Plans by supermodel Naomi Campbell to build a high-end casino near turtle sanctuaries in Kenya's Indian Ocean resort of Malindi have sparked a firestorm from conservationists and residents.
Apart from hosting a bevy of beauties and moneyed men, the six-star casino complex - to be called Billionaires Resort - could disrupt the hatching process of several rare species of turtles, they say.
Conservationists are worried that noise and lights from the casino envisioned by the British catwalk legend and her former boyfriend, Formula One boss Flavio Briatore - who already owns one hotel in Malindi, will scare the turtles away.
Last month, Pierino Liana, the east and central Africa head of Briatore's Lion Group, announced the ex-couple had filed plans to build a multi-million dollar casino in Malindi, promising it would open up jobs for local residents, many of whom live below the poverty line.
"You have fabulous beaches and people here are just amazingly nice. But something needs to be put correct to attract big time investors," Campbell told the Standard daily while vacationing in Kenya in August, suggesting roads and the airport would also need to be upgraded.
Malindi Marine Association Director Athman Seif said the casino and the jet-setting guests it would draw would scupper years of painstaking work to protect the endangered marine creatures.
"It will be like destroying creatures that many people have invested a lot to protect," he said.
"If this is allowed, it will have massive repercussions: the noise from the casino (and) the lighting will affect the hatching of turtles, and tourists walking on the beach will step and destroy eggs and nests."
Female turtles hatch ashore and the baby turtles usually find their way back to the sea by looking for the brightest natural horizon.
A glittering construction in the heart of Malindi's marine park could lure the hatchlings in the wrong direction and away from the beach, leading them to die of dehydration, the conservationists say.
"We are not against development, but all we are calling for is sustainable, low-environmental-impact and high quality tourism development," said Stephen Trott, who heads Local Ocean Trust, a Malindi-based turtle conservation group.
A Kenya Wildlife Service official who did not want to be named said the agency was keeping a close eye on the project.
Kenya Tourism Board chairman Jake Grieves-Cook was also cautious, noting that the casino project was still going through the planning application process -- which generally calls for environmental impacts and could take years before receiving final approval.
"We support any properly regulated development which abides by environmental regulations, but we need to ensure that our wildlife is conserved and protected. So any development should always pay careful attention to conservation issues," he said.
Campbell and Briatore have been frequent visitors to the resort, which has long been popular with retired white settlers and became a hub for repentant Italian mafia informants in the 1980s.
In 2005, the 37-year-old Campbell publicly professed her adoration.
"One of the reasons I love Malindi is that I can walk on the road without people bothering me. They just greet you with a smile and say hello," she said.
According to Malindi residents, Briatore has another hotel in the resort called While Elephant. "Let them go improve the quality of White Elephant," said one resident.
"We are totally against the casino. This is a small town, we have one casino and we don't want another one," said Terry Hill of the Malindi South Residents Association.
"Furthermore, we are told that they want to build near a marine park. Be sure we won't allow that because we are conservationists. Let them go and build it elsewhere," Hill said.
Seif warned that Malindi and the Kenyan coastline, which harbours many unique species, was in danger of being irremediably spoilt by mushrooming constructions.
"After all, we have enough hotels in coast region. We do not want anymore. The Kenyan coast is becoming a wall of hotels instead of a tranquil shoreline."