the lot designated for the land based facility for the proposed dolphinarium. The CZM permit makes clear that “if the development covered under this permit requires separate and distinct approval from the United States Government or the Government of the Virgin Islands or any agency, department, commission or bureau thereof, then no development or occupancy is allowed until such permits or approvals have been obtained”. Coral World did not have ACE or CWA permit at that time. The CZM permit also requires revocation of the permit if the permittee fails to comply with all the conditions of the permit.
CZM/DPNR waited until March 2014 to issue a cease and desist order, by which time the entire lot had been cleared and fenced. No fines or sanctions were imposed. Coral World has demonstrated its disregard for the conditions of any permits issued and the VI CZM its total lack or enforcement.
Coral World’s purpose in building this proposed facility is to promote tourism, create jobs and boost the economy of the US Virgin Islands. As has been widely reported, attendance at Sea World’s facilities in California and Florida is down so far this year (while Disney’s parks that don’t have performing cetaceans have seen increased attendance in 2014) and its stock has fallen at least 30% due to the changing public opinion regarding keeping cetaceans in captivity for entertainment. The National Aquarium in Baltimore is considering closing its dolphin exhibit permanently, having discontinued dolphin “shows” a couple of years ago. Southwest Airlines has broken ties with Sea World and other airlines are being pressured to do likewise as public sentiment is increasingly opposed to seeing intelligent mammals performing circus tricks. Coral World’s business model cannot be successful in the long term and they are behind the curve on this type of attraction. If the permit is granted and the facility fails what happens? We are left with rusting pilings in Coral Bay and a possibly devastated marine habitat.
*** PLEASE remember your comments should pertain to Water Bay and the environmental & community effects this disastrous project will have. The ACE permit does not cover animal or swim-with-the-dolphins ethics and comments on those issues will be not be taken into consideration.***
Alaniz Pasini, Y. and L. Rojas Ortega. 2007. Delfinarios. AGT Editor, S.A. and Comarino, Mexico City, Mexico.
Goreau, T.J. 2003. Dolphin enclosures and algae distributions at Chankanaab, Cozumel: observations and recommendations. Report of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, Cambridge, Massachusetts, available at: http://www.globalcoral.org/Dolphin%20enclosures%20and%20algae%20distributions%20at%20Chankanaab,%20Co.htm
Sazima, I., C. Sazima, and J. Martins da Silva, Jr. 2006. Fishes associated with spinner dolphins at Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, tropical Western Atlantic: An update and overview. Neotropical Ichthyology 4:451-455.
We were lucky to have D.J. Schubert, Wildlife Biologist from the Animal Welfare Institute
attend the ACOE hearing. Dr. Naomi Rose has also sent a letter of protest regarding the Dolphinarium proposed by Coral World as she was unable to attend.
Here's the kind of thing we are up against!
CZM allows Coral World to begin construction on dolphinarium before Army Corps OKs permit
By ALDETH LEWIN (Daily News Staff)
Published: July 11, 2014
ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Commission to voted Thursday amend a permit issued to Coral World last year to build a dolphin exhibit.
The modification will allow the park to start construction on the land-based part of the project - a two-story multi-purpose building - even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the water-based dolphin enclosure has not yet been approved.
When the original permit was granted in 2013, it contained a special condition that said all applicable territorial and federal permits must be approved prior to the start of any construction activities.
In February, heavy equipment was brought in to clear the land where the building will be built.
In March, CZM Division Director Jean-Pierre Oriol said the CZM permit was issued after the governor signed it in November 2013, and Coral World sent notice that work would begin shortly after that.
He said it was only land clearing; however, at Thursday's meeting the story was different.
Coral World General Manager Trudie Prior said excavation had been done on the site.
CZM board member Sarah Simmonds asked why they began work when the permit conditions expressly forbid it.
"There was a certain lack of clarity on our part, and we went ahead and did some excavation," Prior said.
Prior said a different division within the Department of Planning and Natural Resources awarded the earth change permit, and she assumed that because the land-based project had the proper permits, Coral World could move ahead.
"We though we had clarity, that we were getting all the permits required for that part," she said.
Oriol said that Coral World representatives apparently had emailed notification that they were going to proceed with excavation, but it was sent to a non-working email address. Oriol said the email system the department used switched in April 2013.
Coral World did not get a "bounce back" message indicating Oriol did not receive the email, so they assumed notification had been properly made and proceeded with the work.
When Oriol found out they had started excavation, he stopped all work at the site based on the special conditions of the permit.
Work ceased and the area was fenced off and silt fences put in place to prevent erosion into Water Bay, according to Prior. Under the new modification to the permit's conditions, Coral World can move ahead on the land-based construction even if the Army Corps permit is not approved.
When asked about the status of the federal Army Corps permit, Prior said they have provided the agency with all the necessary documents and have just gotten word that the "extreme" backlog is lifting and within the last two weeks the Army Corps has begun to review the Coral World permit application.
"And this means they're getting close?" CZM member Winston Adams asked.
"We hope," Prior said.
A second request, to build a pedestrian passageway under the road and parking lot connecting Coral World's main complex to the new learning center building, was tabled for 30 days.
After the meeting, Prior said the next step is to award a contract for the construction of the building. The project already was put out to bid, she said.
"A certain lack of clarity", indeed.
Seems to me that they are pretty sure they are going to get all their permits in a nice tidy package but then the Priors are millionaires many times over and very close, personal friends of our Governor. Hence they can violate the CZM special conditions and have it permitted after the fact of their violations and incur no fines or be subject to any other special conditions.
This is the kind of thing that all the people that oppose the creation of this dolphinarium are dealing with here in the Virgin Islands. This is just one of many instances of troubling facts.
In a June 26th, 2006 article published in the Daily News, the Headline reads:
Coral World seeking permit to allow addition of interactive Sea Lion exhibit
They stated that "they would not capture or actively seek the addition of other marine mammals like Dolphins."
Coral World's then Vice President of Operations, Peter Noah, is quoted as saying,
" I trust a South American Sea Lion more than I trust a Dolphin."
They never did build the Sea Lion enclosure they discussed and the present Sea Lions that get trotted out to perform and entertain guests in their "Swim with" program get to live in a small, sterile, boring, cement pool.
I praise your work to protect the beautiful and wild dolphins from Coral World's pursuit of the tourist dollar.
I have swum with the dolphins, it was wonderful! It was wonderful because they were free. We were swimming in the ocean in Hawaii and the dolphins (protected there, btw) were curious. I felt something brush my leg, turned around and there they were in all their wild & free glory.
I cannot imagine that swimming with a dolphin that has no choice about the interaction can have any thrill to it at all. But, I know a lot of uniformed tourists will pay money for the experience. I wish Coral World would step up and do some education on dolphins and why they shouldn't be in captivity instead.
I'm not there to attend the hearings, but I'm behind you.
Life is a beach and I'm glad I have mine.
Thank you but it is not only me that is active in attempting to derail this "train wreck waiting to happen". There are so many people that have been a part of this endeavor as a ful house to the ACE hearing showed. I attempt to educate with the material I have access to or come across during the process of educating myself.
Thank you again for your support!
I too have been fortunate enough to swim with Dolphins in the wild. There is never any touching or feeding them as it's left to them to decide if they wish to approach us and we would not wish them to view their biggest predators (HUMANS) as being friendly or a source of food.