“We have run out of funds needed to push forward to a sustainable position.”
… Ocean Park manager Tracy Johnson
Ocean Park Aquarium Shutting Down August 30, 2009
The Barbados marine exhibition known as Ocean Park has been dying a slow death and bleeding investors since shortly after it opened in 2005. Everyone had hopes that the tourist attraction would thrive in Barbados, but obviously the gross revenues and visitor traffic couldn’t sustain the operational expenses. According to the newspaper articles about Ocean Park, it takes a whole lot of electricity and other costs to keep salt-water big fish for display, and after seeing the facilities I believe that. (CBC article: Ocean Park future in doubt Nation article: Ocean Park expected to fold)
Shona and I took the boy and his cousin once and it was an enjoyable, if expensive, morning and lunch. The best part for the little ones was being able to touch the (de-barbed) sting rays in the pool – but after a few minutes, I’d put the boys’ excitement rating on the same level as finding a new bug or lizard in the yard. Which is all to say that the visit was enjoyable, but quite the price for a Bajan family by the time we purchased drinks and a snack.
As to the wisdom of taking an undistinguished empty field and trying to make a Disney-like major attraction in Barbados, my thoughts are that when tourists arrive in Barbados either by cruise ship or airplane, they don’t want to see mega “tourist attractions” that they can see elsewhere. People come to Barbados to experience what is unique about our country and our culture.
I believe that Ocean Park and other “mega attractions” are doomed to fail in Barbados because our tourists don’t come here to see mini versions of world-class experiences that are better done in larger markets. Consider the 4 million or so cruise ship passengers that transit through Miami every year (source here). If those passengers want to see a real world class marine park, they can go to the Miami Seaquarium and see killer whales, turtles, sharks and even swim with dolphins. Many do!
We certainly didn’t see any bus-loads of cruise ship passengers arriving at Ocean Park during our visit. Again that was probably because those people want to spend their few hours ashore seeing what is unique to Barbados.
Thank God that Owen Arthur’s Caribbean Splash Waterpark didn’t happen because in a short while it too would have been an abandoned eyesore.
Just like Ocean Park will be an abandoned eyesore in a few months.
Investors and lenders are in business to make money and if there is no return on their investment – and no prospects of profit – they cut their losses and boogie. I can’t blame Ocean Park’s investors for getting out after trying to make it work for almost five years, but their failure should be a lesson for anyone with hopes of establishing Disney-like tourist attractions in the Barbados market.
Ocean Park vs. Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary: What’s the difference?
On the bare surface, the closure of Ocean Park seems to echo last year’s closing of the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary by millionaire (billionaire?) Canadian philanthropist Peter Allard – but even a moment’s consideration disproves that false notion.
Ocean Park was a business failure, pure and simple. The owners and investors started a business to make a profit, and when it didn’t and they couldn’t see it ever making a profit – and nobody wanted to further invest into the business – they closed Ocean Park to stop the financial bleeding.
The Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary though was not created for profit. It was created as a gift to Barbados. The driving force behind the nature sanctuary is Peter Allard, who is by all accounts a super-rich guy who enjoys giving something back through his philanthropy directed to educational, social, medical and environmental causes. Nice work if you can get it, I guess!
Again from what I can find online (here, here and here), Peter Allard and the rest of his family came into their money honestly enough starting with the family patriarch, Dr. Charles Allard, who gave up his surgery and went into business way back when. Over the last 50 years, the Allards became super successful in real estate, the gas and petrochemical industry and television broadcasting.
Different folks have different interests. While Oprah gives back by supporting her extensive Angel Network, Kermit Weeks preserves aviation history and sponsors pilot training for inner-city youths and Jay Grossman looks after the dental needs of L.A.’s homeless people, Peter Allard contributes tens of millions of dollars to communities through medical and environmental projects.
Helping Barbados By Cleaning and Saving Our Natural Environment
Almost 20 years ago, Peter Allard decided that saving the last mangrove forest and wetlands in Barbados was a worthy project, so he spent some US$30 million dollars of his own money cleaning up the dumping and damage at Graeme Hall and created a world-class nature sanctuary. Allard didn’t do all this in a vacuum as he originally had encouragement and appreciation from the Government of Barbados – at the time under the leadership of Owen Arthur. Allard was also assured that the Graeme Hall wetlands would stay protected as a natural resource under our country’s official land use plan.
Along the way, Peter Allard obviously fell in love with Barbados as he also funded the reef ball project and offered to give a multi-million dollar Cancer and AIDS hospice to Barbados so our loved ones would have proper care at the end of their lives.
Although the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary was a philanthropic project it employed some one hundred people directly and indirectly, and eventually it became almost self-supporting with the shortfall covered by Mr. Allard. But once again, the Nature Sanctuary was not supposed to make a profit. Allard supported the sanctuary operations and saved the wetlands as his gift to Barbados – his way of giving something back.
But then government insiders wanted to profit through land speculation at Graeme Hall
The fact that Peter Allard and his team cleaned up and saved the Graeme Hall wetlands meant that the public lands surrounding the Nature Sanctuary became tremendously valuable IF ONLY the government would change the national plan and permit building and commercial activity on lands that had been set aside as public green space.
And so the sabotage by Owen Arthur and his government friends started with the intent of making the foreigner run from Barbados. The nature sanctuary and Allard with his damned notion of “environment” were standing in the way of profits and kickbacks.
Soon the government sluice gate that controlled the water flow in and out of the mangrove ponds was damaged and not repaired so oxygen levels dropped killing fish. Then, oops! Sewerage was diverted from the government processing station into the nature sanctuary. Promised tax credits for the sanctuary operation never arrived for a decade as they were being “processed” by government workers. Then Owen Arthur met with American waterslide park developer Matthew Kerins and agreed to let Kerins build a water park on the wetlands.
When citizen outrage caused then-Prime Minister Owen Arthur to withdraw permission for a proposed Caribbean Splash waterslide park on the Graeme Hall wetlands, the BLP government ceased trying to pretend they cared about the environment and mangrove wetlands and announced they would change the official land use plan to allow for commercial development at Graeme Hall.
Prime Minister Thompson said “To Hell with parkland for citizens. Change the land use plan and make money developing what used to be a public green space!”
In January 2008, the citizens of Barbados tossed out Owen Arthur and his BLP, but unfortunately the new DLP gang under Prime Minister David Thompson had dollar signs in their eyes too.
One of the first acts of the David Thompson DLP Government was to change the law protecting 265 acres of parkland at Graeme Hall to allow developer friends to profit from these public lands. To make this happen, David Thompson and the DLP Members of Parliament had to set aside laws that had protected the land from development since 1988. When the government was finished, 2/3 of the parkland (175 acres) was gone and the government effectively signed the death warrant for the last mangrove wetland on the island.
And with all of that, Peter Allard finally decided late last year to shake the Barbados sand from his shoes and take his philanthropy to other places where the government and the people appreciate the value of their own natural environment and work to preserve it. Peter Allard shut down the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary after the government of Barbados stole two thirds of the parkland so their developer friends could profit from what should be YOUR parkland.
So you see, there is a huge difference between the business failure of Ocean Park, and the closing of the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary – which leads us to the conclusion…
Peter Allard Rescue Ocean Park? Not A Bloody Chance!