Cayo Cangrejo proposed for dolphin park

by Lydia Chuc

In January of 1997 The San Pedro Sun printed an article on Xcaret, an eco-archŠological park in Cancun, Mexico. The visiting delegation from Xcaret mentioned their plans to bring a smaller scale park to Ambergris Caye. The delegation has returned to San Pedro and are making final plans that will turn Cangrejo Caye, located south of San Pedro Town, into the Cangrejo Educational Experience Park.

Marcos Constandse, his son, wife, partner Adan Zurbia, Educational Organizer Gabriela Servin and Fernando Delgado the General Manager of Dolphins of the World will be making frequent trips to San Pedro during the next few months. Marcos explained that they would be leasing Cangrejo Island with the option of buying if the project is successful. The first development stage will cost about 1 million US dollars. The park will be built above water with several boardwalks and three main buildings; a restaurant, small gift shop, an office, caretaker's quarters and a changing area for visitors. Marcos was adamant about their efforts not to disrupt the natural habitat and was proud to say they were not going to touch the mangroves. The plan is to have a San Pedrano staff; the organizers of the project will be from the Xcaret staff and will help to train San Pedranos to take care of the park and the dolphins. "We want all of the local people to be a part of the project. The staff will be local, with only one caretaker living on the island and everyone else will live in San Pedro Town. We will have local people do all the construction. We will offer tours to Cangrejo Island from San Pedro and will give a 10% discount to tour operators that refer tourists to us."

According to Mr. Zurbia, one of the main reasons they are pushing the project is because of the tremendous support they have received from the Central Government, the local government and the tourism industry. "All the necessary authorities agree with the project. We believe it will be a good project for the community and the Mayor of San Pedro has told us he wants the project to involve more of the community. We are making plans to use the tourism infrastructure of the island to benefit the project as well to help the island grow. The project is an educational one about the dolphins. We are going to keep it as natural as possible and it is better for the dolphins to live in an untouched habitat."

Marcos mentioned that the only uncertainty about the project was that because of the lack of statistics they could not properly determine what the market would be like. "We need about 50 people to visit Cangrejo a day for us to break even. There were no statistics to say how many people visited San Pedro during the season. We could not analyze the market properly so that is our biggest risk."

Zurbia added, "We have completed several surveys that have helped with the project. We did a survey on the island and the reaction of tourists towards the project. 75% of the tourists we questioned said they would visit Cangrejo. We also did a population survey of the dolphins in the area. Several Mexican biologists have visited Belize to observe the dolphins in the area."

Marcos understands that there are conservationists who are skeptical if not totally against the project but he feels that once they have experienced the project they will think differently. "We had the same problem in Mexico but now the conservationists like the project and understand that is a learning process for all involved. The dolphins are not in pools but in their natural habitat and they are treated well and are happy. Dolphins in Xcaret have taught us so much and many biologists have compiled important information from their interaction with the dolphins."

Gabriela explained that there are dolphins at Xcaret who dive outside the boundaries of the park with visitors and return to the park on their own. "They dive with visitors and swim and they do not run away. If they were mistreated by us then the first chance they got they would go. The dolphins' sonar skills are not impaired like those that are kept in pools at water parks. The dolphins still hunt for their own food and can survive outside of the park because they remain in their natural environment. The purpose of the park is not only to have people come to swim with the dolphins but it is to teach environmentally friendly principles to adults and children. I will be in charge of the educational project in which we will work with schools to teach children how to respect the dolphins and wildlife and how to preserve the reef, the beach and the plants. This project is free to all school children and while the project is being built I will be working with the schools and teachers to start the visits. Our educational program will teach children and adults to respect the dolphins and they will be able to see what wonderful creatures they are up close."

"The program raises consciousness among the people who experience the program," Marcos added. "They experience emotions and become supportive of taking care of the dolphins. One dolphin with us saves 200 in the wild. People become emotionally involved and continue to take care of the dolphins. What we want to do and have been doing is to change the relationship between men and animals of the environment. When you do not know or feel then you're not involved, to be involved you must feel. The project makes you feel. We allow people to become involved with the dolphins in a friendly relationship. And because of this dolphins and people react positively."

Marcos is optimistic that all the paper work for the project will be completed by the end of June and that the actual building of the park will commence on July 1, 1997. "We want to be finished by November. It makes no sense to open in the low season." In July the delegation will make a complete presentation of the project to the community. "We know there are many questions people want answered and we want to answer them," Gabriela explained. "I am very excited about my educational program for Belize."

Editors Note: The San Pedro Sun will continue to monitor the progress of the Cangrejo project and in the months to come will report thoroughly on the dolphin program, the capturing process and training of these mammals.

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