(ST LUCIA TIMES)
Antiguan environmentalist Martha Watkins-Gilkes recently travelled to St Lucia to support the national trust there with their efforts to stop the development of a dolphin park.
Watkins-Gilkes is the Executive Producer on a new documentary Dolphin Dilemma: The Antigua & Barbuda Story, which recounts how the people of the twin-island nation marched and protested the opening of a dolphin park, which had begun to cause damage to the environment and businesses.
The St. Lucia National Trust invited the executive producer along with Howard and Mitzi Allen of HAMA Films Antigua, who are working to tell the expanded version of the Caribbean story, and the ongoing efforts of Dolphin Discovery and other companies to open dolphinariums as tourist attractions.
More than 180 people attended the standing room only event in Castries, which was also streamed live on Facebook. To date more than 5700 people have watched the live stream.
National Trust Director Bishnu Tulsie said the audience was fully engaged during the viewing of the documentary and the discussion session. “There is considerable opposition to the establishment of the dolphin facility in Saint Lucia and we received useful feedback about how to approach our advocacy against the project.”
The trust believes development of a dolphin park will have a negative impact on the local marine ecosystem and affect the livelihoods of close to 100 fisherfolk. This despite, the government stating that the park will provide at least 60 new jobs for locals.
Their position was further bolstered by a published statement from the St Lucia Hospitality and Tourism Association SLHTA which shared the views of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) on the construction of a captive dolphin facility. ABTA, the United Kingdom’s largest travel association, represents over 1,200 travel agents and tour operators including First Choice, Kuoni, Thomas Cook, TUI Group, and Virgin Holidays.
ABTA said “a new captive dolphin attraction would lead to substantial increased reputational risk to Saint Lucia and offer little in the way of differentiation. Research undertaken by our members in the UK also indicates a significant decline in the popularity of these attractions and a marked increase in the numbers of consumers who view keeping dolphins in captivity as unacceptable.
“A number of our members have actually removed all attractions involving captive cetaceans from sale and others are restricting the numbers they sell. We felt it important to highlight these trends and suggest that if there are alternative options to enhance St. Lucia’s tourism offering, with more longevity these should perhaps be considered. It is understood that Pigeon Island was the first national park in Saint Lucia and is one of the most bio-diverse sites on the island.
“Such a development seems to oppose the foundations of the park which was established with the vision to preserve local history, culture and natural resources for future generations,” the statement read.
Hosting the screening and discussion, trust officials said, helped to further the discussion on dolphins in captivity and how it would negatively affect St Lucia.
“The event raised awareness about our cause and triggered conversation on social media. It has already been repeated on national television to engage a wider audience that was unable to attend the event. The UK Guardian carried the story, thereby engaging the attention of its UK readership.”
Tulsie said the help of Watkins-Gilkes and other regional bodies has been invaluable in helping to build momentum.
“We would appreciate wider and continuous support for our advocacy efforts from Martha Watkins-Gilkes, HAMA and other regional bodies. Making new connections with other entities who support our cause is also integral. Access to case laws that deal with the subject will be of considerable assistance to the Trust,” added the director.
“To establish a Dolphin park in St Lucia is such an appalling and bad and backward idea. The tides are turning in it being acceptable to keep dolphins in captivity. Many tourists are so against the concept and it could lead to a boycott of St Lucia instead of any positive development. I hope the government of the day will heed the voice of the people,” said Watkins-Gilkes.