Naomi Campbell’s casino venture may put rare turtles in the soup - Monday 17th of September 2007

The supermodel Naomi Campbell has shocked conservationists over plans for a hotel and casino complex on a coastal sanctuary for turtles in Kenya.

Protesters say that the scheme in the Indian Ocean resort town of Malindi, put forward by the supermodel and her former boyfriend Flavio Briatore, will wreck years of work to save endangered marine life.

Three species, the green turtle, the hawksbill and the olive ridley, come ashore in Malindi and nearby Watamu Bay to nest and lay their eggs. Two other species, the leatherhead and loggerhead turtles, migrate through Kenyan waters en route from South Africa to the Maldives and Seychelles.

After the baby turtles hatch in the middle of the night, they follow the brightest natural light, which is normally a moonlit horizon between the ocean and night sky. However, they can be easily disorientated by artificial lights and noise, such as loud music, and can walk away from the sea and perish.

“This would have a very negative effect on turtle nesting and destroy years of careful project work,” said Athman Seif, director of the Malindi Marine Association.

He said that plans to build the six-star 40-apartment casino, called the Billionaires Resort, within the marine park would be in breach of local planning regulations.

Mr Briatore, who heads Renault’s Formula One team, already runs a hotel in the resort, the White Elephant. Residents describe it as a “ghastly construction” and say that it has encouraged the type of tourism the area has been at pains to avoid.

“This is very bad news indeed,” said Terry Hill, chairman of the local residents’ association. “Our once-beautiful white sandy shore line is becoming one long line of concrete.”

Stephen Trott, director of Local Ocean Trust, a marine conservation body, said: “Projects like this are in danger of destroying the very thing people come here to enjoy.”

Malindi, previously a retirement home for former white farmers from the Kenyan highlands, has boomed in recent years, and has become a popular venue with “sex tourists”.

Some Italians who turned state evidence in a crackdown on the Mafia in the 1980s were resettled in the town, which already contains one of Kenya’s most notorious casinos, and are blamed for encouraging crime.

Mr Briatore began visiting the resort some ten years ago. Residents say that the local airport runway was extended to allow him to fly directly into the country on his private plane.

Pierino Liana, the East African head of Mr Briatore’s Lion Group, announced the plans for the £100 million development, promising dozens of jobs in an area where many people live on less than 30p a day.

“We would like to construct a six-star hotel targeting the top men in the world,” said Campbell.

Local officials in Malindi declined to discuss the issue, saying that all planning applications had to go through formal channels and that local residents would be consulted.

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