Proposed resort in Palawan marine sanctuary gets flak, but developer vows to obey govt rules

interphoto_1433460056MANILA, Philippines — A Puerto Princesa City native is protesting the construction of a resort at Turtle Bay, Palawan, saying the development would put wildlife at the marine sanctuary at risk.

Diana Limjoco, on her blog (www.save-turtlebay-palawan.blogspot.com), wrote Thursday last week that Seven Seas Properties Inc.’s proposed development would “totally mar and even destroy the ecosystem in the bay.”

She described Turtle Bay as “a beautiful natural ocean park” with a mangrove nursery where fish and other sea creatures thrived, including “the already vulnerable” Asian small-clawed otter.

A rescued newborn Asian small-clawed otter (photo from Diana Limjoco’s blog)

Meanwhile, Seven Seas, on its website (www.sevenseasproperties.com/properties/puerto-princesa/), enumerated the facilities it plans to construct for the resort. Among these are “shark villas” where guests can stay in rooms with lagoon views above and underwater views below; a marina, with a dock for yachts and leisure boats; a commercial center with souvenir shops and restaurants; a crocodile cage where divers, in a cage, can approach the reptiles; and an oceanarium with manta rays, whale sharks, dugong, and sun fish.

Limjoco objected to some of the offerings, saying the brackish and shallow water would kill the sun fish and provides no naturally occurring food for them. Dugong, which used to feed on the sea grass near a cove, are no longer found in the area.

As for whale sharks, she said: “Now they are dreaming and living in a fairy tale. Talk about hell on earth for any of the aforementioned sea creatures forced to live in that bay.”

The corals in Turtle Bay are also recovering from previous cyanide fishing activities, Limjoco said.

One of the suites planned for Seven Seas’ Turtle Bay resort (image from Seven Seas website)

She added that because Turtle Bay is a small peninsula, “they will have to totally remove any natural vegetation to put in all those buildings.”

“Otters live along its mangrove habitat and frolic in the moonlight, chattering away. This bay is a natural gem, why put in a fake ocean park when the one there is fine the way it is?” she asked. “It will totally mar and even destroy the ecosystem in the bay.”

On her Facebook page, Limjoco cited a 1992 Sangguniang Panglungsod ordinance declaring Turtle Bay and Binunsalian Bay a marine sanctuary.

The ordinance defines “marine sanctuary” as “that portion of the municipal waters and its immediate marine environs where fish and other marine inhabitants are protected from any maritime activity, including, but not limited to exploitation and/or utilization, except by sustenance/marginal fishermen.”

You can view it here (http://lts.puertoprincesa.ph/SearchDetail.aspx?ID=1490).

In a phone interview with InterAksyon.com, Seven Seas vice president for sales and marketing Armi Cortes told InterAksyon.com that the property will be built in an isolated location of Kamia Bay, which is part of the larger Turtle Bay.

Commenting on reservations about the development, she said: “I think a lot of people think we are building on the seabed. We are not disturbing the seabed. We are building on land.”

As in Manila Ocean Park’s adjacent Hotel H2O, both of which are Seven Seas affiliates, the proposed Kamia Bay property would not be underwater. Rather, aquariums would be built, and rooms constructed around them.

Cortes added that the offerings on their website are just “general concepts.”

“Of course, the general concepts can still change depending on government approval. If some of the plans are, for instance, not amenable to government, then we will have to change it so that we are compliant,” she said.

She added Manila Ocean Park actually uses water from the Manila Bay and filters it so that it returns to its natural, pure state.

“We actually never pollute waters. We clean the waters that we manage around that.”

She also touted its breeding programs, which allowed Manila Ocean Park to hatch two penguins.

“This is only possible if your animal safety standards are international. If in the first place we do not take good care of them (the animals), they will not breed. The breeding is only possible when the conditions are almost similar to what it is in nature,” Cortes said.

The multi-sectoral and inter-disciplinary body Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, which is under the administration of the  Department of Environment and Natural Resources, already issued Seven Seas a SEP clearance in October last year.

This clearance is a requirement before the DENR can grant an Environmental Clearance Certificate so construction can begin.

A copy furnished by PCSD to InterAksyon.com showed that the SEP clearance was issued based on terms and conditions such as: “No introduction of exotic species,” and “Should the implementation of the project cause adverse environmental impact and pose nuisance to public health and safety determined by the PCSDS (Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff), these factors shall be sufficient ground for cancellation or suspension of the clearance.”

The SEP clearance was approved by Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, who chairs the PCSD.

View the clearance granted by the PCSD to Seven Seas:

PCSD executive director Nelson Devanadera, in a phone interview with InterAksyon.com, said the terms and conditions of the clearance are “consistent with the national policy of government and the Biodiversity Management Bureau” regarding the introduction of exotic species, as well as the “promotion of nature and wilderness pertaining to tourism industry” and the “promotion of indigenous species of Palawan.”

Devanadera said that Seven Seas could opt to showcase the indigenous species of Palawan, instead. If it would introduce foreign species, he said, “It could be under scrutiny by the Biodiversity Bureau, under scrutiny by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.”

The project should also have an education component, and Devanadera said that he was going to write a letter to Seven Seas management saying PCSD could be a partner in this regard.

Asked if the project was a legal one given that Turtle Bay was a marine sanctuary, Devanadera said that it is the Sangguniang Panglungsod that has jurisdiction over the matter.

To allay apprehensions and possible rejections from the community, Devanadera said, “What I can tell them is that consistent also with the national policies of government are the policies of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.”

Should Seven Seas violate the terms and conditions of its SEP clearance, Devanadera said that they would have to face financial and/or other forms of penalties. It could also be a reason for their suspension.

The community could benefit from the project in terms of jobs and revenues for the local government. With tourists, they would also be educated about nature, he said.

“Our concept really is eco-tourism, so we plan to respect the environment and rules and regulations of the Palawan Council,” Cortes said. “And of course by helping Palawan in eco-tourism we also create jobs and promote the area as well. We do understand that in doing eco-tourism we also have to respect of course, the need for environmental preservation. We’ve always done that. We’ve shown over the last few years what we have done in Manila Ocean Park.”

Google map showing the location of the planned resort (from Diana Limjoco’s blog)

But Palawan-based environmental lawyer Gerthie Mayo Anda has another take on the issue.

“(I)t’s not just simply tourism. There are always consequences for any type of developmental activity. Eco-tourism theoretically is good, but then, how you implement it is another challenge,” she told InterAksyon.com in a phone interview.

It is vital for locals to be consulted and informed about the project’s impacts, both positive and negative.

“The law talks about informed participation,” she said, citing Presidential Decree 1586 on the Philippine Environmental Statement System. “For development plans, it’s important that the people in Puerto Princesa and Palawan should already start identifying the appropriate development projects in their area. Because what happens is that we are reactive, rather than being proactive and saying, ‘I think in this area this will be more ecologically suitable.’”

This is lacking in the Philippines as a whole, she noted.

For example, Filipinos are now preparing for a big earthquake. In the same way, they should be proactive in deciding the various uses of land.

“I hope people will understand what the use of a particular area is, and what its value to them is. I think the scientific data in the researches there need to be disseminated. Otherwise the people will not find value on what they’re losing,” Anda added.

Biodiversity and the wildlife specialists should also be consulted so that the community will be even more enlightened about the project’s consequences.

Ganyan lagi ang problema natin sa Pilipinas eh. Dahil pagkakaperahan, okay na tayo (That is always our problem here in the Philippines. Just because we will earn from it, we’re okay with it),” she said.

She also noted that the ordinance which supposedly created the marine sanctuary should be examined. If Turtle Bay was indeed a marine sanctuary, it should be a “no-go zone.” The wildlife should be left alone.

Should activity be allowed there, the law needs to be amended, Anda said.

Meanwhile, Cortes could not yet say when construction could begin as they were still processing their permits.

Read More: http://www.interaksyon.com/article/111802/proposed-resort-in-palawan-marine-sanctuary-gets-flak-but-developer-vows-to-obey-govt-rules

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