November 22, 2010
Dear Commissioners of Sunny Isles Beach,
After reading the project feasibility study in its entirety, we have some concerns.
We are happy to help make this potential aquarium project one that SIB can be truly proud of; one that promotes education about our local ecosystems here in Florida – the Everglades, the Florida Keys coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds rather than exotic habitats and animals (that market is surely saturated by places like Jungle Island, Miami SeaQuarium, Monkey Jungle, and Miami Metro Zoo). In terms of promoting the local ecology, there are successful and laudable examples:
Robins Nature and Visitor Center at Maymont, Richmond, VA
A Regional Watershed Exploration
Sturgeon City Environmental Educational Center, Jacksonville, NC
Reclaim, Re-Use, and Restore
River Center, Loxahatchee River District, Jupiter, FL
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Homosassa, FL
Sunny Isles Beach and the developers 4M Investors, LLC could help set a national standard by having an aquarium that promotes conservation by housing local charismatic megafauna – manatees, alligators, crocodiles, rays, sharks (as their ‘big ticket’ draw) – for rescue, rehabilitation and release, only. And by doing so, potentially work closely with The State and National Parks to cross-promote with tourists coming to the area.
Additionally, reputable aquaria are moving away from the old paradigms of ‘animals as entertainment’ (i.e. dolphin and sea lion shows, shark feedings, and penguin parades) because the educational value of these attractions is questionable; and away from unnecessary handling of animals – petting grounds and touch tanks, due to potentially high mortality and thus replacement rate of the animals. Responsible aquaria that do still have such exhibits severally limit the amount of interaction with vertebrate or soft-bodied animals, allow instead for supervised, limited interaction with invertebrates such as sea stars, hermit crabs, and other shelled animals.
We were, however, encouraged to see that the feasibility study did include proposed Inter-Coastal Waterway and ocean tours and snorkel trips; the perfect way to enjoy and educate about the our local waters, by spending time on them!
South Florida has had a sad history in terms of its marine parks and aquaria and this may be an opportunity to change that, to show that our communities treasure and respect our oceans and wildlife.
We look forward to future opportunities to help move this project in a positive direction for everyone.Sincerely, The Selkie Society