Recently the Nature Foundation St. Maarten provided advice to the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Ludmila N.L. de Weever and the Minister of Public Housing, Physical Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) Egbert J. Doran, regarding the negative impacts of marine mammal captivity and the negative impact to our environment and tourism of such activity on St. Maarten. The Foundation requested the above mentioned ministers to NOT issue permits for any marine mammal captivity or permits of construction or lease of water rights which could lead to marine mammal captivity, in case such permits are requested now or in the future.
The Foundation also officially requested the minister of VROMI to view the current documentation and any advice given for the possible long-term lease of water rights near Alegria Hotel (or Morgan Resort Spa and Village). Recently, the Foundation received rumours for the possibility of a dolphin activity near Alegria Hotel after water rights will be given and a breakwater is being built. “We have been consulted twice by the government in the past two years, to provide advice regarding the building of a jetty and breakwater in the mentioned area, twice negative advice has been submitted which included serious concerns. Beside the unknown and possible negative impacts on ocean currents, wave interaction and sand deposit along the coastline and Maho beach, the build of a breakwater/jetty would put both native seagrass species and protected corals at risk of being destroyed’ mentioned Nature Foundation’s Manager Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
According to SPAW Annex ll and the Nature Conservation Ordinance St. Maarten Articles 16 and 17 legislation it is illegal to kill, wound, capture or pick up mentioned stony corals. It is also illegal to directly or indirectly disturb their environment resulting in a physical threat or damage, or to commit other acts which result in disturbance of the coral animals. Stony corals are reef builders, they have an important role in keeping our waters clean, protect us from storms and swells, provide a habitat for many fish species and attract tourists from all around the world.
“The Nature Foundation is very against any marine mammal captivity or similar activity as the effects of allowing a marine captivity institution to be built on St. Maarten are far reaching both ethically and environmentally. Everywhere around the world such facilities are being closed and heavily protested, Canada prohibited the captivity of marine mammals in 2019 an example St. Maarten should follow” continued Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
The ethical dilemma surrounding a dolphnarium focuses on the severely restricted living spaces the animals are confined to and the inhumane treatment they are often subjected to. Dolphins in the wild swim up to 100 kilometers (60 miles) per day, regularly dive up to 46 meters (150 feet) and can reach max depths of 300 meters (nearly 1000 feet). Confining this species to a shallow enclosure for their entire lives is cruel and can have serious physical and psychological effects on these intelligent animals. In addition, the dolphins that are captured or bred to live in these dolphinariums are also subjected to food deprivation, disguised as operant conditioning, for training to preform tricks that are often dangerous for the animal. Dolphins do not only harm each other due to the psychological effects of their treatment, there are also instances in which they harm the humans visiting them as well. The most recent recorded attack was of a 10-year-old girl who was bit and dragged underwater at a dolphin park in Cancun, Mexico. The anti-dolphinarium movement has swept the globe due to these ethically questionable practices, several organizations fight against these institutions which are being shut down all over the world. St. Maarten cannot afford the controversy of allowing such a business to establish on our island in this period of regrowth for our tourism industry.
Additionally, due to the restricted living space of the dolphins, fecal matter coming from the pens will increase the nutrient load in nearshore environments and can result in harmful algal blooms, skin irritation and ear infections of swimmers in the area. Algae blooms will significantly affect our coral reefs, as these algae will overgrow the already threatened and disappearing vulnerable coral ecosystems. As a Caribbean tourist island, we depend on our corals as it causes storm protection, clear waters, healthy fish stocks and attracts millions of tourists.
The Nature Foundation awaits the requested information from the Department of VROMI concerning the water-rights and hopes the provided advice to the ministers is being heard in order to choose for a sustainable and environmentally friendly St. Maarten.