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A cage by any other name, is still a cage!

The dolphin lagoon proposed by tennis player and businessman Amir Mansoor is marketed as a conservation project and education program based in a natural lagoon. His charm and honeyed words accompanied with deep pockets have helped him on his way to achieving this goal by catering to the greed of government officials and private parties.

On October4th, 2011 the cabinet approved a proposal to lease out the lagoon located between Thilafushi and Baros, diameter of some 2 kms, to Mansoor for 21 years. This decision brought about a backlash from environmental activist both local and international attracting the attention of various organisations and people including Richard O’Barry, Director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, who was also featured in the award winning documentary, The Cove, and Mark Berman, Associate Director of the Dolphin Safe program.

To handle the bad press promoted by various environmental organisations and dive associations Mansoor and his lackeys have brought forth many arguments justifying the dolphin lagoon and how it will be beneficial to both the Maldives and to the dolphins. But I, myself don’t see how importing 6-8 bottlenose dolphins n keeping them captive for human entertainment would benefit either.

First of all as these bottlenose dolphins are from the Atlantic and thus not from Maldivian waters, importing them unbalances the delicate ecosystem of our waters and increases the chance of diseases for the wild dolphin community. Also as the website for the lagoon says, essentially these dolphins are free and able to leave whenever they wish as they are permitted on “daily unstructured excursions”, then there is a chance of these dolphins to interact with the native creatures possibly causing spread of diseases in the wild population.

It is very hard to believe that these dolphins which have been born and bred in captivity and transported into Maldives will be free to leave if they aren’t happy, however much Amir Mansoor would like us to think so. Can anybody believe that a business man would spend money and resources to lease a lagoon, do the necessary preparations and bring in trained dolphins to let even one escape from their confinement? I find myself wondering what sort of measures Amir Mansoor will take to protect his investment.

And for this investment to bring in the necessary profits, they would need to provide the entertainment. The entertainment being the dolphins shows. Dolphins forced to captivity and made to perform die within 2-5 years, whereas in the wild these creatures can live up to 40 years of age. There have even been cases of dolphins committing suicide rather than living in captivity. Are we willing to subject dolphins to this cruelty just for our own entertainment?

The dolphinarium is considered to be one of the largest of its kind for so few a number of dolphins. Just because a cage is a bit larger than the other cages, does not make it anything other than a cage. Dolphins on average travel up to distances of 50 km per day, while the lagoon has a diameter of some 2 kms. A 2 km lagoon does not even compare to the open ocean.

It is not just the dolphins, the environment, and countless small businesses that will suffer, but Maldives as a whole will also be subjected to great losses. Our reputation as an “always natural” country will be tarnished, degrading our standing as a pro-environment tourism country. Maldives has a unique natural beauty and this is what the people want to see and experience when they visit Maldives.

The fisheries industry will also suffer as Earth Island Institute (EII) has said they will withdraw the dolphin safe label from government owned tuna companies – Felivaru, Koodoo and MIFCO, discrediting them in the international market if the dolphin lagoon is approved. This will vastly decrease the country’s revenue and bring about huge losses to the country’s economy.

Fortunately thanks to all of the people who have stood up for the plight of the dolphins, the cabinet is reconsidering their decision to permit this project. Insha Allah, they will make the right decision this time around.

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