Concerns raised about homes being built around lagoon filled with captive dolphins

Bungalows being built over the sea off Batam that are part of a Funtasy Island Development project.
Bungalows being built over the sea off Batam that are part of a Funtasy Island Development project. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Wildlife preservation groups and animal activists are dismayed at news that a Batam property developer wants to build homes around a lagoon filled with captive dolphins.

Funtasy Island, which is being marketed in Singapore, promises villas built over the water. Its advertisements show residents living close to leaping dolphins.

The plan is for 64 villas to be built on the circumference of an 8.7ha dolphin lagoon, roughly the size of 13 football fields.

Funtasy Island Development, the Singapore firm set up to market the project for the Indonesian developer, told The Sunday Times that the number of dolphins has not been finalised, but people who went to the project's showroom here last month were told there would be 35.

Funtasy Island director Michael Yong said no wild dolphins would be caught for the lagoon. Instead, it will have dolphins "rescued or saved" from dolphinariums, as well as injured dolphins caught by fishermen.

"Some of the dolphins are already in these facilities," he told The Sunday Times. These are dolphins confiscated by the authorities, as they were "not treated well" at the facilities. Moving them to the Funtasy Island lagoon would be "an upgrade of life for the dolphins", he said.

But experts and wildlife groups are not convinced, and warn of safety and health issues for both humans and animals if the project goes ahead.

A spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore said the portrayal of dolphins as ever-friendly smiling creatures can be misleading. Dolphin attacks on humans are not unheard of, he said.

In 2012, a dolphin at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, bit an eight-year- old girl as she was feeding it.

Captive dolphins have to be protected from a range of risks, said Dr Elizabeth Taylor, head of the Marine Mammal Research Laboratory at the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute, which has a lab on St John's Island.

These include plastic bags that are blown into the lagoon, which the dolphins might swallow, or inappropriate food being offered to them.

Noting that the project is coming up off Batam, Ms Femke den Haas, from wildlife protection group Jakarta Animal Aid Network, a non-government organisation against animals in captivity, said: "It shows how little Indonesia cares about its marine mammals, continuously allowing dolphins to be exploited for commercial reasons."

Mr Pramudya Harzani, country coordinator for Indonesia from the Dolphin Project, an international campaign against dolphins in captivity, said there are more than 90 dolphins in the five dolphinariums and six travelling circuses in Indonesia.

"These facilities claim the captive dolphins are used for research, but they are used more for entertainment and tourism," he said. "They are kept in small tanks and in pools with a lot of chlorine, which can cause blindness in the marine mammals."

Mr James Chua, Singapore coordinator for marine conservation group Sea Shepherd Asia, said: "We are deeply concerned about which facilities these dolphins are coming from, whether they are closing down and need to move their dolphins to Funtasy Island, or just making room at their facilities for more dolphins caught from the wild or other sources."

Instead of having a lagoon filled with captive dolphins, he suggested that the Funtasy Island developers consider "responsible, regulated wild dolphin watching tours - a much more viable, ethical, cost-effective and profitable option".

Dr Taylor added: "There are wild dolphins in Batam's waters - bottlenose and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. I think it would be better to help support these groups of wild animals rather than bring in other animals."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.