Dolphin Cove breaks ground on new marine theme park in Hanover

BY MARK CUMMINGS Observer senior reporter

Sunday, September 20, 2009

POINT, Hanover - The $1-billion marine theme park being built on a 20-acre seafront property in this northwestern community by Dolphin Cove is scheduled to open within the next eight months.

Last Thursday, the developers of the facility broke ground for the first phase of the project, which is expected to cost $500,000,000 and will on completion provide employment for more than 200 persons.

Managing director of Dolphin Cove Limited, Stafford Burrows (second left), and permanent secretary in the ministry of tourism Jennifer Griffith (third left) break ground for the $1-billion Marine Theme Park at Point, Hanover, while president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Wayne Cummings (left), opposition spokesman on tourism Wykeham McNeil (fourth left), and director general at the ministry of tourism Carole Guntley look on. (Photo: Philip Lemonte)

The park, which is to be sited midway between the resort towns of Montego Bay and Negril, comes in the wake of exhaustive calls by the cruise shipping industry for more such attractions.

Dolphin Cove operates commercially successful locations in Ocho Rios, St Ann and Montego Bay.

The company's managing director, Stafford Burrows, said at the ground-breaking ceremony that the new attraction will be the largest marine park in the western hemisphere.

"Montego Bay and the western region have always needed a marquis attraction. The cruise ships berthing in Montego Bay have been sending its passengers to Ocho Rios. The hotel guests in Negril have had to spend six hours in a bus to travel to Ocho Rios and return and so this first-class attraction we are building will enhance the western Jamaica destination," Burrows said.

He noted that in addition to the interactive dolphin tours, the facility will offer a raft of other mini attractions, designed to keep the visitors there longer and cater to a variety of needs.

"The project, in addition to the dolphins, will have a lazy river, ecological mangrove tour, crocodiles and camel riding," he noted.

The facility, Burrows added, is being designed to facilitate Dolphin Human Therapy (DHT), which involves the use of dolphins to provide positive reinforcement to children with special needs.

"It (DHT) is an international programme that has been able to help participants from all over the world. Motivation and confidence are critical for success in almost anything. For the special needs populations, it is hard to imagine anything more motivating than working with dolphins," he explained.

The massive tourist development was given the thumbs up late last year by the National Environment Planning Agency, when developers received a coastal modification certificate.

At that time, Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay told the Sunday Finance that her organisation was against the development. "Broadly, we are opposed to having dolphins in captivity for a number of reasons. On the environmental side, they are taking animals from the wild in the absence of proper population studies and we don't know the effect of that on the wild population," she argued.

But on Thursday, the developers were lauded by stakeholders in the tourism sector for undertaking the development despite "these challenging times".
"The development is a business decision taken in challenging times and it is a strong testament to the confidence that the principals of this enterprise have in our country's ability to weather the current economic storm and to move on to the growth and future development of the tourism industry," said Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

"Putting down this kind of investment in these times is not just putting your money where your mouth is, it is courageous," added Bartlett, in a message delivered by permanent secretary in the ministry of tourism, Jennifer Griffith.

He noted that the theme park will be an important addition to the variety of tourism attractions in the island.

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Wayne Cummings, who was also in attendance at the ceremony, described the move by the developers as " proactive".

He said that the attraction will complement the room stock in the western region, arguing that the economic spin-offs from it will be significant.

Opposition spokesman on tourism, Dr Wykeham McNeil; director general in the ministry of tourism, Carole Guntley; mayor of Lucea, Lloyd Hill; and newly elected president of the Hanover Chamber of Commerce, Horace Wright also lauded the developers of the project.