In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a few long-established adversaries are setting aside their conflicts and teaming up to create a safe, semi-wild sea enclosure for dolphins in New South Wales.

The Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbour has been affected by closures enforced during the pandemic, and in an unexpected twist, animal rights group Action for Dolphins has come up with a solution to house the park’s three retired dolphins, Zippy (32), Bella (15), and Jet (11).

Born and raised in captivity, these bottlenose dolphins don’t have the necessary skills to survive in the wild.

Under the new proposition, put forward by advocacy director of Action for Dolphins Jordan Sosnowski, the dolphins would be liberated from their concrete pools and moved into a section of Coffs Harbour Marina cordoned off with netting. This would provide 10 times their current living space

“A sea sanctuary is a humane compromise which will allow the animals to live in the ocean and have a lot more autonomy, whilst still ensuring they are looked after and fed by caregivers,” Sosnowski said, adding that it could also act as a “halfway house” for rehabilitating stranded whales or wild dolphins, as well as a more humane tourist attraction.

Sosnowski once sued the park in federal court and lobbied for its closure; but in 2018, he began a conversation with park managing director Terry Goodall, who has since stopped breeding dolphins.

Speaking to Guardian Australia about the unusual turn of events, Goodall described the joint venture as “like polar opposites working together.”

“They were our nemeses in the past,” she said. “Now we are holding hands and walking down the road together, trying to solve the problem. It’s just a complete and utter turnaround. We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on the wellbeing of the dolphins.”

The groups are currently trying to secure funding to bring the innovative project to fruition.