Singapore’s offshore landfill – Pulau Semakau

Fieldtrip to Pulau Semakau

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Pictures from the Semakau fieldtrip (Courtesy of Rachel Lee)


As part of my holiday job, we held short skits about the island of Pulau Semakau to educate children about marine life in Singapore and how they can protect it. Most of their eyes glaze over slightly when we talk about the area being a landfill. However, by the time they have seen the knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus) that is commonly found within the intertidal regions, I am convinced that the island of Pulau Semakau will be remembered for a different reason. The children are fascinated. Most are grossed out by the defense mechanisms of the sea cucumber. Others widen their eyes upon learning how the sea stars feed. Sometimes information like how corals are not plants are new to the teachers as well.

The fact that a landfill can be a starting point for education about marine biodiversity does say a lot. The first time I set foot on the island, I remember thinking that this was nothing like a dumpsite for garbage. The road we walked onto was sandwiched between a grassy patch of field and mangroves along the fringe of the coast, and the view was picturesque. In my opinion then, Semakau was undisputedly something to be proud of. Landfills were something I thought of once as a necessity. Why would there be any issues about the way waste is disposed of in Pulau Semakau if everything was managed so well? What I came to realize is that while Semakau is a success in dealing with waste and being able to still have biodiversity, the issues involved with waste disposal are complex and the landfill created is not as perfect a solution as it seems. Within this reflection, I will discuss about my take on how Pulau Semakau is largely a success in terms of managing balanced development and how despite this success, I find that it is not a sustainable solution of waste management in the long run.

The issue of balanced development: The challenges in balancing both human and environmental needs of Singapore

Supporting the human population and finding ways to develop can often be factors that are in opposition to environmental conservation. When it comes down to prioritizing these issues, it is no surprise that the former takes precedence over the latter. The root of the problem for Semakau is that the Singaporean government is more pressured into dealing with brown issues than dealing with green issues. The Singapore government’s “priority areas are focused on…air & water pollution, energy efficiency, resource management, education for environmentally clean and non-wasteful habits & practices, etc.”. (NSS, 2009) These are the issues that have a direct impact on the population of people and the quality of life in general. What may seem neglected are the green issues such as the “fragmentation of our Nature Reserves, endangered species protection, biodiversity and natural habitat conservation” (NSS, 2009) which we need to put “into the forefront as priority issues as well and not let them be put on the back shelves”. (NSS, 2009) These green issues may not have a direct and tangible impact on most of the population. (Although it may seem hard to admit, we live in a society that will not hesitate to complain about the haze situation by posting a picture of the fuzzy view outside their home on STOMP. How many of us would be equally worked up by land reclamation efforts occurring 7 kilometers away from mainland Singapore?) Within the populist nation of Singapore, the government has to deal directly with the issues that immediately impact its people. That means that brown issues are more relevant in satisfying most of the environmental concerns raised by the public and also that green issues will naturally only be dealt with after the main concerns are addressed.

The case of whether Semakau should be used as a landfill or protected for its flora and fauna is a case that straddles between having to deal with the brown issues of waste management and the green issue of conservation. On one hand, it is easy to see why some think “The Semakau Landfill is arguably one of the waste world’s greatest engineering achievements” (CleanEnviro Solutions, 2012-2013). Many have extolled the success of Pulau Semakau, because the method for solid waste management is an innovative solution. Within the year 2012, the total amount of waste disposed reached 2933900 tonnes. (NEA, 2013) Because of this high volume of waste, Semakau is needed as a landfill. Then, it seemed like the only solution for Singapore’s constraints of land scarcity and a rising population. Without Semakau, it is not possible to dispose of all this waste within Singapore territory in a manner that does not pose health risks and minimizes pollution. Without a doubt, I believe these factors make Semakau a success in terms of dealing with brown issues.

The question that needs to be asked, however, is whether enough was done to make Semakau a success in terms of dealing with green issues as well. Ultimately, conserving Semakau’s original landscape and biodiversity failed. Efforts were made to mitigate the impact (e.g. Avoiding reefs on the west of the island and building along the east) (Tan, 2010), but ultimately, the fact that the area was still turned into a dumpsite shows that conservation efforts failed to preserve the natural heritage. Within a country that has already eradicated most of our natural environments, it is sad that we continued to destroy the remaining fragments of nature. There was a struggle in terms of dealing with green issues, but recognition has to be given to the significant successes in dealing with the aftermath of destruction. Today, Semakau is marketed as the only landfill that can have both recreational and educational purposes. Nowhere else in the world can you find a landfill that is able to generate revenue from eco-tourism and draw nature enthusiasts for activities such as intertidal walks, wildlife photography, sport fishing, stargazing and bird watching. Not far from the rock bunds outlining the cells of buried ash enclosed within impermeable geomembrane and geofabric, there is a thriving ecosystem of marine life. Once cells are filled, they are covered with topsoil for plants to grow. Mangrove replantation efforts were made along the side of Semakau. If anything, nature has its way of restoring itself, without too much human disturbance, though this takes an extended period of time. In terms of preserving our natural heritage, we can construct a new one for ourselves. Sometimes we joke that everything in Singapore changes rapidly and undergoes construction. It looks as though even nature is not exempt from this and will have the ability to cope with the change in our society as well.

The issue of sustainability: Alternative solutions and the need to reduce dependence on Semakau and other landfills.

Is Semakau something for us to be proud of? Yes, given the limited resources and technology we had a decade ago, it is. Does that mean that we should be proud to have another Semakau? No. The reason why we can justify using Semakau as a landfill is because we needed it. Whether we need to resort to building more landfills in the future, however, is a complex question. Published in the Straits Times, it is reported that the National Environmental Agency (NEA) “hoped that the site will carry on being used until 2045 and beyond” (En, 2012). However, unless we find a way to reduce our dependence on landfills, this will not happen and it will only remain a mere hope. Landfills like Semakau cannot be the long-term solution to our problems and just because we have the resources to deal with our waste in a convenient manner does not make it right.

With the advancement of technology and a heightened awareness among Singaporeans about environmental issues, we should be able to increase the rates at which we reduce our waste, reuse it, and/or recycle it. The only way for us to responsibly avoid turning another island into a landfill is for us to turn Singapore into a zero waste city. This is an ambitious target and will require the support of the state, industries and organizations as well as each individual person living within the country. According to the Singapore Green Plan 2006, there is an aim to “strive for zero landfill and close the waste loop”. (MEWR, 2006) The plan states that it aims to do this by improving the recycling system and infrastructure and by improving initiatives to reduce packaging waste. Achieving such sustainability, however, is no mean feat and while there is the idea of what needs to be done, it will take a lot more to convince the majority of the population. I would like to think that what Ester Boserup, Danish economist, had to say about agriculture and development will hold true for the case of Semakau as well. To her, “necessity is the mother of invention”. In other words, Singapore will find a way to solve her own problems if she needs to. I trust we will find innovative solutions to adhere to the three Rs and technology will develop for us to maximize our resources, but only if we are land scarce and need to close the waste loop badly enough. The next question that follows, however, is what happens if we don’t think it’s necessary? Will we never be pushed to find a solution then?

Creating landfills like Semakau is not a sustainable solution, we cannot go on like this indefinitely and we have to find solutions. Why? Reclamation requires resources such as sand. Sand in quantities that aren’t commonly found on mainland Singapore. The dependence on this import of sand from our neighboring countries is disadvantageous for two main reasons. Firstly, we are always at risk of having supplies cut by neighbouring countries, which poses a huge problem for construction as well as reclamation. In 2007, for example, Indonesia suddenly banned the export of land and sea sand that contributes more than 90% of Singapore’s demand, problematizing both the construction as well as reclamation industry. (Shankari, Wee, 2007) Secondly, countries like Indonesia, Cambodia and Malaysia that export sand do it at the cost of their environment as well. Now, the impact of creating a landfill is twofold—detrimental to existing ecosystems within our country as well as to the countries sand is taken from. When sand is extracted, it destroys marine life and increases the susceptibility of the area to erosion and floods, posing multiple environmental problems to these countries. While it is arguably necessary to import sand for national development and to safeguard our national interests, I feel that Singapore should not be developing at the expense of its neighbouring countries. This may sound idealistic, because the priority of every nation is to safeguard its own interests and no country can afford to solve the problems of another. Rather, if it is truly unavoidable, then the least we can do as a nation is to reduce dependence and find alternatives where possible.

Conclusion

Singapore is a country with the ability to constantly surprise herself. For a country with so many limitations and a lack of resources, we are capable and ambitious enough to find solutions to support ourselves. Most of us Singaporeans are consumed by the insatiable desire for progress and are spurred on by our own economic, political and social achievements. Yet, it is vital that efforts for progress are holistic and that we do not develop at the expense of our own cultures and heritage, moral systems and of course, the environment. The projects at Semakau represent a combination of both development and conservation, without which we will be unable to succeed as a nation. We can be proud of our achievements, but cannot be lulled into a false sense of complacency.

Bibliography

  • The Nature Society (Singapore) Conservation Community. (2009). Feedback for the Inter-Ministerial Committee Project . Sustainable Singapore: Lively and Liveable City (p. 22). Singapore: The Nature Society (Singapore) Council.
  • CleanEnviro Solutions. (2012-2013). The benefits of Landfill to Municipalities . CleanEnviro Summit (p. 38). Singapore: CleanEnviro Summit Singapore.
  • National Environmental Agency (NEA). (2013, 06 14). Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling. Retrieved 09 14, 2013, from Waste Management: http://app2.nea.gov.sg/energy-waste/waste-management/waste-statistics-and-overall-recycling
  • Tan, R. (2010, 01 29). Pulau Semakau: glimpses of the past in NewspaperSG. Retrieved 09 14, 2013, from WildSingapore: http://wildshores.blogspot.sg/2010/01/pulau-semakau-glimpses-of-past-in.html#.UjUt32QZi4
  • En, S. M. (2012, 06 12). Pulau Semakau landfill site to be expanded. Home, The Straits Times . Singapore, Singapore, Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings.
  • Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Singapore. (2006, 02 01). Singapore Green Plan 2012. (F. S. Luen, Ed.) Retrieved 09 14, 2013, from Singapore Green Plan 2012: http://app.mewr.gov.sg/data/imgcont/1342/sgp2012_2006edition.pdf
  • Uma Shankari, V. W. (2007, 01 25). Indonesia bans sand export – Singapore mulls new supply sources, stockpile release. Business Times Singapore . Singapore, Singapore, Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings.

On the ethics of dolphins at the S.E.A. Aquarium, Marine Life Park, Resorts World Sentosa

A little bit of an introduction/preface before we delve into this:

This assignment was written as part of a field trip report for my class on environmental studies at school. We were brought around the SEA Aquarium on a tour and even had a small talk by Mr. Biswajit Guha on the educational and conservation merits of the aquarium.

It is very difficult to find an objective and unbiased view on the issue of dolphin captivity. I myself have been grappling with how ethical the practice of capturing dolphins from the wild for aquariums and dolphinariums is. Growing up with a love for dolphins, I have been taught that captivity is wrong and attended events and campaigns by ACRES and other animal welfare groups. Back in 2013, however, I felt that the best way for me to really learn about marine life was to actually work at the SEA Aquarium and to gain experience with talking to crowds about marine conservation. The SEA Aquarium has no doubt expanded my knowledge about marine life and further spurred my interest in conservation. However, I wish I could say that this is true for all members of staff and all visitors of the aquarium.

In order to better shape my understanding of cetacean captivity, I have volunteered with groups such as Sea Shepherd Singapore and even had the amazing opportunity to meet Dr. Naomi Rose, the marine mammal scientist who has been featured in Blackfish (a documentary about the cruelty of keeping orcas in captivity based on a series of events at SeaWorld). These passionate activists have no doubt shaped my view on captivity as well and I have learnt so much from them.

An opportunity to participate in research on dolphin cognition at the Marine Mammal Breeding and Research Centre in Ocean Park, Hong Kong arose earlier this year during my summer break. Naturally, I jumped at it and for the first time, managed to interact with dolphins at a closer range and to get a feel of what it was like to actually work with dolphins. It was then where I also learnt the basics of how dolphins were trained in a captive facility and got a sense of the type of mindset trainers had with regard to the dolphins as well.

I am still in the midst of forming a concrete take on the ethics of dolphin captivity. This paper was written in 2013 and is my way of trying to make sense of whether dolphin captivity can ever be justified.

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Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins as seen from Adventure Cove Waterpark (top) and the SEA Aquarium (bottom).


1. Introduction

The idea of having marine mammals in captivity in the name of research and education has sparked much debate, fraught with bias and irreconcilable viewpoints. Indeed, the term “dolphin attractions” and its associations can differ dramatically: Some conjure images of animals with near-human intelligence starved, tortured and made to perform tricks to deafening music. Others may allude to impressions of permanently happy and playful animals that are simultaneously altruistic ambassadors for marine conservation. Neither is truly accurate.

Animal welfare groups including the Animals Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES), the Earth Island Institute (EIS) as well as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been lobbying for the release of 24 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) that are currently held within Dolphin Island, Marine Life Park (MLP) of Resorts World Sentosa (RWS). Protests escalated after 3 of the 27 dolphins to be housed within the facility died on route. This essay aims to compare the various conflicting viewpoints and perspectives on the matter. It will also explore the legal issues surrounding the capture of these dolphins, debate on their welfare within the current facility and the extent to which such forms of tourism contributes to education, research and conservation.

2. The live-capture and export of dolphins from the Solomon Islands

When examining the situation with regard to the live-capture and export of the dolphins, one should consider two components: Firstly, the sustainability of capturing dolphins from the given population and secondly, the welfare of the dolphins as they are transported between locations.

2.1 The sustainability of live-capture

The capture of dolphins from the wild must not endanger the species existence on a whole. As a result, there are multiple legislations that must be adhered to before the importation of the dolphins can be granted. Exports from the Solomon Islands had to be approved before imports were made to the holding site at Langkawi, Malaysia. The dolphins were then subsequently transferred to the Subic Bay, Philippines before the final exportation took place from the Philippines to Singapore. At every step of the way, exports and imports had to meet the national legislations. This approval of permits depends on national laws and is guided by quotas from the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) and research collated from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

With regard to the capture of dolphins from the Solomon Islands, the IUCN had advised CITES Parties “not (to) issue permits to import dolphins from the Solomon Islands” (Reeves, Gulland, & Brownell, 2007) as there was no confirmation that adequate non-detriment findings were made for the present populations of dolphins. The species Tursiops aduncus is currently listed as “Data Deficient”. As a precautionary measure, the exports of dolphins should not be permitted until more intensive research is conducted. (IUCN, 2012). Despite such advice from the scientific community, exports of dolphins continued. This seems to contradict Appendix II of CITES, where the trade on dolphins should be regulated such that capture of populations is sustainable. Yet, CITES approved the exports from the Solomon Islands. Based on the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, Chapter 92A, Section 4 on the restriction on import, export, re-export or introduction from the sea of scheduled species, capture and importation of the 27 dolphins captured from the Solomon Islands to Singapore was approved. RWS’s Chief Executive Tan Hee Teck affirmed “the company was following international rules on the treatment of marine animals” (Davie, 2011) While all the legal aspects were fulfilled; the degree to which the actions of RWS support their environmental stand on marine conservation is still questionable.

2.2 Trauma resultant from live-capture and transportation

While MLP claims to import their animals from sustainable sources, assuring the public that utmost care is taken in ensuring their well being, it is hard for the company to monitor how its dolphins are captured. With an increase in popularity of dolphin interaction programs, dolphinariums such as MLP are reliant on wild-caught individuals as the “demand for captive dolphins has outpaced the production ability of captive breeding programs” (Reeves & Brownell, 2009). The live-capture of dolphins within the Solomon Islands has been known to be rather inhumane—only the best individuals are selected and separated from the rest of the pod to be selected for aquariums. Indirectly, MLP is responsible for such acts of animal cruelty.

MLP ostensibly has sufficient veterinary care on board to tend to the dolphins, but the exportation between multiple facilities undeniably subjected them to a significant amount of trauma and stress. The transportation of dolphins between facilities can decrease their immune functions and increase their susceptibility to other diseases, with a six-fold increase in risk of mortality (MMIR, 2010; Small & Demaster, 2006).

3. The welfare of dolphins in Dolphin Island, Resorts World Sentosa

3.1 Defining the notion of welfare and quality of life

Legally, accusations have been made against MLP that it has breached Section 42 of the Animals and Birds Act from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, because of the treatment of the dolphins. When such accusations are made, they do not usually refer to explicit forms of physical abuse such as “cruel beats”, “kicks” and “torture” (AVA, 2003), but rather forms of abuse that may be more subtle or implicit in nature. Within the facilities of MLP, there have currently been no records of explicit physical abuse. Instead, animal welfare groups may argue that it causes the animals “unnecessary suffering or distress” (AVA, 2003). Quantifying and measuring the degree to which an animal is suffering or in distress is problematic. Assessing the animals’ quality of life within captivity can do this.

Deciding the state or welfare of the dolphins can be determined by measuring its quality of life. This is a complex concept, but the extent to which the welfare of dolphins within MLP is favorable can depend on it. Based on Mellor and Stafford’s study on animal welfare, the quality of life of an animal can be measured based on three categories—a biologically functioning view, an affective state orientation and a natural state view (Mellor & Stafford, 2008). Firstly, the biological functioning view considers welfare to be good when “animals are healthy, growing and reproducing well”. Secondly, the affective state orientation considers welfare to be good “when animals adapt without suffering and have positive emotional experiences during interactions with other animals, people and the environment”. Finally, the natural state orientation deals with “how far conditions in which animals are kept deviate from the presumed original wild state of the species and, in particular, by the extent to which the animals are, or are not, able to express most of their natural behaviors”. (Mellor & Stafford, 2008) Fulfilling these three categories would mean that MLP has reached an ideal position within animal welfare. This of course, is unrealistic. Within the following sections, the welfare of dolphins within MLP can be assessed by the degree to which this criterion is met.

3.2 Biologically Functioning View: Health risks to dolphins

Based on the biologically functioning view, it is paramount that dolphins within the attraction face minimal health risks. One concern of animal welfare groups is that “dolphins in captivity are highly prone to contagious diseases carried by humans” (Ng, 2003). Within Dolphin Island, guests are made to walk across biosecurity mats to disinfect their feet upon entering the premises, then provided with wet suits to further minimize contamination from harmful substances on clothing. Also, they are advised not to wear any sunscreen lotions and must rinse off beforehand, by using the outdoor shower facilities provided.

To minimize the health risks faced by dolphins, MLP provides easy and efficient access to medical care. With facilities such as an in-house laboratory, Marine Life Park claims to have the “best diagnostic tools for marine veterinary medication”. (MLP, 2013) Veterinary care includes daily full-body physical examinations, ultrasound to ensure the internal organs of dolphins are functioning as well as respiratory and fecal samples to monitor the health of these dolphins. In addition, the dolphin’s diets are supplemented with vitamins inserted in the fish they are fed (MLP, 2011). With respect to their feeding patterns, dolphins in MLP are trained using positive reinforcement methods, which does not require starvation beforehand. If dolphins do not feel like participating in an interaction section, they don’t have to, and are not punished for choosing to do so.

One key indicator of the physical welfare of the dolphins is a comparison between life expectancies of dolphins in nature and within captivity. In nature, dolphins face a variety of threats that are both anthropomorphic and natural. Natural threats include predation and disease. Human threats to dolphins within nature include pollution from a variety of sources such as oil spills, marine pollution and chemical waste. Threats could also include boat traffic, conflicts with fisheries (as bycatch or in competition for fish supplies) and hunts for dolphin meat (Mann, 2000). Despite supposed risks dolphins face in the wild, studies have shown that the life expectancy of dolphins within captivity is comparatively lower than that of dolphins living in the wild even with available veterinary care for the former. This is mainly attributed to the immense stress experienced within a confined environment. (Waples & Gales, 2002)

3.3 Affective State Orientation: Psychological welfare and interaction

While the physical well being of dolphins can be monitored and treated by the veterinary team, the psychological aspects of the welfare of dolphins are harder to manage. Studies have shown that “confinement impacts social relationships, degrades autonomy through the imposition of an enforced schedule of activity and behavior, causes boredom produced by a relatively sterile and unchanging environment and induces frustration” (Marino & Frohoff, 2011) The stressed induced can be physically detrimental to their health as well, and stress-related disorders commonly arise which includes ulcerative gastritis, perforating ulcers and cariogenic or psychogenic shock.

Within dolphinariums, dolphins are trained to interact with humans. The nature of this interaction and its suitability is open to debate. While some scientific studies claim that captive dolphins prefer spending time away from swimmers when given a choice (Kyngdon, Minot, & Stafford, 2003), others claim that dolphins are social creatures that are comfortable with human interaction. Similarly, what animal activists view as “tricks” can be viewed as by MLP as an “exhibition of natural behavior”. It is vital that interaction sessions do not compel dolphins to react in unnatural behavior that compromises their welfare. Unlike dolphinariums like that of Underwater World Singapore’s Dolphin Lagoon, dolphins at MLP are not made to perform to large crowds by jumping through hoops, beaching themselves on stage or carrying humans like water skis at the expense of their health. (Ng, 2003) In contrast, dolphins at Dolphin Island interact with a small group of about 5 to 6 guests in a session led by a Marine Mammal Specialist—whereby the experience shifts more towards education rather than mindless entertainment. Dolphins are instructed to do relatively simpler actions as a teaching tool for the specialists to explain their anatomy.

3.4 Natural state view: Deviation from natural states

Within captivity, dolphins have to cope with multiple changes. In terms of dealing with the welfare of dolphins, quality of life is improved if the dolphins are able to express their natural behaviors as much as possible within an environment as closely resembling their original natural habitat.

Enclosures that dolphins reside in are a mere fraction of what exists out in nature. Most dolphins are pelagic creatures that travel up to a 100km a day (Goh), or even thousands of miles within a year during migration and have been known to reach depths of up to 900m. (Klatsky, 2005) The 11 interconnected pools at MLP are nothing compared to the vast expanse of space in nature these dolphins are used to. In addition, dolphins are suppressed from their natural behavior to hunt for prey and fed frozen fish instead. In the case of food, there is a conflict between ensuring the health of the dolphins and providing an allowance for natural behavior. While it would be ideal to provide live feed for dolphins to be able to hunt, it is not possible for the purposes of biosecurity, as fish may carry parasites, bacteria and viruses that can increase the risk of disease for the dolphins. (Chew, 2013)

The welfare of dolphins inadvertently has to be compromised within captivity, as dolphins must adapt to a lifestyle inhibited by a reduced amount of space, a change in diet and modifications in daily interactions. Thus, further efforts must be made on the part of MLP to devise ways to help dolphins cope with these changes as much as possible.

4. The educational, research and conservation benefits of the presence of the dolphins

Fundamentally, the Marine Life Park is a tourist attraction. Yet, there are noticeable efforts made in focusing on education, research and conservation. Often, external education, research and conservation projects are not financially sustainable and independent and have to depend on funding from donors or institutions. As a revenue-generating industry, oceanariums like Marine Life Park can be a pillar of economic support to such projects in order to fulfill the obligation they have in giving back to the community and practicing what they preach. To MLP, it is also important that they do so in order to generate good publicity as a marketing strategy and to justify the imports of such species as well.

4.1 Education

For the islands in Dolphin Island, the experiences are said to be an opportunity that “will inspire visitors to a deeper understanding of marine life, and to discover more about dolphins through “engagement learning”” (RWS, 2011). Participants of the dolphin interaction program are supposed to be taught about the basic biology of dolphins, threats they face in nature and what can be done to help.

MLP is also involved with educational programs such as the JASON project, managed by the Sea Research Foundation in collaboration with the National Geographic Society. This provides hands-on learning experiences for students, integrating aspects of the marine environment into the science curriculum of Singapore schools. (MLP, 2011) With such a facility within Singapore, a country with rather scarce natural resources, students can hopefully be inspired to do their part for the environment to conserve remaining marine ecosystems in Singapore

Animal welfare groups argue that the educational value of such attractions is distorted and limited within such an unnatural setting, and teaches the wrong values to the public about human-dolphin interaction. Dolphins are sometimes instructed to demonstrate behavior typically considered as aggressive without the knowledge of the guests, such as the hitting of the tail fluke on the water’s surface or the rapid opening and closing of the rostrum (Rose, Parsons, & Farinato, 2009). To any guest, this behavior would commonly be mistaken as a form of play or positive interaction rather than something negative, and these misconceptions will remain uncorrected. In addition, by showing that dolphins can be trained for human entertainment, the wrong message that “man is above nature and controls it, rather than being a part of it” (Ng, 2003) is sent across. The argument put forward is that education for such attractions is usually secondary to entertainment value or commercial amusement and that there is no evidence that most visitors are greatly impacted by educational messages brought across (Corbey & Lanjouw, 2013). Instead, they advocate for more sustainable options of eco-tourism, such as non-invasive whale and dolphin watching. (Ng, 2003)

4.2 Research

Research based on captive individuals is said to increase scientific awareness of the species and hence, enhance conservation efforts of external wild populations of dolphins. Yet, the degree to which captive individuals are an accurate reflection of their counterparts is questionable. Within a controlled environment, dolphins can be conditioned to cooperate with marine mammal specialists, allowing for research to be conducted more easily. In the case of MLP, multiple initiatives have been made to contribute to the field of scientific research. This includes working in conjunction with Ocean Park Hong Kong to document veterinary care for dolphins and explore methods of positive reinforcement and the setting up of the Marine Aquaculture Research Centre for the continual study of marine animals which also doubles up as a veterinary centre (Guha, 2013). Together with the Chulalongkorn University of Thailand, MLP also helps support research efforts on the populations of Irrawaddy dolphins (Guha, 2013).

For some, having dolphins within captivity for research is a sacrifice that must be made for scientists to better understand wild populations. Yet, the extent to which captivity is necessary for thorough research to be carried out is debatable. Marine biologists have developed approaches such as the Interspecies Collaborative Research to “address research questions under natural conditions and respect the individual cetacean’s autonomy”. (Marino & Frohoff, 2011) Aspects such as cognition, communication and animal intelligence have been well researched within the controlled conditions of captive studies. However, scientists argue that these findings are inaccurate because the capacity of dolphins to react to different situations changes significantly within a different environment. (Marino & Frohoff, 2011)

4.3 Conservation

Launched in the year 2008, the Marine Life Fund was set up to support conservation projects committed to research and conservation of the oceans. This includes WildAid’s Galapagos Forever Programme, the Wildlife in Need (WIN) project and the Sentosa Coral Relocation programme. Again, animal welfare groups question the appropriateness of the messages that are spread, especially if the dolphins may have been captured from unsustainable sources.

Within 3 months of its opening, the S.E.A. Aquarium had more than 500’000 visitors (MLP, 2013)—this power to reach out to the numbers on important issues with regard to marine conservation must be capitalized on. As much as the motivation for their efforts is questionable, the efforts made can have an incredible impact on spreading awareness about environmental issues.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, MLP’s decision to import dolphins captured from the Solomon Islands is injudicious. Yet, while they are within the premises of Dolphin Island, I feel that pressure from animal welfare groups is necessary into ensuring that MLP’s standards of maintaining the welfare of the dolphins are optimal and that efforts with regard to education, research and conservation are not compromised. With the While chances of MLP conceding to the requests of animal welfare groups are slim, further future analysis can be made on the suitability of the release of dolphins from the premises, and the possibility of these dolphins being rehabilitated into the wild.

Word Count: 2997

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