One of the dolphins in captivity at Blackbeard’s Cay.
By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
ENVIRONMENTALISTS hailed victory yesterday after a landmark Supreme Court ruling quashed and revoked the government’s permits and approvals for the $8 million Blackbeard’s Cay tourist attraction, which included the import of eight dolphins to the Bahamas.
ReEarth, an environmental group, had brought a judicial review against the government and Blue Illusions Ltd out of concern for process and marine life protection and sought the revoking of licences to import the dolphins and to have them moved to an appropriate location.
After the ruling, environmentalists told The Tribune they had waited 24 years for an historic ruling like yesterday’s decision.
Sam Duncombe, the founder of ReEarth, said: “Finally we’ve been able to bring one of the developers with dolphins in captivity to court over the circumvention of the Marine Mammal Protection Act all over the place – substandard conditions, no shade, no protection from hurricanes.
“We are absolutely thrilled that the judge has basically looked at all the work that we did over the last year – for Blackbeard’s Cay in particular – and has seen the merit in our argument why these animals should not be in captivity and that the government cannot circumvent its own laws.”
Justice Stephen Isaacs quashed premises licence and site plan approval that had been granted by the respective ministers responsible for agriculture/marine resources and Crown lands, having found that neither had been granted or could have been granted under the law to Blue Illusions Ltd.
The judge went on to award costs to ReEarth, who brought the application against Blue Illusions Ltd, the Town Planning Committee, Fisheries and Marine Resources Director Michael Braynen, Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister V Alfred Gray and Minister responsible for Crown Land, Prime Minister Perry Christie.
The application further asked the court to quash any other approvals granted by the government related to crown land, site plan approval and to halt any development of the land that was currently taking place at Blackbeard’s Cay, located off New Providence’s coast opposite Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort and Spa.
The respondents had contested the ReEarth application was without merit because it did not disclose that any decision taken by the respondents was “ultra vires, unlawful irrational and unreasonable.”
Joseph Moxey, lawyer for Blue Illusion Ltd, asked the court to stay the execution of the judgment until they could appeal to the Court of Appeal.
Justice Isaacs responded that the stay application was not necessary given that the execution of the judgment would not take effect for six weeks, the same time limit that the respondents have to appeal.
ReEarth’s Sonya Alvino told The Tribune they were thrilled by the outcome of the proceedings. “This is huge for us and for the country,” she said.
“It took us a heck of a lot of digging, asking questions, and continually writing to government officials, in order to get information and we were denied information which forced us to the courts. The opposition said it is likely that they would appeal. We don’t know whether they will or not. They’ve got six weeks to appeal before any execution of the order will be granted. We’ll fight that and if we need to, we’ll go all the way to the Privy Council.”
Ms Duncombe said the laws had been circumvented for some time. “That is basically what has been happening for years because the Marine Mammal Act speaks to doing facilities in the highest international practices and there’s not one facility in this country that is up to par. So in actual fact, they should all really start closing down.”
She noted that the group “has 95,000 signatures on it against this facility and any new facilities and it also asks for the facilities that are in existence to date to stop breeding their animals and to start looking toward a tiered closure of all of the facilities that exist so that the animals that can be rehabilitated and released can go back into the wild and those that cannot be released, can remain in sanctuary of setting where they can live out the rest of their lives with some kind of dignity.”
Gary Francis and Melissa Wright represented the government respondents in the review proceedings. Fred Smith, QC, Roderick Malone and Martin Lundy appeared for ReEarth.