CITA: ‘No’ to dolphins

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association has taken a position against the establishment of captive dolphin entertainment parks in the Cayman Islands following a recent on-line member-only survey.

Seventy-four per cent of the respondents voted against the introduction of captive dolphin theme parks here.

A CITA watersports sector position paper on the issue urges the Government to put laws in place to prohibit captive dolphin facilities in Cayman before it is too late. CITA is a private, membership-based organisation.

The survey, conducted in response to requests from the membership, also showed 13 per cent of the respondents were neither in favour or opposed to the parks, and the remaining 13 per cent were in favour of them.

The establishment of three dolphinariums is pending in Grand Cayman, all for West Bay.

CITA President Karie Bergstrom said if the dolphin facilities go ahead there will be a public backlash and Cayman will have to learn how to mitigate damage from this.

The survey results are to be presented to the Minister for Tourism at CITA’s next meeting with him, she said.

Wednesday morning Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts was in a meeting and could not comment on the issue. Minister Clifford was off-island.

CITA’s watersports position paper was prepared through extensive research. This was finalised in January and released to member ship in February.

It documents the CITA watersports members’ findings of the potential negative impacts of a captive dolphin facility in Cayman. Reasons include: dolphin attractions being closed down on a regular basis in other nations; dolphins in captivity are against the country’s goal to create and sustain a destination of all things Caymanian; Dolphin excrement is a threat to the marine environment that could cause irreparable damage to reefs; the dolphin parks will create negative international PR with potential to cause eco-minded, adventure and nature tourists to avoid Cayman; negative PR can also result from the ethics of the captive dolphin industry and the captures; Cayman does not need to be a copy-cat country. ‘. . . we have too much to offer, and while we support the growth of new tourist attractions, this is not one that the benefits will outweigh the negatives, the benefits will accrue to a few individuals only, while others will suffer.’

Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands spokesperson Billy Adam said, ‘It is not surprising that those most knowledgeable of the tourism industry are against this copycat business. They know that stay-over visitors are more environmentally conscious and don’t want to see our natural environment destroyed by dolphin excrement. Our product should be unique, not a copycat one. If tourism has spoken out against this why can the Government not be open about it? The Freedom of Information Act cannot come too fast,’ he said.

The position paper states that businesses trying to create captive dolphin facilities here are moving forward because it is legal to do so, and can receive the relevant permits from the various government departments because they have no reason not to grant the permits.

The paper states that even if a facility is above standard and has minimum impact on the environment a dolphinarium is still much too great a risk for the Cayman Islands to undertake and poses a potential threat to tourism.

The Cayman Islands will pay a price with the savvy nature tourism visitors, an increasing percentage of our visitors, it says. It also points out that two of the most recent countries to join the list of countries banning dolphin facilities are Antigua and the Netherlands Antilles, both of which are our competitors and heavily promote nature tourism. Mexico has also banned the capture, import and export of dolphins along with many other countries.

Countries that are shutting down these types of facilities are forced to do this because of public outcry and demonstrations, the document states.

The paper also notes, ‘We had the forethought to have marine parks and replenishment zones, mooring balls to protect our reefs and aggressive and innovative marketing programs to attract visitors here. We are respected world-wide for our efforts to date and ranked as a top diving destination worldwide.’

The paper notes the people already spoke by way of the Caymanian Compass readers’ poll, where more than 92 per cent of respondents were against such parks.

‘If Cayman stands up against this proposal and says no we will be placed in high esteem worldwide and be leaders once again, not followers.’

Planning permission for building works at two proposed dolphin facilities has been granted, the Caymanian Compass recently learned: Dolphin Discovery (Cayman) to be located on the ocean-side at the Cayman Turtle Farm location and Dolphin Cove in the Morgan’s Harbour area of West Bay. Import permits for bottlenose dolphins have been granted to these two parks, subject to numerous conditions from the Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Environment is working with the agencies involved in the approval process to ensure that impacts on the natural environment are considered appropriately, said DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

It is understood a discharge permit has been granted to Dolphin Cove by the Water Authority.

Regarding the latter, the CITA watersports position paper states: ‘It would appear that discharge will be going into the North Sound, an area that is already stressed with over development as seen by the CITA watersports members and supported further by the new provisions being considered including the North Sound Management Policy (draft), National Conservation Law (draft and the Marine Conservation Board (published statements).’

The proposed site is within three miles of the No. 1 tourist attraction Stingray City, said the paper.

It is understood that another franchise out of Honduras, Living Seas, is also seeking to set up an operation here.

Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said he doesn’t think either the CITA poll, or the Caymanian Compass poll reflects what the entire Cayman Islands are saying.

‘Tourism is like real estate,’ he said. ‘If people are not getting a part of it they think it is a bad thing. It’s all about competition, but there is enough for everyone if done properly,’ he said.

‘All over the world there are dolphinariums and they have been in existence for years. All over the US and the world this is what our competitors are doing,’ he said.

However, Mr. Bush said that when he was in power his policy had been to give a licence to one dolphinarium and see how it worked, before permitting another to operate.

‘I can’t say I agree with three. We gave a licence to one,’ he said.

He said the turtle farm is run scientifically and a dophinarium would be run in the same way with proper care and maintenance.