Pigeon Island National Park is heralded as one of the most important monuments of Saint Lucia’s history. It is a representation of the island’s culture and history.
In 1979, with hard work and dedication to this historical site, Mr. Robert Devaux and his team established the first national park in Saint Lucia: Pigeon Island was marked a national landmark and historical heritage site. As founding director of the Saint Lucia National Trust, he had envisioned the protection and sustaining of this historical site for generations to come, preserving local history, culture and natural resources. He said that Pigeon Island was a green space steeped in history to be enjoyed by his children, their children and all Saint Lucians for generations to come, promoting values which lead to national pride and love for our country.
The proposed Dolphin Enclosure, complete with a restaurant, pool, boutique and restrooms, is likely to desecrate parts of the Pigeon Island Heritage Site, including unmarked historical grave sites that hold many years of cultural history silently embraced in their occupants’ untouched bones.
Whilst captive animals can provide an opportunity for people to see and interact with species they would not normally be able to see, dolphins are indigenous to the waters of Saint Lucia and can often be seen dancing in her seas. Why, then, would we want to pen in some of them off Pigeon Island when their cousins are roaming free? The argument often used in favour of captivity is that this educates people in order to protect them. Surely it is better to see dolphins in their own environment.
Dolphins are highly intelligent and have tight family bonds, travelling hundreds of miles daily finding food and exploring the deep blue. They use echo location to hunt and communicate. Being in captivity will hinder their abilities to do everything that comes naturally to them. Imagine being in a public prison where everyone and anyone can make you perform tricks for food. In our view, they deserve to be free.
Public opinion globally is generally against the internment of marine mammals. Virgin Holidays and TripAdvisor have stated they are anti dolphin parks and have pledged not to promote this type of ‘attraction’. If it is believed that the creation of this park would encourage tourism, this thinking should perhaps be revisited. The park may instead discourage additional visitors to this island.
We estimate that this project will create less than 30 permanent jobs if approved. We wonder whether this amounts to an economic argument in favour of the park. Surely it would be better to invest in local communities, encouraging Saint Lucians to create and develop new enterprises that protect the environment and promote sustainability.
We should also not forget about the local operators that run dolphin and whale watching tours, which enable tourists and locals alike to see these magnificent animals in the wild. A dolphin park would damage these businesses. Would it not make more sense to support and develop this sector rather than harm a heritage site?
Pigeon Island is one of the most bio-diverse sites on the island. It provides homes and a food chain for underwater creatures such as the fragile sea horse to the majestic eagle ray, as well as moray eels, peacock flounders, miniature blennies and crabs, to name just a few. Who will protect the unseen and often unnoticed habitat of these small animals? Simply put, we must. If we damage the ecosystem of Pigeon Island, there will surely be an impact on the rest of Saint Lucia’s underwater world.
We, as a dive operator, take pride in the dive sites on our island, Pigeon Island – sheltered from rough sea conditions and therefore a guaranteed site – being one of them. We are constantly trying to take the pressure off the southern reefs around the Pitons by diving in the north. This development would push more dive operators further south. There are discussions to develop further the diving in the north of the island – this project would potentially jeopardise these plans.
In summary, the proposed Dolphin Enclosure should not proceed and Pigeon Island should be preserved above and below the water.
By: Dawn Shewan and Nick Mobley
Editor’s note: The above was written in collaboration by Dive Saint Lucia and Anbaglo: Saint Lucia Diver Association.