A wave of protest greets plan for dolphin attraction in Caribbean

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A report by Jacqui Goddard for the London Times.

Plans for a captive dolphin attraction on St Lucia have provoked an outcry, with critics saying that it would tarnish the island’s reputation and damage a treasured heritage site.

Opponents of the scheme, which has been championed by Allen Chastanet, the prime minister, complain that it ignores public distaste for the confinement of marine mammals and could harm tourism “There is overwhelming opposition to this project. The public is listening but I can’t gauge the extent to which our government is listening,” Bishnu Tulsie, director of St Lucia National Trust, said yesterday. “The prime minister has said that as far as he is concerned the decision to go ahead with the dolphinarium has already been taken.”

Close to 25,000 people have signed a petition against the initiative to construct the dolphin facility at Pigeon Island, a 44-acre islet that was declared St Lucia’s first national park in 1979 and a national landmark in 1992. Twenty-four animal welfare, conservation and environmental groups have called on Mr Chastanet to drop the plan.

The prospective operator, Dolphin Discovery, runs more than 20 marine parks around the Caribbean and Mexico. However, the marine mammal entertainment industry has waned in popularity in recent years because of a greater public focus on animal welfare issues.

Dolphin Discovery plans a main dolphin pool and seven holding pools across a 1.6-acre area of open water, plus a restaurant and gift shop. Initially it would house eight bottlenose dolphins, born in captivity.

“Keeping dolphins in captivity is inhumane,” read a statement from the family of the late Robert Devaux, a conservationist on St Lucia whose work led to the establishment of Pigeon Island as a national park. “It’s not a question of whether travellers will boycott St Lucia, it’s a question of how many will do so.”

The project will involve extensive excavation close to a cemetery in which British and French soldiers who fought for Caribbean territory in the 1800s are buried. Dolphin Discovery has stated that the site would not be affected. Opponents also fear potential damage to the coral reef on which the island sits.

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