Coral World dolphinarium work under way on land


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ST. THOMAS - Work has started on the $5.2 million, 70,000-square-foot interactive dolphin exhibit at Coral World Ocean Park.

The Coastal Zone Management permits were approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. John deJongh Jr. late last year.

The work being done on the property is on the land. The permits for building the dolphin enclosure in Water Bay have not yet been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.

According to the permit application, the dolphins will be kept in a large rectangular enclosure built in Water Bay, bordered by decking containing a viewing platform and low bleacher seating.

The decks that will make up the enclosure will measure about 300 feet by 250 feet.

An additional 40-foot buffer will be set up around the perimeter of the decking using a buoy line. The decking will be supported by 158 concrete pilings that will necessitate the removal and relocation of some corals and seagrass beds.

A stainless steel mesh will connect the dock on the surface to the ocean floor, keeping the dolphins in the 2-acre enclosure while allowing the natural currents of the bay to clean out the dolphin habitat.

The dolphin facility will take up about 5 percent of the surface area of Water Bay, according to Coral World's application.

The work in the water cannot begin until the proper permits are approved.

"The Corps is awaiting a response from the permit applicant to our Request for Additional Information (RAI) letter. Our review process will resume once this information is received," Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Nancy Sticht told The Daily News in an email last week.

CZM Division Director Jean-Pierre Oriol said the CZM permit was issued after the governor signed it last year, and Coral World sent notice that work would begin shortly after that.

The land-based construction will include bathhouses and a two-story education center. A boardwalk also will be built for guests to travel from the main Coral World campus to the Water Bay area.

The education center will be a multipurpose building used for staff to give orientations to those who will be swimming with the dolphins. It also will provide facilities and emergency living quarters for the staff and medical personnel, storage for equipment and a changing area.

According to the CZM permit conditions, the facility can have only six dolphins while it monitors the quality of Water Bay for a one-year period. If the monitoring shows adequate water quality, additional dolphins can be brought in.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries program must approve the importation of the dolphins, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture must approve a separate permit for the animals as well.

Coral World General Manager Trudie Prior was unavailable for comment.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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