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Tourism / Ocean World

Ocean World Puerto Plata - Dominican Republic      
Construction and environment

Swimming with dolphins may seem like a far-fetched idea or even an impossible dream. In fact, in a recent survey by the BBC it topped the list of things people felt they had to do before they died. This ambition can be fulfilled at Ocean World, Cofresí, near Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, along with other breathtaking experiences like being nuzzled by a sea lion, touching a stingray and - coming up soon - hand-feeding a shark.

This US$35 million project is striking for its attention to detail, ranging from the aesthetic to the structural and environmental. A feat of engineering in that it comprises a self-contained, self-sufficient environment with vast custom-made aquatic enclosures for the dolphins, with a sophisticated water-filtration and purification system to ensure the well being of the animals and the visitors to the site. The water system alone cost US$3.5 million to install.

Visually, the complex is a pleasure to behold. It is located on the ocean shore, with an entrance under a fresh water
cascade that drenches the bus as you drive in, leading to the reception area, which boasts a high quality gift shop and a cafeteria. This overlooks much of the facilities, from the sea lion demonstration amphitheater to the vast dolphin lagoon. Everything is sparklingly clean and well maintained, freshly painted and attractively laid out, from the bathroom facilities to the animal enclosures, reflecting the high priority that Ocean World places on both the comfort of its visitors and the welfare of its animals.

Hundreds of visitors a day, mainly from the north coast resorts but also from farther a field like Punta Cana, Samana and the east coast resorts, visit Ocean World. Number one on the list of attractions is the opportunity to experience dolphin encounters, along with other highlights such as interaction with sea lions, reef fish, shark and stingrays.

At all times there are professional stills and video-photographers at hand to record the encounters, and visitors will be able to purchase prints and videotapes of their experiences at the end of their visit. This does not mean that photography is restricted, however.

The
gift shop, like the park, is divided into four thematic areas: rainforest, dolphins and sea lions, sharks and stingray, and the coral reef. It sells a wide range of crafts, children’s toys and souvenir clothing.

Currently, the visitor can enjoy the following facilities and activities:

The
snorkel reef is a large tank recreating the environment of a coral reef, minus the dangers! Small groups of snorkelers, accompanied by a guide, are taken on a trip through this magical world, an experience lasting about 30 minutes. There are several reasons for choosing this artificial reef over the real thing – apart from safety and security you are promised excellent visibility all year round, you are guaranteed to see all the marine life, there are no dangerous fish or poisonous plants to harm you, and you are not harming the fragile reef environment.

In the sea lion presentation area visitors are presented with a training demonstration, and a chance to meet the sea lions up-close. The animals live in uniquely designed enclosures with no bars or cages.

The park organizers are quick to remind their clientele that Ocean World is not a show park, but an interaction park. Their aim is always educational, as well as entertainment, and the idea is that experts in animal behavior will be at hand to provide information and explanations to the public.

As in all activities, numbers are restricted to small groups to ensure a good quality experience for the visitor and a minimum of stress for the animals.

The
dolphin lagoon is the setting for the popular dolphin encounter. There are two options: a swim with dolphins in which small groups of visitors are able to play and swim with the dolphins, under the instruction and care of two professional trainers, and a shallow water experience for interaction where the guests are able to feed, touch, and be kissed and hugged by dolphins.

The shark tank, where visitors are already able to witness the
shark feeding sessions, provides a rare thrill. Intrepid trainers and handlers wade into the water and lure the sharks with small measures of blood, so that they swim up and feed from the trainers’ hands. The eventual plan is to train the sharks to the stage where the visitors can participate feed the sharks themselves. For the more faint-hearted, a similar experience is on offer in the stingray pool. The stingrays, despite their name, don’t sting, and give the appearance of gentle, patient beings, as they line up politely for their feed.

Note:

In the final phase the complex will include an additional,
larger dolphin lagoon and a tropical forest area for guests to interact with tigers and tropical birds at close proximity. The planned tiger grotto is described by Ocean World personnel as an almost unique experience in which visitors will be able to swim in the same lake as the tigers, separated by reinforced acrylic glass panels. In the rainforest area guests will wander through walkways and specially trained tropical birds like macaws, parrots and toucans will flock to their hands and feed from them. There is also a plan to have an exotic fish tank with piranhas and others from the Amazon River.

Another planned facility at Ocean World will be a state-of-the-art
yacht marina, which will be the only full service marina on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, serving the busy Bahamas-Puerto Rico route. At present there is no other place for them to stop, so this would open the north coast to an entirely new tourist sector. The marina will include berthing for up to 200 vessels, dry dock maintenance and repair services, refueling and shopping facilities, and recreational installations such as a restaurant, bar and possibly a casino, as well as full customs and immigration facilities.

A private sandy beach is also being constructed on the periphery of the site, which looks out onto Cofresí bay, 5 kms to the west of the city of Puerto Plata.

In terms of environmental impact, Ocean World is a model project. It complies with the new and stringent Dominican environmental laws. The water is tested regularly and all run-off, sewage and solid waste are treated to the highest standards.

Ocean World is a member of IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainers Association, and like its sister park in Nassau, Dolphin Encounters, Ocean World is going to become a member of the prestigious Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA).

Article by Ilana Benady & photos by Pedro Guzmán

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