“Back off and leave Palawan alone.” This was the call of environmental groups to the Department of Tourism (DOT), and to Coral World Park Undersea Resorts and the Viacom International Media Networks, the proponents of the underwater-themed park to be constructed in Coron, Palawan, as they vowed to oppose the project at a recent news conference.
“The logic of building intrusive structures in critical biodiversity regions, like Palawan, upsets the ecosystem and continues the misguided logic of paving paradise to put up facilities that fall short of the already perfect work of nature. It is best for Nickelodeon and the proponent of the tourist attraction in Coron to leave Palawan alone as Mother Nature knows best,” Chuck Baclagon of 350.org Asia said.
The call was made a few days after Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo said in an interview on CNN Philippines that the controversial project would “push through”.
In a news release, the environment groups sent a letter to the DOT reiterating their opposition to the project, on behalf of the more than a quarter million signatories in the online petition site Bataris.org.ph
Dr. AA Yaptinchay of the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, a non-governmental organization on the conservation and protection of marine wildlife and their habitats, said proponents of the project need to assess the impact of their proposed project.
“It is my opinion that their presence has no added value to Coron as a tourist destination. Their facility will be an eyesore among the extreme natural beauty of these islands,” he said.
Yaptinchay chided the proponents of the project for its lack of transparency about their plan in Coron, Palawan.
“Their approach now is simplistic, ignorant of ecosystems and is too business-focused. They need to be transparent. They need to consult with scientists, communities, government and other stakeholders with the goal to incorporate their findings and concerns in their master plan,” Yaptinchay said. Coron, Palawan, is a small town surrounded with pristine clear waters, lagoons and relatively intact coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.
Instead of potentially causing Coron harm, Yaptinchay said proponents of the project “[should] prioritize the protection of the environment and the corals if they really want sustainability. They cannot jeopardize the main attraction that their business would be reliant on”, he said.
For its part, Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) said the proponents of the project should strictly comply with the various environmental laws before it should be allowed to start construction in Coron.
“In Nickelodeon’s pitch to build a 400-hectare undersea resort and theme park, it said it would ‘advocate ocean protection’ and take steps to conserve coral reefs. The media giant should understand that such a promise requires the strictest scientific rigor and socio-economic and cultural sensitivity,” said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of the group.
According to Dulce, Nickelodeon has to ensure that its proposed development does not displace the homes and livelihood of the fisherfolk and other communities reliant on the bountiful coasts and seas.
“In fact, its ecotourism should respect and enhance the local practices of community fisheries. Fisherfolk communities should be the primary frontline partners in managing and protecting our oceans,” he said.
Proponents of the project have to be prepared to address the pollution and ecological disruption that a development project of such scale will bring, he said.
“They must demonstrate that they should have at least studied the disappointingly degraded state of Boracay, for instance, to avoid transforming Coron, Palawan, into another casualty of profit-oriented, haphazard coastal privatization,” he said.
According to Dulce, Nickelodeon and their partners in the Philippines have to listen to the host communities, people’s organizations and civil society in order to come up with a sustainable and genuinely community-based ecotourism development model.
“Perhaps, beyond transforming Coron into just a vast replica of Spongebob Squarepants’s Bikini Bottom, they should look into how their program will help raise scientific understanding, pro-environment consciousness, and positive action among its target audience,” he said.
“If they can’t address these core concerns, they should just leave Coron, Palawan, alone,” he stressed.