‘Dolphin Lagoon’ to offer conservation, education, recreation

The government’s decision to lease a lagoon to a dolphin habitation and family recreation project proposed by top tennis player Amir Mansoor will not force the marine creatures into captivity, and will support conservation efforts for one of the ocean’s most personable yet at-risk inhabitants.

On October 4, the Cabinet deliberated on a paper submitted by the Finance Ministry to lease a lagoon, location unspecified, for a dolphin habitation and training center.

While program specifics have not been officially released, an individual who has participated in such programs elsewhere and is familiar with the Maldives’ project informed Minivan News that the lagoon project is as much a conservation effort with educational motives as it is a recreational enterprise.

Correcting local media’s use of the word “trainer”, the source said the project will create “an open water program during which the dolphins will accompany the care takers on daily unstructured excursions,” and defined the role of caretaker as “taking a dog for a walk. This isn’t a Seaworld enterprise, with hoops and balls for public entertainment.”

While the lagoon program does not aim to put dolphins on display for commercial purposes, the source acknowledged that “it is an industry, you can’t deny that. People want to swim with dolphins. But this program is saying, ‘make it sensible.'”

Demonstrations will be offered but sources say they will be educational, not commercial.

“The demonstrations will show what dolphins are capable of, their speed, their use of eco-location, and other details. It will be fun, but education is the goal. Many people don’t know the basic facts of a dolphin’s lifestyle,” said source.

She added that reachout programs will be established with local public schools, handicapped organisations and orphanages.

The site is also being planned as “a place to spend the day,” featuring billiards, table tennis, photography, a restaurant, and play areas. With daily ferries from Male’, the cost will be friendly to locals.

“Above all, we’re trying to offer both locals and expatriates something to do. The dolphin program is a part of this larger recreational plan,” she summarized.

Freedom: the benchmark for success

The dolphin program includes two lagoons: a 1 kilometre living area surrounded by nets and allowing for free flow of water and fish, and a second, much larger area for excursions. The design is intended to simulate a natural habitat.

“The proposed lagoon is the largest for the small number of dolphins that will inhabit it in the world,” said one source. “It’s so spacious that if the dolphins don’t want to participate in an activity or hang around divers, they can just swim off. The philosophy is, ‘we’ll reward what you like, but you ignore what you don’t like’.”

The program follows a blueprint first attempted by the United States Navy in the 1960s. Since then, several conservation-based facilities have opened in the Caribbean with consistent levels of success.

Freedom is a critical benchmark: “Since the dolphins accompany trainers on daily excursions to the open ocean, it is clear to most people that the dolphins are free to leave or choose to return ‘home’,” said Director of Dolphins and Programs for the Curacao Dolphin Academy and President of the Southern Caribbean Cetacean Network (SCCN) George Kieffer.

Dolphins have allegedly exhibited natural behavior in these facilities including hunting, breeding and social ranking.

Though given the option to swim off, sources observe that dolphins willingly return to their enclosed living space when excursions are over. “They like to be intrigued and challenged, so the programs are always offering new exercises. If you were to put dolphins in a lagoon and just feed them, they would be very unhappy. As long as the challenges keep coming, the dolphins appear to be happy.”

“Make it sensible”

While some activists criticise any form of animal captivity, others suggest that open water programs are protecting the dolphin species.

Kieffer said programs similar to that proposed in the Maldives receive significantly less criticism than marine parks or inland aquariums, and nearly all negative claims have been “demonstrably untrue.”

“The success would appear to be measured by all three [existing facilities] having not only self-sustaining breeding populations, but increasing populations,” he said. As these populations surpass facility capacities, others such as the Maldives’ lagoon program are being endorsed.

“Once these animals have been bred and raised in open water programs, they can’t be released into the wild,” said a source familiar with the programs. “It’s better to find a way to keep them healthy. The program in the Maldives is good because these dolphins need a place to go.”

Rather than capture and train indigenous bottlenose dolphins, the Maldives’ lagoon program will import dolphins already bred in similar facilities. The bottlenose does well in human care, said Kieffer, preferring “small numbers within a social group and shallow water. [Maldives’] local dolphins such as the pan-tropical spotted dolphin and the spinner dolphin prefer deep water and hundreds of individuals within a large moving social group.”

Minivan asked Kieffer if the world’s oceans are safe for dolphins.

“Sadly no; they are vulnerable to the swift and diverse pressures human activities are placing on the sea. Dolphins and whales have endured over 50 million years of the ocean’s natural stresses and strains. And now in just the past several decades, our impact on the seas has rendered them fragile.

“Dolphins are a charismatic species that attracts human attention. The popularity of aquariums, zoos, and interactive programs highlights this point. When people have the opportunity to intimately view and interact with dolphins, they have the potential to form a cognitive and emotional connection – one that has the potential to arouse individuals to care for their new-found friends and become involved in marine causes.”

Local objections

Reports of the ‘dolphin lagoon’ were earlier published by local daily Haveeru. Individuals affiliated with the program said responses have not been positive.

Local dive magazine Scuba Tribe subsequently launched a campaign against the dolphin lagoon on social media outlets Facebook and Twitter.

Scuba Tribe’s argument begins by stating that “little is known how this project would proceed.”

“A training center for dolphins or a lagoon where tourists would come up to see them by paying a fee to see them is out of the question as they all can see them in the wild every single day. Local resorts and dive centers have regular dolphin watching cruises that happen on a daily basis,” reports the Scuba Tribe website.

A source familiar with diving practices in the Maldives claimed that many tour boats are not trained to approach dolphins, and that excessive diving in popular sites such as Hanifaru Bay has pushed fish populations away from these locations.

“Tourists can be seen jumping by the dozens into the water, pushing to see the animals,” she said, noting that in August up to 17 boats could be seen at Hanifaru at one time. “This year was really disappointing for diving, because it was out of control. Why aren’t groups like Scuba Tribe worrying about this? Crowding on dive sites, disappearance of species like the whale shark from their favored areas, these are issues that are affecting the natural world and will soon affect the tourism industry as well. Everyone is involved.”

Hanifaru reef became a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2009 and a Core Area of the Biosphere Reserve after “intense tourism activities…threatened [the site’s] sustainability.” Activities are now subject to a site management plan.

Dolphins are most challenged by the impact of human activity in their habitat. Pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, collision with boats and unsafe fishing practices are a few examples. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society cites coastal development, particularly for marine tourism, and chemical pollution as leading threats.

“Dolphins are also killed unintentionally in gill net, drift net, and purse-seine fishing practices around the world,” Kieffer said.

Purse seining, a fishing method whereby a vessel deploys an enormous net to encircle and capture entire schools of fish at once, “is very cost effective but indiscriminate, and generates a large amount of bycatch,” wrote Minivan News in a recent article. The practice is allegedly done in waters fringing on the Maldives’ national borders. “Nothing escapes,” Solah Mohamed, Head of Production for the Maldives’ Felivaru fish cannery, said of the practice.

Director of environmental NGO Bluepeace Ahmed Ikram said the NGO did not have a position on the lagoon program but was soliciting public opinion.

“We are aware of the project and are publicizing it through Facebook and Twitter to see what the public response is. Then we will analyze and discuss the results in the next week.”

Ikram said that the Maldives’ many environmentally-relevant projects has kept Blue Peace busy and made it difficult to focus on individual projects, such as the lagoon.

“This seems to be part of a progression of projects aimed at eco-tourism which do not quite live up to expectations,” he surmised. “It looks like everything is for sale, and most of it is for tourism.”

The downside of publicity

Publicity is a driving factor in Maldives tourism, however one source suggested that it can be too much.

“National Geographic did a report on Hanifaru Bay, and now tourists are all coming and saying, ‘We want to go to Hanifaru.’ As a result, it became a protected area. To protect the dive site, you have to control traffic.”

In 2009, documentary film “The Cove” turned the international eye on Japan’s dolphin hunting culture and industry. Its implications for dolphin centers have proved damaging.

According to the film, Japanese fishermen entrap dolphins and sell them to international buyers, some of whom work for marine entertainment organisations such as Seaworld. The remaining dolphins are slaughtered and sold as food, often labeled as fish or whale meat, “The Cove” website alleges.

Dolphin meat has been debated as unsafe for human consumption.

A source argues that the film’s implication that dolphin centers around the world cooperate with the Japanese industry is inaccurate and harmful to legitimate conservation programs.

“Dolphins which are exported or sold for business purposes go through very strict documentation procedures,” she said. “None of the parks in the US, Caribbean or Europe have dolphins that originated in Japan, and they have the proper paperwork to prove it.”

The source added that the film’s message has made dolphin program development more controversial. “If we did import dolphins from Japan, we would be accused of sustaining slaughter,” she said.

Minivan News subsequently learned that the Maldives’ lagoon dolphins will not come from Japan, and will be examined by American scientists to ensure that local wild dolphins are not negatively affected.

Avoiding the tourist trap

Keiffer shared his understanding of the Maldives’ facility with Minivan News: “From what I’ve learned, your local facility will not be a run-of-the-mill tourist trap looking to “cash-in” on dolphin popularity by any means necessary. On the contrary, I believe it is striving to be one of a very few organizations setting the standards by which dolphin display facilities are expected to meet if they truly intend to convey a sense of respect and appreciation for the animals under their care.”

He added that the facility’s success would demand caretakers be able to support the dolphins’ physical and emotional needs.

A local source compared the proposal to other operations. “Dolphins are in appalling conditions in some places. Aquariums, for instance – that’s a real cage. People should be opposing those. But this is a totally different ballgame.”

If approved by the government, the facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. An official title has not yet been selected.


48 thoughts on “‘Dolphin Lagoon’ to offer conservation, education, recreation”

  1. I declare Personal war on this matter. Just try establishing this facility will ya. Expect millions of dollars in damage you ass holes.

  2. This is Murdoch style journalism. Protecting interest of money makers eh? No balls to even publish comments eh?

  3. Feed the blood of all Maldivian women, children and men to large corporate jackals!

    Don't leave behind a single fish, coconut or banana on this land!

  4. www.thepetitionsite.com/21/Stop-Dolphin-Lagoon-in-Maldives

    Another terrible decision from the government, specially given that the country is trying to brand itself with the new "Always Natural" slogan and this is the very exact opposite of that.

    For a very long time Maldives has been known as one of the safest places for marine animals considering the fact that so few species are consumed locally and with the fishermen still using traditional methods even in the tuna fisheries. There's no need to destroy that reputation with this short sighted money making scheme.

    Hopefully the permission gets revoked and they develop the island with other facilities excluding the part about dolphins.

  5. Holeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!

    Went a bit overboard din'cha Eleanor. You might have a job to protect the business interests of your paymasters but that was not an article - it was a dissertation!

    However look at a large number of your sources - a local source, someone familiar with the project, someone who knows something about anything, someone's random grandma.

    The fact of the matter is, nothing "eco" or otherwise would be outsourced to a private party unless profit was involved. Or am I mistaken? Is Amir Mansoor a conservation NGO?

    Young whippersnappers like Yaamyn would call the comment that is about to follow "ad hominem" or some other clever Latin term. However, countries like ours need a full examination of the personal as well as the political.

    Amir is a former employee of the President's father and also a good family friend. He has been offered a chance to get rich off this project which he developed himself.

    Where is the fairness in that? Dolphins aside, what about due process? Aren't coordinated development efforts supposed to be planned by the government and outsourced by established procedures for tender?

    Ah well...pointless repeating the usual criticisms I guess. Just for the sake of Minivan's foreign readers. Nasheed is about as popular as Nazis at a synagogue here in the Maldives these days. So if you wanna get with the program select some other patsy to further your agenda.

  6. Hahaha Minivannews just lost all credibility as a "news" agency. The first paragraph just starts off as a blunt statement. Who said "will not force the marine creatures into captivity"?

    This sounds like a press release. How does even qualify as journalism. This is a new low for this website.

    It's captivity if the dolphins are prevented from leaving, no matter how big the cage.

    Cetaceans are incredibly smart animals. Dolphins don't need to be displayed or taught how to do tricks anywhere. Why is it even necessary? There are so many more productive things that could be done.

    This is still a commercial venture, no matter how much they try to dress it up as educational. There is money being made in the capture of these dolphins. there is money being made in the breeding of them. There is money being made in the sale of them to utterly disgusting ventures such as this.

    Once this takes off, how soon before they want another lagoon? And another lagoon? How many dolphins are you going to need for "education"? Why start this cycle?

  7. This is such a shame. We have visited the Maldives 4 times. Often choosing it over cheaper but less environmentally friendly destinations.

    We probably won't be going back.:(

  8. Pack the damn Dolphins in cans with tomato sauce and sell it to blue peace.

    Amir you can deep fry damn animals in turtle oil and serve in Merry Brown.

  9. Can I ask how much did fat cat paid to Eleanor Johnstone/Minivan News?

    Anni's Hypocracy is coming to light now. What a big misatke I made by voting Anni.

  10. "“The demonstrations will show what dolphins are capable of, their speed, their use of eco-location, and other details.." Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's no dispute as to what dolphins are capable of. Mr. Mansoor doesn't need to demonstrate this to us. We already believe all this!

  11. Annnd.. Every single Maldivian out there has seen "demonstrations" by actual wild dolphins. What I'm more cynical of is what Maldivian tennis players are capable of. So let's round 'em up and put em in a tennis court and have them demonstrate to us what they're capable of, so that we don't waste precious space in Male' for stupid tennis players! HA!

  12. cmon maldives youre better than this

    this is just another moneymaking venture for the owners and nothing less

    let people go see them in the wild and leave it at that

    wont be holidaying in maldives if this occurs

  13. Haha, this is an example of sugarcoating imprisonment of these poor creatures. Does anybody know if this Amir guy has personal relationships with the president?

  14. big thumbs Down! leave the creatures alone. Corporate greed. say what you want now, be it educational or whatever, this will be a commercial enterprise. like said its an industry. dolphins are going to be used just like any other product. to sell. This is not acceptable. i hope this does not happen.

    If you want to educate the mass, do it with TV programmes or encourage ppl to take diving. swim with dolphines NOT On them.

  15. The Dolphin enclosure in Eilat, Israel, is a great example of how and why such a project should NOT be created in Maldives.

  16. Dear Minivan News,

    Please find a press statement which was released by Earth Island Institute. Eleanor Johnstone, you seem to be just 'reporting' one side of the story.

    Maldives WARNED!

    Don’t Traffic in Live Dolphins

    Proposed New Dolphinarium
    Threaten Wild Dolphin Populations and
    Maldive’s Reputation as a Dolphin Safe Country

    Environmentalists have warned the Maldives government that a new proposed dolphinarium, featuring dolphins caught in the wild, threatens both the health of wild dolphin populations and the Maldives’ reputation as a Dolphin Safe country.

    “International live dolphin traffickers are supplying dolphinariums around the world with live dolphins ripped from their families in the wild,” stated Richard O’Barry, Director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project. “These traffickers care nothing for the good of the dolphins – all they care about is the huge amount of money they get for capturing wild dolphins and selling them to other countries. Traffickers may supply the Maldives’ dolphinarium from the Solomon Islands, Russia or Taiji, Japan, or even Maldives waters, resulting in wild dolphins condemned to lives in small tanks and the depletion of wild dolphin populations.”

    A live dolphin can be sold for as much as $300,000 or more. Dolphins are sought for oceanariums and for “swim with dolphins” tourist attractions.

    “The Maldives’ tuna industry has adopted a policy to ensure that no dolphins are ever killed in tuna nets,” notes Mark Berman, Associate Director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Safe program. “That Dolphin Safe standard is respected all over the world. If the Maldives’ government allows live dolphins to be imported into their country, the Dolphin Safe reputation of the Maldives will be jeopardized. Major tuna importing nations will not buy tuna from governments that harm dolphins.”

    “The Maldives is an international destination for tourists to experience that country’s wild places and beaches,” added O’Barry. “There is no reason why the Maldives needs to take on this headache of importing a few live dolphins for the benefit of international traffickers. We hope the Fisheries and other Departments of the Maldives’ government reject permits for dolphin imports and reaffirm the Maldives’ strong support for the protection of wild dolphins.”

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Earth Island Institute works to protect the cultural and biological diversity of the Earth. The International Marine Mammal Project is focused on dolphins and whales and their ocean habitats. For more information, go to:


  17. tsk tsk seems a misogynist too. Why suddenly turn against Eleanor for bringing us a story which covers both sides of the issue, rather than the one-sided fear-mongering by groups like Scuba Tribe which have vested political interests? Why don't Scuba Tribe return to their so-called "20k protest campaign" rather than wasting time on creating irrational fear among Maldivians?

  18. Hmmm... it appears to me that the commentators do not have the first clue about what they are talking about. Hahaha

  19. These dolphin lovers and blue peace idiots have marine aquariums, cats and all kinds of birds locked up in their homes as pets, doesn't this sound natural.

  20. As a dolphin friendly nation do we really want to risk our canned tuna industry and the right to use the dolphin friendly stamp just so one guy can get even richer?? Not only this its a giant step in the wrong direction for our tourism industry......... Wild Native dolphins will be at risk from captive born dolphins doing this open ocean swim. This is a money making scam.

    The Earth Island Institute have been working with Maldives tuna industry as a dolphin safe tuna supply for many years and have been promoting Maldives tuna to EU and USA. We are now risking multi million dollar industry for this bad idea to enter the trade in live dolphins. Where are they coming from? What happens if they escape and cause disease and harm to native dolphin species?

    They certainly will be Pacific ocean dolphins not native to Indian Ocean. This in addition to the trade in live dolphins is a serious issue and
    only serves to abuse dolphins.

  21. My daughter has just come back from Mexico where she was charged $110 for 15minutes swim +photograph with some dolphins..That is surely a commercial enterprise just as surely as the one proposed in the Maldives will be,whatever disguise they put on it..

  22. President Nasheed has turned out to be a big danger to environment and marine life.

  23. Dolphins don't have souls, like man. Its alright to traffic them, sell them like prostitutes!

  24. Eleanor, it is clear that you have been spoon fed particular answers direct from propaganda central to attempt to nip the protests in the bud. This is both foolish and ill informed of you because as you like to say you are the free press, we are also a free and informed public.

    You cannot try and trash on the one hand scuba tribe saying they had not done proper research and then quote Keiffer saying from what he has learned and then not sharing it.

    Go back to your masters and tell them we are not buying it and it will be met with the strongest opposition.

  25. Dear sensitive commentators here, please can someone do something practical and worth while by releasing the poor birds caged in homes, the poor crocodile caged for the population's entertainment for more than 8 years...instead of nonsensically harping about whats not even there! O please!

  26. what else is new, minivan demonstartes their links with the corporate paymasters. maldivians want to maintain their dolphin friendly reputation, we dont want imported dolphins, nor do we want to have these fake theme parks where we keep animals cages and forced to perform all sorts of tricks.....educational my arse!

  27. @Environment > sorry but what ur dad or maybe ur family member trying to do it totally wrong. I know u are family cos no one else with a sense would say what u have said

  28. Yet another laughable, farcical attempt to dress up Mansoor’s and the Maldivian Government’s money-making venture. There is nothing educational or recreational about trafficked, captive-bred, non-native dolphins in enclosed lagoons. For real wildlife conservation, safeguard and manage their natural NATIVE habitat. DO NOT introduce alien species, a legacy I hope Mansoor family and the Maldivian Government would not want to be remembered for. We, the world at large, know better.

  29. Come check out our petition and letter to the president of the Maldives. This place appears about as research driven as the whale slaughters in the Antarctic:


    Thank you ≈

  30. @ Bingo,in other words the typical 'know it all, self righteous' character. sorry dear. I happen to contribute my efforts to the the development of the nation and its people.

    Again, I see a personal attack here, which seems to be the focus in the name of 'dolphins'. Get a life!

  31. @bingo

    if that is the cheap tricks that so called environmentalists use these days, I feel pity for you.

  32. @Environment

    You're an idiot. The pets we keep at home aren't locked up and used to earn ourselves an income. This is a horrible analogy, and if what you're saying is true, then the millions of people around the world might as well as release all their pets because that is the same thing as people caging up dolphins to earn money under the guise of 'education'. If we want to see dolphins in the Maldives, we can see them in the wild. This is being done by many resorts, so we don't want your associates to ruin our country's image just so that you can earn a few bucks. This project shall be opposed.

  33. These are our dolphins within our sovereign terrirory. We can do whatever we want with them.

  34. The fact that Maldives is amongst the few countries in the World which practice Pole and Line fishing, which is dolphin friendly is a very widely advertised marketing angle for Maldives canned tuna which is exported to Europe. Europeans who buy Maldivian canned tuna from European supermarkets do so because of the eco-friendly logo, and because Maldives is advertised as a doplhin friendly fisheries sector zone (Pole and line fishing, targets tuna one-by-one, and has minimal to zero impact on dolphins, as compared to Purse-seine fishing or Net-fishing , where large nets capture large schools of fish often trapping dolphins in the net too..

    And now, this government wants to destroy this aspect of the Fisheries economy, so that some-wannabe can get rich pretty quick ? Put on dolphins on display so that they are forced to perform for spectators and tourists so as to benefit this Amir fellow....

    For shame. Trying to do something that is utterly horrible and will ultimately lead to the captivity of these dolphins ;but while trying to pass this off as actually helping the dolphins... This is ridiculous and it stinks. money-makings scams....

  35. It truly is a shame that Nasheed would masquerade around the world as some kind of environmentalist then grant his family the right to get rich off the exploitation of animals.

    Once again, I condemn Edward Norton and Sonu Sivdasena for speaking in support of Nasheed and his pretentious government. I urge them to rethink their positions and remove this liability before he exposes the whole climate change mafia as a set of insincere geopoliticians wishing to create a new world order.

  36. this is what hapapens when we dont have concrete policies, and regulate appropriately and instead create numerous special pupose vehicles like planning council to fast track any proposal.....soon this country will be infested by crazy theme parks and crazy resort islands like the all blonde brothel island.....

  37. The is a tourist attraction, plain and simple! Trying to be like Florida and the Caribbean. No doubt charging tourists at least 150USD to swim with Dolphins that should be left a lone. Certainly will be more profitable than playing tennis!
    How often do tourists jump in the sea to swim with Dolphins in the Maldives? Not often. This is the beauty of the Maldives, no theme parks etc.
    Why spoil it? Oh yes, to make money!!!
    I bet if you did a survey to ask the tourists their opinion, the true Maldives lovers would not want this.
    'MALDIVES, ALWAYS NATURAL'! What is natural about keeping dolphins in Captivity!!!


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