The controversial dolphin encounter program proposed for St. Thomas’ Coral World Ocean Park got one step closer to construction last week.
According to the Virgin Islands Daily News, the Senate granted Coral World an amended lease that would enable it to use a portion of its facility for a dolphin encounter program. Coral World’s next step is to obtain the governor’s approval. If that occurs, the future of the exhibit would then be in the hands of government agencies that reside outside of the territory such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Services.
Plans to create the 70,000-square-foot dolphin encounter exhibit garnered an intense reaction from island residents and visitors when it was announced last year. Many people claimed the attraction was inhumane and that it would negatively impact the dolphins living in captivity, while proponents described it as having the potential to give a “much needed boost” to the territory’s economy.
If approved, six dolphins or less are expected to call the attraction home in the first year, although that number may increase to 10 during subsequent years. The dolphins used in the attraction will be purchased from those already living in captivity, according to Coral World, and will not be taken from the wild.
The attraction is expected to draw an additional 25,000 to 35,000 visitors annually. It is also expected to bring more than $4 million of additional revenue into the territory each year.
Want to hear more from both sides? Check out this short news clip that aired in August 2012 when the park’s plans were first announced: