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  • Chloe O'Sullivan

On Tour With the Kid | Saving a Sanctuary

Some childhood moments are just seared into your memory. One of mine is a family holiday to Coffs Harbour, including a visit to what was then known as the Porpoise Pool. All of 12 years old, I sat next to my mum and got as close as I had ever been to a sea lion. I was mesmerised as the staff talked about how they lived, what harmed them in the wild, and what the park was doing to help save them.


Knowing the kid was going to camp in Coffs Harbour and that same park was on the itinerary (now called Dolphin Marine Conservation Park), I was thrilled to know she would share that same experience.

Then the news came through that the park I had loved so much as a kid had gone into administration.

Economic realities exist for every business that relies on tourism and the public spending money. I think we were all so relieved when COVID lockdowns were over and assumed that life would go back to normal, but it hasn’t. With interest rates and the cost of living increasing for many businesses, that fog has yet to lift. And it seems particularly cruel when it means vulnerable animals must be rehomed.

We decided that rather than missing our chance to make memories, we would take a quick drive up the freeway. I am a huge animal lover and will take any opportunity to see animals up close, but I have also spent time educating myself and the kid, and there are things I wouldn’t do. For a while, every second person I knew had a photo with a giant tiger or riding an elephant. As much as I would have loved to have been that close to these amazing animals, it just wouldn’t feel right after everything I have seen.

That’s why I was thrilled after doing some reading that the Dolphin Marine Conservation Park, while open to the public (for now), is very much focused on the good of the animals and always has been.

Through the rescue foundation, they rehabilitate and release more than 400 marine animals each year. But the park funds the foundation, and without the park, the vital rescue and rehabilitation service would cease to exist. Over their time, they have helped educate more than 30,000 students and attracted more than 50,000 visitors each year, contributing significant tourism dollars to the Coffs Harbour region.

The marine sanctuary is not just a tourist attraction. It’s a lifeline for marine rescue animals. Most are rehabilitated and returned to the wild; others are deemed unfit to return to their natural habitat and are lovingly cared for by a team of very dedicated staff, becoming conservation education ambassadors for the community. We met some gorgeous animals while there, including a blind 18-year-old penguin who, without the park, would just have nowhere to go.

They are the only permanent rehabilitation facility in NSW that can handle this volume and variety of injured, sick and orphaned marine life and the only rescue and rehabilitation facility qualified and equipped to save sea lions and dolphins. They are home to the world’s most successful breeding program for endangered Australian sea lions, a national incentive to help at-risk species. A permanent sanctuary to over 50 marine animals that cannot be released, including bottle-nosed dolphins, Australian sea lions and Little Blue Penguins, many of whom require ongoing medical care.

It’s not a cheap exercise; they do this without government support. However, despite exhaustive efforts, they are now at risk of closure.

Ideally, they would like to become an actual not-for-profit organisation so that everything can go towards the animals.

Can You Help?

The Dolphin Marine Conservation Park is now on a deadline to raise 1 million dollars in corporate and private pledges between now and 26 October, or this safe haven for marine life will cease to exist. My hope is someone reading this might be able to help. Please head to to see what you can do to help.


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