Environmental groups have reiterated their opposition to the proposed Nickelodeon theme park in Coron, Palawan, stressing that the attraction may destroy the health and beauty of the marine ecosystem, even as Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo revealed that the TV network planned to build condominiums as well.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Greenpeace Philippines, Save Philippine Seas, Conservation International Philippines, and the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) said they had sent a letter to the Department of Tourism in behalf of over 250,000 signatories of an online petition against the theme park (click here to read the petition), reminding the DOT of its duty to “promote a tourism industry that is ecologically sustainable, responsible, participative, culturally sensitive, economically viable, and ethically and socially equitable for local communities,” under the Tourism Act of 2009.
The groups said Teo’s “excitement (about the project) clearly goes against this mandate”.
“The people in the Philippines and all over the world do not want an artificial structure built in Palawan, the country’s last ecological frontier. For us, Palawan is beautiful as it is,” said Save Philippine Seas co-founder Anna Oposa.
For her part, Teo said that the DOT was not authorized to approve the project; rather, it was the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ task to issue permits for the theme park.
In a report on philstar.com on the same day, Teo was quoted as saying the local government of Palawan would also be doing a review should the DENR give its approval.
Nevertheless, she said the theme park was a good initiative, and that she had been assured by Nickelodeon management that the company would protect the environment and take care of waste management.
“I saw it (the concept). The corals won’t be hit because it will be… like a floating restaurant. The corals are below, and the structure will be above it, just floating,” Teo said.
But Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Vince Cinches was not convinced.
“Even if the developer says the structures will be floating, these will still be anchored somewhere and potentially destroy. (W)e are faced with the dilemma of putting profit over our environment and the rights of our people. When will we ever learn?” he asked.
Coral reef scientist Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan also warned that there were at least two coral species in Coron and Busuanga that were globally endangered.
“The proposed structure could restrict access of local people to marine resources, affect other marine habitats such as seagrass meadows and mangrove forests, and affect ecosystem services that they provide,” he said.
The environmental groups were “distressed” that the Tourism Secretary endorsed the project publicly without first “undertaking environmental impact studies or any scientific basis to rule out the damage that the proposed attraction would wreak.”
“Building a structure in Palawan needs to go through due process. In addition to securing permits from the local government, the developers also need to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment; secure an Environmental Compliance Certificate from the (DENR), clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development – a multi-sectoral and intergovernmental body mandated to enforce Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Palawan (SEP) Act—and clearance from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, because Coron and Calamianes Islands are ancestral domain,” explained ELAC Palawan Executive Director Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda.
But Teo said the DOT would only promote the theme park as a tourist destination once it had complied with legal and environmental requirements.
She added that the theme park would boost tourist arrivals and create job opportunities.
But, the environmental groups stressed, “The DOT cannot promote a project that destroys the very attraction you are promoting, which is the beauty of the healthy marine ecosystem of Coron, among others.”