WATCH | DENR chief Gina Lopez says Dora can't explore pristine Palawan
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MANILA, Philippines - American children's television network Nickelodeon will not be allowed to build an underwater theme park on one of the Philippines’ most pristine islands, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez said Wednesday.
Nickelodeon's parent firm announced Monday it would build a "themed attraction" inspired by its cartoon characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants as part of a 400-hectare (1,000-acre) development in Coron, Palawan, generating alarm from environmentalists.
DENR Secretary Lopez said Wednesday she would reject the project.
"Lopez says she won't allow the underwater theme park in Palawan. #environment2017," the DENR posted on its Twitter account.
In an interview with media, Lopez said she would not allow any project that would damage the environment and the welfare of local communities.
"That's our wealth. It's not allowed. You can't kill the corals. For a theme park? No. No way, man," said Lopez, who has been a vocal opponent of mining projects in Palawan.
"The commitment of the government is first and foremost and always, always to the benefit of our people."
“If it entails the destruction of corals, right away I’ll say ‘no way!’ I will never allow our biodiversity to be killed for the money some people wanna make. The Filipino people are much more important, and will always be more important than any business interest!” Lopez stressed.
Conservation groups call Palawan the nation's "last ecological frontier" because of its relatively untouched coastlines and forests, which are among the oldest and most diverse in Southeast Asia.
Palawan is home to two UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, a subterranean river and the Tubbataha coral reefs.
Barracuda lake in Coron, Palawan. (Photo: palawan.gov.ph)
Monday's statement by Nickelodeon's parent firm, Viacom International Media Networks, said its resort would open in 2020 and feature restaurants and lounges six meters (20 feet) below sea level.
It also said the Palawan project would "take its place alongside" other Nickelodeon-branded attractions such as Wet'n'Wild in Australia, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Land in Russia and IMG Worlds of Legends theme park in Dubai.
Viacom's Philippine partner, Coral World Park, issued a statement on Wednesday insisting the development was not a "theme park" and emphasized that it would not all be underwater.
The statement also highlighted the project's "ocean conservation focus" and said it would help fund environmental protection in the area.
It referred to plans for a marine sanctuary and said the Coral World Park would "be the largest coral reef conservation program in Asia".
"There has never been any form of communication from our side mentioning a theme park," said Coral World Park marketing and communications director Susan Lee.
But Netizens opposed to the project quickly launched the petition #CoronIsNotBikiniBottom.
“Palawan is among the best islands in the world. Don’t let Nickelodeon destroy it by building a theme park!” said petitioner Jonah Brocka.
An online petition organized by local environmentalists calling for the project to be stopped attracted more than 125,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
The independent movement Save Philippine Seas used Nickelodeon characters to send its message against environmental destruction, garnering more than 117,000 signatures as of 3 p.m. local time.
“No environmental impact assessment. No environmental compliance certificate. None of these have been issued so far. But if they announced it on their website, it means that they’re confident that it’s going to happen,” Anna Oposa, founder of Save Philippine Seas, said.
Oposa added: “If you’re going to build a hotel or whatever restaurant – and I’ve their mockups online – obviously you’re going to clear the area. So it means you’re going to remove corals, seagrass beds and mangroves. It’s the most preserved part of the Philippines so it’s really something we’re not gonna let happen.”
The group plans to talk to the developer, the local government of Coron and even Nickelodeon.
A Department of Tourism (DOT) official said she personally had doubts about the planned underwater theme park, noting that the island was already beautiful as it is.
“Honestly, Coron is already beautiful in its natural state,” DOT Undersecretary for Media Affairs Kat de Castro said in her official Twitter account.
“We will talk to all parties involved in the project as it was brought to our attention just recently,” De Castro said. “As a diver, personally, I have doubts.” With a report from Philippines News Agency
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