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In an open letter, dated Feb. 23, 2017 to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, on the 38th anniversary of the opening of the Pigeon Island National Park, the Devaux family has called on Chastanet to stop the proposed dolphin facility at Pigeon Island.
The family said this commercial activity will destroy the “essence” of Pigeon Island and the negative publicity surrounding the captivity of the dolphins will not be good for St. Lucia’s image.
The letter made reference to an ongoing petition (CLICK HERE) that has to date attracted almost 9,000 signatures.
According to the petition site, a group of investors is on island discussing a proposal to keep dolphins in captivity at Pigeon Island. The proposal includes the construction of a restaurant, gift shop, and swimming pool on Pigeon Island, which may result in the desecration of the military cemetery and who knows how much more damage to Pigeon Island National Landmark, the site states.
“This ill-conceived idea is not in keeping with the St. Lucia National Trust mandate to preserve and protect our national heritage and must not be allowed to proceed,” the site added.
Below is the entire open letter to the prime minister:
Dear Mr. Chastanet:
On behalf of the Devaux family, like-minded St. Lucians, and thousands of petitioners (almost 7,000 at last count), we respectfully request that you stop the proposed dolphin facility at Pigeon Island.
This type of commercial activity will do nothing to enhance the natural beauty or historic charm of the park. Pigeon Island National Landmark is part of Robert J. Devaux’s legacy and part of this nation’s heritage. As a National Landmark, it must be preserved and protected.
What Robert envisioned for Pigeon Island was a green space steeped in history to be enjoyed by his children and their children and all St. Lucians for generations to come. This became a reality on 23 February 1979, when two years of hard work by Robert and his team culminated in the official opening of St. Lucia’s first national park. Most St. Lucians then didn’t know what a national park was. Most St. Lucians now don’t remember a time when Pigeon Island National Park didn’t exist.
As Founding Director of the St. Lucia National Trust, Robert worked for all St. Lucians of past, present, and future generations: young and old, educated and uneducated, enlightened and yet to be enlightened. He tried to protect our history, culture, and natural resources from short-sighted exploitation, because he believed that preserving our heritage is vital to our long-term survival as a cohesive nation and a tourism destination. This is how he put it:
Our heritage is what defines us and connects us. When we lose sight of that, we lose our self-respect and our respect for each other. When we turn our back on our heritage – through the neglect or destruction of what makes us unique – we stop evolving as a nation (RJD).
Your vision for St. Lucia is different and we respect that. You envisage beautifying Castries, developing what’s left of Pigeon Island causeway, expanding Rodney Bay Village, and rebuilding Hewanorra Airport: all worthwhile projects in areas where your ideas can be transformative. But the few remaining unspoiled pockets of natural beauty designated as National Landmarks or protected areas must be preserved intact.
To continue to compete as a tour destination, we have to set ourselves apart by offering something that no other destination has. A dolphin facility does not distinguish us (Dolphin Discovery alone has at least 20 facilities around the Caribbean basin). The only thing we have that makes us unique is our heritage: our natural heritage of mountains, beaches, and landmarks; and our cultural heritage of history, customs, and people. Without that heritage to differentiate us, visitors would have NO REASON to choose St. Lucia over any other island. Pigeon Island, with its scenic beauty and rich history and archaeology, is an iconic symbol of our heritage and is too important to St. Lucia’s identity to be compromised. This is the reason it was designated a National Landmark.
When defenders of the proposed dolphin facility claim that it won’t destroy Pigeon Island, they are taking the accusation too literally. Of course, Pigeon Island will still exist: the park – or what’s left of it – will still be there. But the proposed facility will destroy the essence of Pigeon Island: it will interrupt the tranquillity, the unspoiled beauty, and the ambience. Pigeon Island has an energy that feeds the soul, but because you can’t measure that or put a price on it, it is easily dismissed. As a nation in crisis, we should be trying to elevate the rest of St. Lucia to be more like Pigeon Island, instead of trying to diminish Pigeon Island to make it more like everywhere else.
To address the animal rights issue, keeping dolphins in captivity is inhumane. Worldwide public opinion has turned against tours that feature captive wild animals. Leading tour companies like TripAdvisor and Virgin Holidays have pledged to stop selling this type of tour as a result of pressure from animal advocacy groups.
The negative publicity surrounding the proposed facility at Pigeon Island will not be good for St. Lucia’s image. It’s not a question of whether or not travellers will boycott St. Lucia, it’s a question of how many will do so. In the worst case, an organized boycott by an international animal welfare organization could tarnish our reputation and hurt our tourism industry.
Finally, we know that job creation is of paramount importance. The St. Lucia National Trust has projects lined up that, if approved, would create at least as many jobs as the dolphin project. Additionally, there are entrepreneurial St. Lucians with ideas for tourism-related products who, if given the same concessions and rubber stamping that foreign investors enjoy, could start businesses that create a lot more than the 22 to 28 permanent jobs promised by the dolphin facility.
Thank you for considering all St. Lucians, including the generations to come.
The Devaux Family