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BVI Dolphin Pen closes

Sutherland Says: `It Has Nothing To Do With St. Lucia'

Do captured dolphins really help the tourism economy?

This is the question that environmentalists and Classic Tours must be asking themselves this week.

The dolphin pen controversy simmered down over the last few weeks after dominating the press and creating waves of bad publicity for the project proponents, Classic Tours and Dolphin Fantaseas.

But just as things are getting quiet on the local front, there are things happening regionally that could put another dent in the argument that swimming with dolphins helps to boost the tourism industry.

After a year of controversy the dolphin programme at Prospect Reef Resort in the British Virgin Islands is shutting down. Four dolphins from that project will be transferred to a new facility in Dominica sometime in the next few weeks. The dolphins, Isla, Jessica, Tracey and Kimbit should be in Dominica by early next month.

Manager of Dolphin Resorts, Ken Vaughan tried to downplay the shutdown of the Virgin Islands operation, saying, "The dolphins were here for a maximum stay of three years to begin with. Our facility in Dominica was completed faster than expected, so we’re going to move them faster than we planned."

However, it is clear that Dolphin Fantaseas was trying to dig deeper roots in the BVI when they invested so much money in dredging a lagoon and building enclosure. It is also the first time that Dolphin Resorts has ever indicated that the dolphin programme was temporary.

Vaughan maintained that the programme was not closed for financial reasons but he did say that the program was not ideal for the BVI.

"The swim programme might not fit in with cruise ship tourism," he said, "because there’re thousands of people on those ships and we only take 24 people a day."

Will this affect St. Lucia’s decision about whether to grant permission to build a dolphin facility at Tapion Bay? Local environmentalists are hoping it will. They are still mounting public awareness campaigns to drive their point home against dolphin captivity. More internationally recognized environmentalists like Rick Obary and Gwen McKenna joined the fray this week, stirring up the controversy with articles attacking the notion that dolphin pens are good for the economy.

Roger Sutherland, director of M&C, one of the three partners in the venture, was more laid back in his reaction to the environmentalists’ sensationalism.

"I’m not going to get involved in the kind of debate where people already have their minds set and there is nothing you can say to them," he told THE MIRROR. "These people are paid environmentalists," he said of Obary and McKenna. "They are bringing out their big guns. But we are just a business and we made a business proposal, applying to the DCA for permission and obeying all the laws of the land."

As to how the failure of the dolphin programme in the BVI could affect St. Lucia, Sutherland said, "It has nothing to do with St. Lucia. Prospect Reef has their own problems, and St. Lucia is a different market from the BVI."

Sutherland and his partners must be very keen to not raise any more dust on this controversial issue. Controversy helped kill the BVI programme. But with environmentalists picking up the pace of their campaign, Classic Tours and Dolphin Fantaseas could see their dream of a facility at Tapion Bay become unworkable, even if the DCA grants them permission.

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