Dolphinarium moves to Gov. deJongh's desk
Published: October 24, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - It is up to the governor now to sign off on the dolphins.
Once Gov. John deJongh Jr. gives his signature of approval to the amended lease for Coral World, the venue's plan for a dolphin exhibit will be in the hands of governmental entities outside the territory.
The full Senate voted 14-1 Wednesday evening, granting Coral World an amended lease that would enable it to use a nearly two-acre area of Water Bay as the home for an anticipated four or five dolphins.
Sen. Clarence Payne III was the sole senator to vote "no" on the amended lease.
The lease also comes with a Coastal Zone Management permit that gives Coral World its first needed permit to begin construction.
However, the permit is incomplete because the Army Corps of Engineers, which will consult with a number of federal agencies that include the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Services of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, now needs to review the permit.
Additionally, once the exhibit is constructed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have to approve the structure before Coral World can order any dolphins, for which the venue also will need an import permit.
"I'm very pleased with the outcome," said Trudie Prior, general manager of Coral World. "The senators were very thoughtful with their responses."
Payne gave an unclear explanation as to why he opposed the amended lease, though the other senators made clear that, despite any concerns that they had, they were encouraged by the economic gains that would be expected from the estimated $5.2 million investment on behalf of Coral World.
Prior and her husband, Neil Prior, already have invested about $17 million into Coral World, which includes several exhibits that in years past also were meant to put the venue in better financial standing.
Rumors even started that, without the dolphin exhibit, Coral World would perhaps not make it many more years, though the Priors would not answer Monday whether that rumor was valid.
"Only time will tell," said Neil Prior.
Senators not only felt that a dolphin exhibit would help Coral World and also help the territory, which was a driving factor in their decision.
"The environmentalist and the preservationist in me struggles with this," said Sen. Judi Buckley, though she noted that she also understood the business aspect.
Many of the senators pointed to Coral World's relatively clean reputation regarding the treatment of the animals that it oversees, including sea turtles, sea lions, sharks and a multitude of fish.
Senators Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly and Craig Barshinger also mentioned that they would love to see Coral World open a dolphin exhibit on St. Croix, while Sen. Alicia Hansen chided Crucian environmentalists for holding their island back from similar projects.
"Everything goes when it comes to St. Thomas. On St. Croix, the environmentalists have everything tied up," Hansen said. "You know how many things are on the shelf on St. Croix? They don't even want the fishermen to fish."
Still, several senators noted that they shared some of the concerns for the environment expressed by residents who have spoken out against the dolphin exhibit throughout the process of considering the amended lease.
Most of the opponents said that assessments by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources have predicted an increase of fecal matter and bacteria in Water Bay as a result of the dolphins' placement there.
They also stated that the containment of dolphins is inhumane, even though the dolphins that Coral World will be purchasing will be from other marine institutions that have bred the dolphins while in captivity. The dolphins will not be from the wild, Trudie Prior has said.
The Priors hope to have the dolphin exhibit, which will take up about 4 percent of Water Bay, complete by the end of next year, before the high season begins.
- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.