Environmental groups raise alarm on Nickelodeon threat to sustainability of Palawan

Press release - June 7, 2017
Manila – Environmental groups, together with members of the academe and representatives from Palawan, called for intensified efforts to safeguard the sustainability and environmental viability of Palawan in light of apparent lobby efforts to push through with plans for a Nickelodeon theme park in Coron. The groups blasted corporate collusion with some government agencies that threatens the the environment.

This came a few days after Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo said in an interview on CNN Philippines that the controversial project would “push through.”

The 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[1]. The letter reminded the agency of the Tourism Act of 2009, which states that the agency should ‘promote a tourism industry that is ecologically sustainable, responsible, participative, culturally sensitive, economically viable and ethically and socially equitable for local communities,’ and how the proposed project and “the excitement of DOT Secretary Teo clearly goes against this mandate.”

“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,” the group said in the letter.

While Teo said Coral World Philippines (CWP) personally assured her that the project will not cause irreparable damage to Coron’s marine ecosystem, particularly its coral reefs, the group told Teo that “we cannot risk any of the potential damage that the Attraction would cause on what we consider as the last ecological frontier of the Philippines.”  The groups find it distressing that Teo made a public endorsement without undertaking environmental impact studies or any scientific basis to rule out the damage that the proposed attraction would wreak. 

Signatories of the letter include Greenpeace Philippines, Save Philippine Seas, Conservation International Philippines, Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), among others.

“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 Anna Oposa, co-founder of Save Philippine Seas.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace Philippines said the situation is another example of corporate interest and profiteers seeking to trash and destroy the environment for money that will only benefit the few. 

“Even if the developer says the structures will be floating, these will still be anchored somewhere and potentially destroy. Again, we are faced with the dilemma of putting profit over our environment and the rights of our people. When will we ever learn?” said Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace. 

On January 9, 2017, Viacom International Media Networks, the global media company that owns Nickelodeon, announced its plan to build a tourist attraction in Coron, Palawan, with CWP as the project’s developer. According to the original press release, the structure would “feature one-of-its-kind resort dining experience with CWP’s trademark underwater restaurants and lounges, which will be located about 20 feet below sea level with vivid views of the world beneath the ocean.”[2]

The proposal immediately met strong opposition from individuals and environmental NGOs. The Bataris petition gathered over 200,000 online signatures within a few days, with the #CoronisnotBikiniBottom trending on various social media channels for several days.

Despite this, CWP submitted a letter of intent to invest in Coron to its Mayor, Jerry Barracoso, on January 25.[3] On January 27, CWP’s Marketing Director, Susan Lee, told the environmental news portal Mongabay that the master plan would be published “in another two months.”[4]

More than four months later, the master plan has not been made available to the public, nor to the local government.

“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 Department of Environment and Natural Resources; 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,” emphasized Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda, Executive Director of ELAC Palawan.

The proposed structure could also have negative environmental impacts. “There are at least two coral species in Coron and Busuanga that are globally endangered,” said Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan, coral reef scientist. “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.”

Notes to the editor:

[1] No to Nickelodeon’s Underwater Theme Park in Palawan

https://www.bataris.org.ph/petitions/no-to-nickelodeon-s-underwater-theme-park-in-palawan

[2] Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc. and Viacom International Media Networks Collaborate to develop a new Nickelodeon resort and attraction. 9 January 2017. http://vimnasiapress.pr.co/141341-coral-world-park-undersea-resorts-inc-and-viacom-international-media-networks-collaborate-to-develop-a-new-nickelodeon-resort-and-attr

[3] Nickelodeon resort developers submit letter of intent to Coron gov’t. 25 January 2017. http://cnnphilippines.com/incoming/2017/01/25/Nickelodeon-resort-letter-of-intent.html

[4] “SpongeBob SquarePants and the “last frontier of the Philippines” 23 February 2017. https://news.mongabay.com/2017/02/spongebob-squarepants-and-the-last-frontier-of-the-philippines/

For more information:

Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines
| +63 949 889 1336

Angelica Carballo Pago, Media Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines
| +63 949 889 1332

Anna Oposa, Executive Director, Save Philippine Seas
 | 0917 851 0209

Atty. Gerthie Anda-Mayo, Executive Director, Environmental Legal Assistance Center – Palawan
 | 0918 936 7764

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