What Is happening To The Wild Life At Our Lone Ocean Park?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Barbadian Marine Habitat Under Fire… Ocean Park – A Place Where Fish are Taken to Die? (PG-13: Death, Animal disfigurement)

Every now and then a story just falls like manna from the sky PLOP into your lap, and this is such a doozy! How do you react when a supposedly revered institution is no more than a tiburon in Nemo‘s scales? I am withholding my source’s name for legal reasons but not the story itself, if you love the ocean then this is gonna hurt, these are the words of my source as they call it (Coke bottle shown in one photo to give dimension of size) –

Source: Bajan Reporter

The Letter which was received by Bajan Reporter from a source:-

It has become manifest to me over the last year that Reef Live Aquarium Park Inc. operating as Ocean Park, under guise of commitment to protecting the environment, with emphasis on marine wildlife, is in fact, systematically destroying it in an attempt to become another successful money making venture.

Evidence substantiating this claim is overwhelming. Mortality rates alone indicate that on an almost daily basis organisms, pillaged from the sea, die at Ocean Park. These include: Four-eye Butterfly fish, Goat Fish, Blue Chromis, Jaw Fish, Parrot fish, Sea Urchins, Lobsters, Helmet Conchs, Gobies, Wrasses, Flounders, French Angel Fish, High Hats, Surgeon Fish, Hamlets, Bicoloured Damsels, Oriental Sweet Lips, File Fish, Squirrel Fish and the list goes on to include, on the 1st of June, 6th of May and on the 8th of July, 2007, a Spotted Eagle Ray.

Source: Bajan Reporter

This story has been making the rounds in the blogosphere and should be of concern to the environmentalists. If many of the reports in the story are true it highlights the inability of Barbados to protect its animal life. To think that we are looking at building a world class Ocean Park facility. We look forward to an explanation from the parties concerned.

13 thoughts on “What Is happening To The Wild Life At Our Lone Ocean Park?

  1. Copy of comment sent to Bajan reporter

    It was with no small measure of surprise and disbelief that I read your article “Barbadian Marine Habitat Under Fire….”

    I am the Head Curator at Ocean Park. I have worked for the last 14 years in Public Aquariums around the world and am a qualified marine biologist.

    Public aquariums are a powerful tool in the fight to conserve marine life and to educate the public, acting as centers for research and conservation. In the two years since opening, more than 20,000 local students have visited Ocean Park to learn about the island’s natural marine heritage.

    The readers of Bajan Reporter might reasonably ask why they have been confronted with an apparent litany of damning accusations about Ocean Park. I will address these accusations below before discussing the motive.

    1. Mortality rates: Contrary to the article, losses at Ocean Park for display animals are very low. This is not by accident. We invest in an extensive staff, purpose-built filtration and what is, in my opinion, one of the best- equipped aquarium laboratories for our size in the world. We have a specialist consultant veterinary company under contract that is flown over on a regular basis; and still further specialist support from world- leading diagnostic laboratories in London. A large proportion of the fish you will see at Ocean Park are caught by local fisherman. They are either destined to be sold at the fish market or are the accidental by-catch of modern fishing methods and will be thrown away dead or used as bait. We work with local fisherman to preserve these otherwise doomed fish. Due to the fishing methods used for catching food fish, we are occasionally presented with fish that are simply too badly damaged to survive.

    2. Quarantine/ Sea Rescue: The article mentions fish being held in “crowded and confined conditions.” Our quarantine is spacious and state of the art. Animals are medicated with the best and most current drug therapies and their welfare is placed above all else.

    3. Nutrition: The article refers to animals being poorly nourished. Ocean Park’s budget for food is in excess of $50,000 a year. We import well over 20 different types of food from all over the world. In point of fact, the clams we feed our new eagle rays are the same as those you’ll find on your plate at Sandy Lane! We are one of only a handful of public aquariums in the world using next-generation gel diets and tailor-made vitamin supplements.

    4. Jumping fish: The large Gouramy that was found dead was the result of a break-in, during which someone attempted to catch and steal fish from the displays. The commotion caused by the nets being dragged through the displays caused the fish to jump. Security has since been further improved. Out of interest, the giant Gouramy was in fact a rescued animal, donated by a gentleman in Bridgetown who had kept the fish in a barrel for the last 2 years!

    5. Decoration: The theming materials you will see around the park, such as the artificial coral, wood and fake foliage were bought and installed by a specialist theming company from Europe. Contrary to the article, we have absolutely no live coral on site.

    6. Injured animals: The photographs of the injured rays suggest that the animals were injured at Ocean Park. The animal in question—a spotted eagle ray—was caught by local fishermen and was destined for Oistins Fish Market. The ray had been bitten on the flank by a shark or other predatory animal, prior to being caught. The spotted eagle ray was medicated and rehabilitated from its wound, which in the wild, would likely lead to its death. The ray now inhabits a lagoon-themed display that holds almost a quarter of a million liters.

    7. Conservation statement: Within “Barbadian Marine Habitat Under Fire,” there is a picture of an old conservation sign. This sign is clearly not on display. It is actually in our workshop being used as a splash guard for a painting project—note the paint pots behind. This sign was taken down almost a year ago. It is a fact that Ocean Park is involved in numerous environmental projects, which merit its receipt of this year’s Environmental Excellence Award, presented at the independently-judged Barbados Tourism Awards. Some examples of these projects include:

    • Tilapia farming trial aimed at reducing the pressure on local fisheries
    • Water recycling
    • “Clean-Up” Barbados Project
    • Various smaller initiatives aimed at enhancing environmental education and reducing the park’s impact on natural resources

    We have also been working for some months now on two new projects which are expected to yield important results in the coming year. These being:

    • Collaborative scientific study with Oxford University on blood iodine levels in wild and captive sharks
    • Participation in an international, interdisciplinary research project into endangered fish species around Barbados

    8. Dolphins: The comments made by the author regarding Ocean Park’s plans for an interactive dolphin exhibit are ill-informed and misleading. This type of misinformation does nothing to further the cause of conservation. Instead it tarnishes the efforts of the new generation of marine mammal exhibitions that seek to protect and educate. Comments linking the collection of Dolphins for public aquariums as “reminiscent of the capture of slaves” whilst suggesting a connection with bloody Japanese Dolphin hunts are aimed at pandering to the fears of readers rather than having any factual merit.

    It is disturbing to me that an individual would go to such lengths to spread such ill informed, malicious and, I would suggest, libelous accusations about Ocean Park. One wonders what would motivate an individual in this direction. Professional and personal ethics guide me to refrain from pointing the finger in this reply. I will simply state that Ocean Park has been the target of several destructive incidents and actions in the recent past. These combined with the accusations made by the articles source suggest internal knowledge of the Park, as well as a vindictive motive possibly stemming from prior dismissal. We are seeking advice from our solicitors in this regard.

    I am surprised that the author of the article did not choose to question the motives or qualifications of his or her source. I would have expected that Ocean Park would have been contacted and given an opportunity to respond. If the author of “Barbadian Marine Habitat Under Fire” had put as much effort in to researching facts as he or she did into producing a story replete with fabrications and deceptive pseudoscience, perhaps the article would have read differently. I would suggest that the next time a story drops like “manna from the sky,” the Bajan Reporter display a helping of journalistic integrity by taking the time to investigate the validity of a source.

    Whilst Ocean Park is a business, working with live animals dictates that a responsible environmental attitude and strong ethics are always present. Ocean Park’s doors are open. Visiting members of the public and members of the press have a standing invitation for a guided tour of the behind-the-scenes facilities, after which I hope all concerned would draw their own conclusions.

    Mitchel Hird
    Head Curator
    Ocean Park

  2. I doan care wuh dem say, but I object to keeping intelligent and social creatures like dolphins captive in tanks as entertainment for human beings (even if an attempt is made to give this some thin veneer of respectability by claiming it is also for “research”).

    It’s primitive, barbaric and debases our own humanity IMHO, but I acknowledge that many others will have a view other than mine. However, as long as they have this proposed project to build a swim with dolphins facility in the plans, I will not be darkening their door and I’ll discourage as many others from visiting their facility as I can as well.

    03/21/07 Flipper’s Trainer in Croatia!

    Richard O’Barry in his 40 years of experience has worked both sides of the dolphin street, the first 10 years with the dolphin captivity industry, the past 30 against them.

    Working back in the 1960s for Miami Seaquarium, O’Barry captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. When Cathy – the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time – died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

    From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he founded the Dolphin Project, dedicated to freeing captive dolphins who were viable candidates and educating people throughout the world to the plight of dolphins in captivity. Over the years he freed 24 captive dolphins back into the wild. He launched a searing campaign against the billion-dollar dolphin captivity industry, telling the public what was really going on at dolphin shows and dolphin swim programs and urging people not to buy tickets to see dolphins play the fool.

    That very same Richard O’Barry this week visits Croatia to urge Croatian public not to allow dolphins in captivity in a country which with can with pride claim the first dolphin protectorate in the Mediterranean!


  3. Bourne really overstepped himself this time and it sounds like if lawyers getting involved. Not much of a journalist if he couldn’t even check the facts before rushing away with this foolishness.

  4. Mitchel Hird~Thanks for the clarification. It seems that you have some detractors. We will carry your response as a separate topic.


  5. Pingback: Ocean Park Head Curator Refutes Accusation Of Abuse Of Marine Life Making The Rounds In The Blogosphere « Barbados Underground

  6. Very interesting article and reply.
    I’d like to point out the fact that death is a common thing in the wild… Fish die because of attacks from other fish, even of their own kind. They die from over-fishing, pollution (may I note, man-made problems).

    But this scares me, why would Ocean Park collect it’s specimens from fisherman/men and not privately?

    “A large proportion of the fish you will see at Ocean Park are caught by local fisherman. They are either destined to be sold at the fish market or are the accidental by-catch of modern fishing methods and will be thrown away dead or used as bait.”

    I would have thought that as an organization, interested in promoting the welfare of aquatic life, you would have done your best to teach fisherman/men ‘catch and release’ and only take injured fish from them with the hopes of saving them, not ‘A large proportion”.

    … Very disappointing.

  7. Megan Blades~we agree!
    Our investigation has established that Barbados is not a creature friendly society. There are many regulatory agencies like Fisheries Unit, Coastal and Convservation, Town Planning, Ministry of the Environment but they are concerned with human beings because of scarce resources. In this case the overworked and heavily criticized Town Planning is the government agency responsible for making sure that all manner of Ocean Park inhabitants are taken care of as stipulated in the law. With that said we should expect the Ocean Park to carry on smartly to do whatever they like…only animals to consider for godsakes!

  8. Well I personally don’t believe that someone who was gaining NOTHING from the incriminating article about Ocean Park would have done so over something as trivial as being fired. The person was too detailed in their research, admittedly it was not exhaustive research, to have purely malicious and spitefull intentions alone. I believe that the accusers language in the article was more one of disappointment in an institution and its practices rather than anger at having to look for an alternate means of income. Another commenter above questioned the practice of “rescuing” fish from fishermen… are these fishermen paid for these damaged/injured fish??? If so, will this not encourage fishermen to catch similar species injuring them in the process to make an extra dollar??? I believe that fishermen should be encouraged to practice (as unrealistic as it may seem) methods of fishing that do not harm unwanted species. I mean it may not happen overnight or even longer than that but change needs to be encouraged at some time! Why not with the owners and operators of Ocean Park!?!? Even the smallest (even if its a baby step) step forward counts!!! Anyway… I hope that it is all untrue and that Ocean Park is doing everything in their power to be a responsible establishment which is not only looking to make money (which we all need to do) but also one that has the Ocean environment ar0und us in it’s best interest.

  9. again a very late post. ocean park never operated a catch and release program. it was a catch and catch policy. but at no point in time when this was first pointed out, did the government or the park remotely care. I volunteered at the park with high hopes for its succes and was dismally disapointed!

    • @Jono

      There is a saying ‘if you start wrong, you bound to end wrong’ as they say the rest is history. The Ocean Park did not make it. When the less than satisfactory practices at the park was exposed on BU not one single journalist felt the inclination to expose what was happening at the park. Not one civil servant responsible for fisheries and related resources felt obligated to get involved. Only last week we heard leading journalist David Ellis scoff at the idea of investigative journalism.

  10. that says it all really, seems to be not about the importance of the story only about how juicy can they make it! Barbados is known for its under-reporting and the total lack of confirmation before stories are published.

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