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Idaho-based SeaQuest withdraws application to bring $5M aquarium to Sunrise Mall

CEO cited lengthy approval process in the decision; animal-rights activists laud the move as a victory against animal cruelty and a company facing complaints in other states.

Kimberly Nye of Massapequa participates in a PETA

Kimberly Nye of Massapequa participates in a PETA protest on Nov. 10 at the intersection of Carmans Road and Sunrise Highway in Massapequa against a plan by SeaQuest Holdings LLC to open an interactive aquarium at the Westfield Sunrise Mall. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

A Boise, Idaho-based company that sought to open an interactive aquarium in the Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa has withdrawn its application for the facility, it announced Thursday in a news release.

SeaQuest Holdings LLC applied last fall for a special-use permit from Oyster Bay Town to build a $5 million wildlife attraction, but quickly drew criticism from local activists and the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“We were tremendously excited to open an outpost on Long Island to bring the SeaQuest experience to residents here,” SeaQuest CEO Vince Covino said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the length of the process to approve the project began to make the reality of executing this location, along with the multiple other SeaQuest installations currently being developed, unrealistic for our team.”

Brittany Peet, the foundation director of captive animal law enforcement for PETA, cheered the decision. 

"Every city that refuses to let SeaQuest set up shop is making the world a safer place for animals, who deserve better than to be used in sleazy shopping-mall petting zoos," Peet said in a statement. 

In October, Covino told the town board that the company's exhibits would let guests “take a journey around five different continents.” The experience would “contrast the Caribbean islands with the Egyptian desert and the animals that are found there to go through the Amazon rainforest and Mayan jungles, to experience an Icelandic fishing village,” he said.

Local activists asked the board last fall to reject the company’s application. Actor and Massapequa native Alec Baldwin also opposed the facility in a letter sent to the town that he co-wrote last year with PETA officials.  

Baldwin alleged in the letter that SeaQuest's Covino "has not only flouted the law nearly everywhere he goes but also left untold animal suffering in his wake.”

John Di Leonardo, executive director of the Malverne-based organization Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, said he’s “glad that SeaQuest saw the writing on the wall and withdrew.”

“If they came to Oyster Bay, hundreds of animals’ lives could be in jeopardy,” Di Leonardo said.

The company, which has six locations in malls throughout the country, has drawn controversy before. Last month, state officials in Colorado ordered the SeaQuest in Littleton  to remove hundreds of animals from a mall there after suspending its license, according to local media reports. In 2017, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the venue there had been cited for violations by the police department’s animal cruelty division.

Earlier this year, PETA joined a local activist and an animal rights group in a lawsuit against the City of Fort Lauderdale, challenging its decision to grant a permit to the company. 

The attractions each draw 300,000 to 500,000 visitors a year, Covino had said, and a spokesman for Westfield Sunrise said in a statement Thursday that  it had been excited for the facility to open.

“We were looking forward to further diversify the mix of tenants at Westfield Sunrise to best serve the community, and to bringing an exciting new education and entertainment option to families,” the spokesman said.

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