Forty-five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are opposing a proposed marine mammal facility at Blackbeards Cay in the Bahamas. One group says the planned facility was never made public, nor was public consultation ever invited.
Sam Duncombe, of reEarth and the Bahamas Freedom Alliance has joined forces with the likes of Dolphin Project, Humane Society International, Cetacean Society International and the Born Free Foundation to oppose what she calls, "unregulated development," at Blackbeard’s Cay, which is located just north of western New Providence.
The newly proposed facility opposite the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort has apparently been under redevelopment for over a year, and is planning to reopen with a new swim with captive dolphins program designed to capitalize on cruise line tourists.
But the revamped Blackbeard’s Cay which was originally set to open by the end of May and is estimated to be costing $5 million, is being bogged down by controversy. reEarth is protesting the lack of public disclosure over the development and the absence of necessary permits that the company needs to build the facility.
"No one seems to have any documents on that facility," Duncombe told the Tribune newspaper recently. "I’ve asked if any applications were put forward to do some dredging, put dolphin pens in," she added, "and no one can find anything to do with Blackbeard's Cay."
Despite repeated requests to government agencies from reEarth to make the alleged permits publically available, Duncombe alleged, "No one wants to put their name to anything." Yet the sea pens the environmentalist said, have already been installed, despite the lack of any impact study to assess the impact on the immediate environment or the dolphins kept in them.
According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), the Bahamas is a signatory country to SPAW , the United Nations Environment Programme's Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol in the Wider Caribbean Region.
SPAW, "prohibits the possession, taking and commercial trade in dolphins, subject to certain exemptions," WDC explained. The organization has also joined with local and international NGOs in condemning the proposed dolphin facility.
Certainly the planned development is raising more questions and concerns than it has answered. At the end of May, even the developer of Blackbeard’s Cay, was being asked by the government whether he even qualified to do business in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, local merchants also expressed concerns that the facility would distract tourists away from downtown businesses.
The Commonwealth of the Bahamas already boasts three captive dolphin facilities in a total area of 5,358 square miles. The new facility would make it four and fly directly in the face of reEarth's hopes for a tiered closure of all marine mammal facilities across the commonwealth.
Atlantis is perhaps the most well-known facility by tourists. Duncombe told Digital Journal that sixteen of a requested seventeen dolphins at Atlantis came from Marine Life in Mississippi, an aquarium destroyed by Hurricane Katrina which originally captured dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.
One had morbillivirus and was left behind to die alone in a tank in Florida, Duncombe explained, so only 16 came to Atlantis' Dolphin Cay.
At Dolphin Encounters, Blue Lagoon Island, nine dolphins were live-captured from the waters in Abaco, The Bahamas. Yet, said Duncombe, a permit for only six of the animals appeared after they had already been captured.
Dolphin Experience (UNEXSO on the island of Grand Bahama), garnered their dolphins from the waters of Mexico.
The newly proposed facility on Blackbeards Cay is allegedly acquiring its dolphins from a facility in Honduras, some of which are wild captures. Duncombe told Digital Journal. "They will be housed in a sea pen which will provide no protection from hurricanes and other storms, harassment from people passing in boats, and all the siltation caused by them, as well as boat engine noise," she said, "and there appears to be no evidence of any research done on the environmental damage all of this construction may cause."
The investors behind Blackbeards Cay have consistently denied any wrongdoing. The board comprised of Charles Carter, the former PLP MP and Cabinet Minister, Abner Pinder; Insurance Management chief, Cedric Saunders; and attorney Craig Roberts claim the new facility could create 100 new jobs.
Carter recently told the Tribune that everything was in order and rejected claims that it lacked the required government approvals and permits.
For reEarth, the proposed facility is frustrating given a 24-year battle with the government to close the doors to dolphinarium facilities in The Bahamas. "Whilst other countries are moving towards a more enlightened treatment of animals," Duncombe said in an open letter letter to the Minister of Agriculture, "Legislation and regulation in The Bahamas do little more than they did 20 years ago."
reEarth and Bahamas Freedom Alliance is petitioning the Minister responsible for Marine Mammal issues in The Bahamas for governmental support in preventing any future dolphin facilities in The Bahamas.
More details on the petition can be found at Care2.org and on the Bahamas Freedom Alliance Facebook page.