“No, we are not worried”: the boss of the Marineland park in Antibes speaks about his future

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From the sun. And of the world. Open since February 5, Marineland is starting a new year after two last seasons complicated by the health crisis. If the forecasts are encouraging for the next few months, the general manager of the Antibes park, Pascal Picot, remains cautious all the same. Lesson from the recent past of a park that had to close overnight, like many establishments. But also the experience of a captain at the helm of a ship regularly shaken by the news. With in particular the law on animal abuse and the strengthening of the link between animals and men, which could modify (or not) the future of the park.

Are the visitors there for these February holidays?

It went well. Families are present. We are very happy. We hope that we will be able to work all year round and not be interrupted by health news.

What are your predictions?

These last two years have taught us to be very careful in terms of forecasts, because our activity really depends on health news.

Without major constraints, they are good. And we can even count on a return to the years before the Covid.

As fast?

Yes. We saw it already last year. The machine had to get back on the road in July, but in August, September, October, November and December, we returned to the level of 2019.

The hotel too?

As soon as we were able to work normally again, it started again. We were at 100% attendance in August. And today, we have figures well beyond 2019. We even have reservations for July-August. Confidence is back for tourists.

Internally, has managing your workforce been complicated?

Permanent employees are already used to health constraints and safety standards. On the other hand, for seasonal workers, it was complicated, as for all of our colleagues and those who are in tourism. With problems of recruitment, absenteeism, motivation, etc. It was a year where you had to show agility and flexibility to be able to work properly.

Like the restaurateurs, have you also had problems recruiting?

As we are one of the first professions economically affected by the Covid, it is very difficult to recruit. People have retrained for fear of finding themselves on the floor.

New in the park?

As every year, there is a renewal of the educational presentations, but no novelties. The changes will be on Kid’s Island, with a new large playground and the creation of an escape game for children (3-10 years old).

In November, a law against animal abuse and to strengthen the bond between animals and humans was enacted…

We are happy that there is finally a law. It’s a good start. We are rather satisfied, even if the field of action is incomplete. Concerning us, the law is not complete. She says in particular that there will be decrees and clarifications so that it is applicable. We are therefore awaiting these texts. It is stipulated that it will be forbidden to hold dolphins and killer whales in captivity in France in five years, except in establishments that participate in a scientific program defined by the Minister’s decree… whose content we are still awaiting. Today, we take part in all the existing programs. We are therefore not very worried.

If I understand correctly, you are studying the possibility of continuing through the scientific programs?

For the moment, we are not studying anything at all. We are in a logic of continuing our activity, of further developing the educational and pedagogical part.

The law also specifies that there will no longer be any right to reproduction…

There too, it is not clear, because you have to tell me how to do it! We scientifically know how to temporarily stop the reproduction of animals that are in Marineland. We know that the treatment that can be done is not good in the long term for their health. We also know that reproduction is a natural need for all animals. We are therefore waiting for more explanations…

Are you thinking about an evolution of the park?

Our reflection is the same as that of the hundred or so zoos in France. How can we all work together to take account of societal changes? How to adapt our presentation of animals? How do we convey our pedagogical message? How to show the important role of zoos in France? Obviously we are always thinking about the future, but the project today is to know how to remain attractive, dynamic, educational, pedagogical. How, too, to invest more in research. We know that our dolphins or other animals can serve the scientific cause to improve the conditions of their congeners in the natural environment. And when we see the number of dead dolphins stranded on the French coast, we know that we have a serious problem.

Do you intend to develop the wildlife rehabilitation center at Cap d’Antibes?

Today, the center is exclusively oriented towards sea turtles, there are plans for 2023-2024 to extend it to other species (rodents, squirrels). We also worked with the firefighters to show them how to handle the dolphins in order to put them back into the sea.

How do you see Marineland in 5 years?

With lots of smiling children and large families. And above all, as a major player in the protection and awareness of the environment.

Few “changes”, then?

For the moment. You know, we have always done what the government asked of us… We have even always gone beyond the recommendations, all the European standards. So we will always continue to do more. And to be a model for what we do in Europe.

Mayor Jean Leonetti said recently that you were planning to close Kid’s Island?

This is a dated project that was postponed with the health crisis. It consists of expanding Aquasplash, creating a much larger wave pool. There are also plans to create new water fun attractions. It is a project that we wanted to do for 2022, but which is now postponed at best to 2024, and perhaps even to 2025-2026.

In his statement, Jean Leonetti also says: “Obviously, they are moving towards aquatic fun.“Is Aquasplash going to expand to Marineland in the long term as well?

There, we are just talking about the expansion of Aquasplash instead of Kid’s Island. We don’t talk about anything else…

We have a great imagination…

[Sourire.] There is a zoological part, which is Marineland, and an aquatic part, which is Aquasplash. This diversity is the strength of the company, it must be preserved. This is not aimed at the same visitors. And don’t forget that Marineland is open all year round… A water park works 75 days a year. This is not a possible axis of reconversion.

How do you live with being always attacked?

With a lot of philosophy…

It is true that we experience this as a relentlessness. We realize that emotion often takes precedence over factual reality. I do not count the complaints issued by the associations against Marineland, but what I know is that none have ended up in legal action. It never went any further. For some associations, it’s a business.

The only thing that hurts me about this is that it hurts our employees. They dedicate their lives to animal welfare, and we dare to accuse them of mistreatment…

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