CITA refutes Minister’s comments

Claim dolphins pose environmental threat

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association refuted recent comments made by Tourism Minster Charles Clifford in which he said captive dolphin facilities should not negatively impact the environment.

Mr. Clifford made the comments in an article which appeared on page one of the Caymanian Compass on Thursday 31 August.

CITA issued a statement this week stating that research and facts from other nations in the Caribbean and around the world have shown Mr. Clifford’s assessment to be incorrect.

The statement points out that Dolphin Discovery (the same company that is proposing to open at the Cayman Turtle Farm/Boatswain’s Beach) facility in Antigua was shut down in December 2004 due to major environmental problems.

Global Coral Reef Alliance in Mexico states ‘the types of algae found and their spatial distributions, in conjunction with the turbidity and the movement of the water, suggest that there are excessive nutrients, especially phosphorus, that are coming directly from the dolphin cages. These are likely due to a mixture of dolphin excrement and the rotting of uneaten food. Excess nutrients carried by the currents from the dolphin cages appear to be causing serious coral reef overgrowth by weedy algae (eutrophication), especially by cyanobacteria, in the reefs to the south of the Chancanaab dolphin cages’. These are just two examples of many, states the CITA.

CITA’s statement continued, ‘The fact is we do not really know what the impacts on the environment might be.’

The statement makes reference to a second proposed dolphin facility for Cayman, Dolphin Cove, to be located at Morgan’s Harbour, West Bay.

‘Given that Dolphin Cove is in the North Sound, perhaps three miles from Stingray City, it is a major concern to the tourism industry.’

The statement quotes Mr. Clifford, ‘… I believe that [the developers’] systems and permits will ensure that our environment is not negatively impacted.’

However, CITA says that there are no regulations in place in Cayman. ‘The Department of Agriculture and the Government appointed Animal Welfare Advisory Committee have no regulations to follow and no guidelines in place. We can only assume that we will accept the ‘systems’ that the developers propose. Where are the checks and balances in this approach? Where are the guidelines?’

The proposed facilities have been given permission to set up pending certain conditions, however. Some of the Department of Agriculture requirements involve health, quarantine, housing (including storm contingencies) and husbandry outlined in the ‘Conditions Governing the Importation, Housing Husbandry, and Use of Bottlenose Dolphins in the Cayman Islands,’ and applicants must obtain a statement from the Department of Environment that acceptable programmes for environmental quality control are proposed by the applicant.

A discharge permit from the Water Authority is also required.

Mr. Clifford stated that ‘…. The dive industry will not be negatively affected … other than perhaps on the commercial side… (dolphinarium will) admittedly introduce further competition’.

CITA responded: ‘Never have we ever stated or suggested that we are opposed to these facilities because it would create competition.

‘Our position was that the dive visitor/Eco/Nature/Adventure tourist will not come here due to the country’s support of this type of attraction. CITA have documented many countries that have closed dolphinariums due to the negative environmental and/or tourism effect, and banned any further import.

‘We have to wonder where Minister Clifford is getting his facts.’

The statement continued: ‘What the CITA did say to support our position was: Dolphin attractions are being closed down on a regular basis in other nations; Dolphins in captivity is against our country’s goal to create and sustain a destination of ‘all things Caymanian’; Dolphin excrement is a real threat to our marine environment, one that could cause irreparable damage to our reefs; Captive dolphin parks will create negative international PR and have the potential for causing eco-minded, adventure and nature tourists to avoid Cayman; Captive dolphin facilities are created by capturing dolphins, and the ethics of the industry that does this must be understood by Cayman to truly understand the overall perspective of why negative PR will result from this type of facility; we do 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, in our opinion, where the benefits will outweigh the negatives, the benefits will accrue to a few individuals only, while others may suffer.’

Campaign group Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands has long made it known that it is against the setting up of captive dolphin facilities in the Cayman Islands, because of environmental concerns and for ethical reasons. The Cayman Humane Society has also expressed to Government that they are against it as has the Marine Conservation Board. Inductees of the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame have also voiced concern on this issue.

CITA published an opinion paper in January 2006, which was followed by a members’ poll on the issue of whether captive dolphin facilities should be supported. The response was 74 per cent of its membership voted against captive dolphin facilities.

CITA stated it stands on its research, without fear of competition.

‘We are significantly concerned over the opening of any captive dolphin entertainment facilities in Cayman. As the tourism association on the island, representing almost 200 members in the business of tourism, we wish to make our thoughts available to the community. Copies of our research paper can be obtained by contacting [email protected] or calling 949-8522.’

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