A Commentary on the Pro­posed Pi­geon Is­land Dol­phin Park

Is Saint Lu­cia in the shack­les of fool’s gold?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - 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.

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.

A pro­posed Dol­phin Park in the north of the is­land has sparked pub­lic de­bate, with thou­sands sign­ing pe­ti­tions against the de­vel­op­ment.

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