ST. THOMAS - Coral World Ocean Park is proposing to build a $5.2 million dolphin habitat in Water Bay where its guests can watch the dolphins or swim with them.
The 70,000-square-foot facility will be a giant square or rectangle out in the open water, according to the Coastal Zone Management permit application.
It will have decking bordering the outside of the approximately 2-acre area and will include a viewing platform and low bleacher seating.
The decks that will make up the enclosure will measure about 300 feet by 250 feet. The main dock is 12 feet wide and is set 3 feet, 6 inches above the mean high tide.
An additional 40-foot buffer will be set up around the perimeter of the decking using a buoy line. The decking will be supported by concrete pilings - 158 in total. About 100 pilings lie within scattered coral areas and sparse to moderate seagrass beds, according to the application.
Approximately 250 corals will be relocated during the dock's construction, according to Coral World.
A stainless steel mesh, with approximately 3-inch spaces in it, will connect the dock on the surface to the ocean floor. The system will keep the animals in the enclosure but will allow the natural currents of the bay to clean out the dolphin habitat.
The facility will have navigation lighting to help local fishermen navigate around the area in the dark. According to the application, the lights will not be bright enough to pose a danger to sea turtles.
The dolphin facility will take up about 5 percent of the surface area of Water Bay, according to Coral World's application.
Bathhouses and a two-story education center will be located on the land. The guests will travel to the dolphin habitat along a boardwalk from the main Coral World campus to the Water Bay area.
According to the application, the whole facility will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The education center is a multipurpose building used for staff to give orientations to those who will be swimming with the dolphins. It also will provide facilities and emergency living quarters for the staff and medical personnel, storage for equipment and a changing area.
According to the CZM application, the facility legally will be able to hold 20 dolphins, but Coral World officials have said they do not plan to ever have more than 12. General curator Lee Kellar said the attraction will start with about six dolphins and may go up to 10 in the first few years.
Healthy dolphins breed on their own once they reach maturity, and there is a maternity pen available if needed.
If the dolphins are not feeling social or do not want to have human contact, they can go into a specially designed sanctuary pen, located within the 2-acre facility. Kellar said the sanctuary pen is large enough for all the dolphins to be in there at once if they choose.
Parking for six additional cars will be included in the new facility construction. However, Coral World officials said that because most of their business comes from tourists who arrive by taxi, they do not anticipate that the new attraction will require much additional parking.
The proposed site is zoned W-1, waterfront pleasure, which allows for the current Coral World facilities.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.