By Rob Corder
Dubai's tourism industry should set standards for the future, not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Dubai's mission to become one of the great tourism destinations of the world took a backward step this week with the announcement that it will be opening its own version of SeaWorld as part of a complex of theme parks on Palm Jebel Ali.
The Middle Eastern playground city has a proud record of innovation and fearless investment in attractions for holidaymakers. Burj Al Arab, construction of which began back in 1994, was a massive gamble at the time: a self-proclaimed 7-star hotel in a city that at the time was little more than an import and re-export town built around its port industry.
The hotel could so easily have become a white elephant, had the world's super rich shunned its extravagant interior. Instead, it became an iconic landmark that told the world that Dubai was open for business as a luxury tourism destination.
Investment in Emirates Airline and the expansion of Dubai International Airport was also taking place during the early nineties. The idea of creating an aviation hub to rival Heathrow, Schipol or O'Hare seemed ludicrous at the time, but visionary with hindsight.
The current construction of Dubailand might not appeal to the more cultured tourist, but it amounts to an almost unimaginable transformation of barely habitable desert into a centre of entertainment that will create jobs, wealth and smiles on the faces of millions of young children.
All of these projects, along with Dubai's indoor ski slopes, gargantuan shopping malls, state-of-the-art public transport systems, ecological hotel resorts, and world-class sporting facilities belong in the present and the future of the global economic ecosystem.
SeaWorld belongs firmly in the past, and should be banished to remain there. Dubai does not need it, and tourists should not want it.
The business of wildlife conservation has made considerable strides in the past 30 years. There was a time when zoos and marine parks played an important role in protecting endangered species with breeding programmes.
Today, those breeding programmes take place in the habitat of the animals they are designed to protect. Dolphins are being nurtured in the seas off the West coast of Scotland; elephants and rhinos are being carefully and successfully managed in vast national parks in Southern Africa; tigers are no longer being hunted to extinction in India, and their numbers are increasing in safe zones.
Ironically, SeaWorld and its parent organisation Busch Entertainment Corporation, appears to agree. The business has its own conservation fund that runs myriad projects across the world - almost entirely involved in protecting wildlife in its natural habitat.
While this non-profit conservation enterprise is welcome, it feels a little like rich countries' obsession with carbon offset programmes - they are designed to assuage the guilt of those that do the most environmental damage as a substitute for stopping that damage in the first place.
The world is becoming richer in more ways than one. People have the money to travel to see wild animals in their natural habitats - be that on land or at sea. And the conservation of huge nature parks is improving to the benefit of the animals that roam them.
There is no future for bringing land or sea animals into captivity and making them perform for the public. Dubai is a city that constantly plans for the future, but allowing SeaWorld to open makes it look stuck in the past.
It simply isn't true that animal-conservation programs are going well; creatures on land and sea face numerous threats and there are countless examples of conservation programs being more talk than success stories. That aside, there are massive challenges and costs involved in seeing sea creatures in their natural habitats, putting aside the questions of how plentiful they are and how plentiful they will be. Let me guess; we shouldn't have zoos and aquariums, too?
Although i agree with some of the comments in this article, I do not agree that the likes of SeaWorld have played out their role. Not everyone has the means to travel to see animals in the wild (which is of course the best) - some would have to make do with seeing them in captivity (we could go into a lengthy debate about the fact that wild animals should not be held in captivity and that only animals born in captivity should be used etc.). Why is there are need for as many people as possible to see animals close up ? Because, in the world today, there is huge ignorance towards nature and wildlife. I believe that the more people, especially children, see and interact with animals close up, the more awareness there will be created about maintaining animals natural habitats, reducing pollution etc. I actually think that the children of Dubai NEED a SeaWorld, so they can see that the ocean is not just another dumping ground for their garbage.
Regrettably if this project goes ahead it will be the only place one could see live fish, sea going mammals, giant sea creature and the like at all in the the region! Thanks to the bigger developments in Dubai the eco system, tidal patterns and natural water currents of Dubai's waterways have been destroyed forever. It has been great for the charter operators in Oman who now reap the benefits from the city of gold but mighty sad for the local fishing community who have lost the only NATURAL RESOURCE they had.
Depression in captive dolphins is well-documented. In Bahrain a caged sea-otter burned to death when the venue caught fire during the night. Tatiana the Tiger at San Francisco Zoo decided enough was enough and got shot dead for her trouble. It is distasteful to read comments which support imprisoning wild animals in tanks and cages just so human children can gape at them. What exactly are we teaching them? That it is OK to inflict unnatural habitat and cramped spaces on a living thing as long as we can learn to respect it? I learn more from a National Geographic documentary or an Animal Planet episode than an entire day spent gawking at captive specimens in zoos and aquariums. Let's face it. They're there for our entertainment. And that is what we're teaching the children.