Opposition to the opening of the island’s first dolphinarium, being developed in Chalong on the south of the island, is growing rapidly, with momentum fueled last Thursday from two public screenings in Phuket of the award-winning documentary The Cove (2009).
An initial afternoon screening was held at the Prince of Songkhla University Phuket, to which hundreds of undergratuate students attended, while an evening screening followed at the open-air courtyard of Central Festival Phuket.
Organized by Sea Shepard Global with Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, and reinforced with the support of various local NGOs and the greater environmentally-conscious community, the screenings proved to be effective in shedding light on the agenda behind the multi-billion-dollar global dolphin trade.
“Some students at PSU approached me after the movie and they wanted to do something about it [the opening of a dolphinarium in Phuket],” remarked Dr. Chantinee Boonchai, environment and international education lecturer at PSU Phuket.
“They are gathering signatures to oppose the dolphinarium and will write a letter to the governor. They are planning to do an on-site protest as well.”
Meanwhile, Phuket Governor Maitri has been formally briefed on the situation and movement, and has expressed sympathy with the opposition, at least in a closed-door meeting with officials on August 8.
However, up to this point, the project’s developers seem to have done everything by the book; thus there is little the government can do to hault the opening of the tourist attraction, granted all proper procedures are followed accordingly.
Nancy Gibson, Chief Executive and Founder of the Love Wildlife Foundation, who has been a key player in the protection of wildlife in Southeast Asia including dolphins, explained that there were four “dolphinarium” facilities here, but now only three in business.
One of them, the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya, no longer has dolphins, she explained, as it does not possess the permits to catch new dolphins to replace the many that had died there under the radar.
The three remaining facilities in Thailand include Safari World, in Bangkok, Oasis Sea World in Chanthaburi and Pattaya Dolphin World & Resort. Of these, Safari World is the only one importing their dolphins. It’s illegal to catch dolphins in Thai waters.
Nancy also noted that the dolphinarium opposition in Phuket has the support of Thai Tuna Companiess, who are in the “dolphin safe” program.
“Phuket is a big port for the tuna companies, and Phuket would not be dolphin safe by bringing them [tourists and dolphins] in for shows,” she said.
Meanwhile, Phuket Aqua Project Co Ltd’s application for the facility has been handed over to the Department of Fisheries’ head office in Bangkok, confirmed Kiattikhun Charoensawan, chief of the Phuket Fisheries Office.
“Phuket dolphins are loved and a symbol of our ocean beauty and health.
Displaying imprisoned wild caught animals says Phuket ‘doesn’t care about the Ocean’, but only about profit, and is a backwards step for eco tourism,” concluded local businessman and environmental activist, Nick Anthony.
A small on-site protest is planned for September 1. For more information, see the event page on Facebook here.