Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee considers the current debate surrounding the proposed dolphin park “healthy for our democracy and for our advancement”. The minister spoke with the STAR this week in an exclusive interview concerning the much talked about Swim With the Dolphins initiative. Fedee confirmed the government had in fact received a proposal, which was being reviewed in cabinet.
Fedee was of the opinion that part of the debate had been dominated by “political witchery”. He stated that this project was initially approved by the opposition party to be located at another site: Anse Jambette, Canaries, but the developers proposed the change to Pigeon Island.
“I would be exceedingly cautious about anything they [opposition party] have to say because they lack credibility on this issue,” Fedee said.
Leading tour companies such as TripAdvisor and Virgin Holidays have pledged to stop promoting and selling attractions that threaten wild life. In that regard, we asked the tourism minister how the facility was supposed to benefit the tourism industry.
Fedee said other companies would still sell the tour and, “An integrated approach is required and I think that none of us can be extreme about any of the two positions but I think we need to look at what’s in the best interest of the country.” He also believes it’s a conflicting position as Saint Lucia is under the International Whaling Commission as “a whaling country, where we support the killing of whales”.
In terms of benefits to the economy, a number of jobs are expected to be provided. However, the minister said he could not give definite numbers as yet.
There are over a dozen local businesses against the dolphin park because they already operate whale- and dolphin-watching tours. Collectively they employ over 70 staff, transporting an average of 1,300 guests every month. Annually, this industry generates an estimated 1.6 million dollars through all local operators. So, how will local operators be affected if this proposal goes through? To this the tourism minister responded, “This is why a proper analysis of that sector, the whale-watching sector, must be done to see how significant the whale-watching business is. I think, as well, this really does not stop, or I don’t foresee, a big impact on their business.”
Pigeon Island is one of the most well-preserved and recreational areas of National Trust land. It is also a haven for locals and tourists alike. Wouldn’t visitors to the park and the park itself be affected? Fedee’s response: “We have a few things here that we must consider: one is to maximise the use of our marine resources . . . I think that it should be performing more and it should be generating much more revenue”.
Fedee mentioned there was a proposal before Cabinet from the National Trust to develop Pigeon Island with more amenities and facilities.
Other Caribbean islands such as Dominica and Antigua have gone down this route: Antigua gained only negative feedback, and suffered environmental issues affecting the underwater ecosystem.
In a recent press release from Antigua’s Environmental Groups: “In one facility in Antigua, dolphins were found to be “unusually dark” due to shallow enclosures and subsequent sunburn; some were found to be held in isolation for training purposes; and some were exposed to polluted water.”
But, there are other islands supporting Swim with Dolphins Programmes, such as Jamaica and Bahamas. Though, the dolphin parks did generate revenue and boost tourism, these countries had their fair share of issues too.
A local Bahamian spoke with Business Insider about working at the facility. He stated that the dolphin pens were excessively shallow and significantly small. He also spoke about a number of health issues related to the pens. They were kept clean but the chlorine in some cases was so strong that the trainers would ‘choke’. Eventually the dolphins went blind. Some dolphins developed psychosis – unusual behaviour in marine animals forced to swim in small pens. Dolphins were put through extreme pressure to perform, making them dangerous to humans. Female dolphins drowned their offspring, having no interest, according to the worker, in their babies living in captivity.
The location of the facility at Pigeon Island would be in the area of Josset’s house and Jambe de Bois; they would no longer be there but Mr Fedee is certain that the development can coexist without degrading environmental preservation efforts.