Do­minic Fedee: Swim with dol­phins ini­tia­tive puts is­land in con­flict­ing po­si­tion

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michele-Lau­ren Hack­shaw

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

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.

Saint Lu­cia’s tourism min­is­ter be­lieves the pro­posed dol­phin devel­op­ment can co­ex­ist with present en­vi­ron­men­tal preser­va­tion struc­tures.

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