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Dolphin Cove heading for the south coast

Published:Friday | August 2, 2019 | 12:19 AMAvia Collinder - Business Reporter

Dolphin Cove, having triumphed in court against environmentalists and citizens of Discovery Bay who were trying to block its Puerto Seco Beach attraction in St Ann, is now looking to the south coast as the next site for a marine park, says Chairman Stafford Burrowes.

The Puerto Seco facility opened on the north coast in March, but residents began lobbying against it after the posting of a notice in April 2018 that a dolphinarium – an aquarium or pen at open sea for dolphins – would be developed there, and took Dolphin Cove to court.

It was reported in June that Supreme Court Justice Leighton Pusey denied an appeal for judicial review from applicants – property owners Erica Downer, John Greaves and Jennifer Greaves and community organisations, the Discovery Bay Community Development Committee and Alloa Fishermen Co-operative Society Limited – who had argued that the establishment of the dolphin facility in the bay would have adverse effects on the marine environment.

In an update to shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, Burrowes said that while the conflict had been bad for Dolphin Cove’s image, the new attraction was able to maintain visitor volumes.

The court decision in the company’s favour was made two months ago, Burrowes later told the Financial Gleaner.

“We are now awaiting the decision, whether or not the people will pay us back for costs incurred,” he said.

Dolphin Cove, which was founded by Burrowes but is now majority owned by Dolphin Discovery Group of Mexico, allows visitors to swim and play with dolphins in confined settings. Its parks are located in Discovery Bay, Ocho Rios and Lucea in Jamaica, and in the Cayman Islands, and subsidiaries incorporated in St Lucia and Turks & Caicos Islands for operations in those islands.

The new location under consideration for Jamaica, he said, is expected to lie somewhere between Black River and Savanna-la-Mar – the respective capitals of the connected parishes of St Elizabeth and Westmoreland and a belt that includes the Sandals Whitehouse hotel and a number of villas. The company has been studying the area, but held back on its plans to await the outcome of the St Ann court case.

“We did not want to move forward while we were fighting the case,” said Burrowes, adding that if the court had ruled that the dolphins were polluting the water, making it unsafe for swimming, it would have dealt a severe blow to the company’s business model.

But now: “Having been successful with the case, having the public recognise the fact that although we are in a heavily regulated type of attraction, we are operating correctly, otherwise we would not have been granted permits; it allows US to move forward,” he said.

The south coast attraction is still being conceptualised, he said, but: “Between that hotel and the many, many villas built down there, all the south coast visitors would give good business,” he added.

Last year, Dolphin Cove’s revenue fell six per cent to US$15.2 million, which the company chalked up to falling business due to the restrictions on movement under zones of special operation set up in the tourist belt.

The marine attraction’s revenues come from programme fees from hotels, cruise ships and walk-in guests; plus ancillary services revenue from the operation of restaurants, gift shops, photo shops and other adventure tours.

The chairman outlined in the company’s annual report, that although there was an increase in tourists visiting Jamaica, they were hesitant to leave their hotels due to the state of emergency. This resulted in the decline of US$1.7 million in revenue.

The company invested US$700,000 in product improvement, including the completion of the Puerto Seco facility and expansion of Yaa Man Adventure Park, located in White River St Ann, to include a new river experience.