American children’s television network Nickelodeon has announced it will build an underwater resort and theme park in Palawan province, the Philippines’ last ecological frontier, alarming environmentalists.
The firm behind SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer said the park on Palawan island would be part of a 400-hectare (1,000-acre) undersea development showcasing the area’s marine life that would give fans a chance to “interact with the brand and the iconic characters they love”.
Palawan was chosen for the development because it “is known to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world today,” Ron Johnson, an executive vice president with Viacom International Media Networks, which owns Nickelodeon, said in a statement emailed to AFP on Tuesday.
Viacom’s initial statement announcing the project on Monday said the resort would open in 2020 and feature restaurants and lounges six metes (20 feet) below sea level.
The development would “advocate ocean protection,” the statement said.
But environmental group Greenpeace said it would destroy the area’s world-famous marine ecosystem.
“It’s sad and alarming because a theme park that big will not promote environmental protection by building those structures,” Vince Cinches of Greenpeace Southeast Asia told AFP.
“Why build a viewing deck when you have the whole paradise to enjoy?”
Conservation groups call Palawan “the last frontier” because of its pristine 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.
Palawan-based environmental activist Grizelda Mayo-Anda also expressed concern.
“I am wary because we have had problems already with resorts built in mangrove areas,” Mayo-Anda, executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, told AFP.
“I’m really concerned because sometimes, with all due respect to the local government unit, we get captivated by new projects and we do not judiciously study the impact.”
Viacom’s Philippine partner, Coral World Park, insisted the resort would not hurt the environment.
“We are taking very, very careful measures to ensure that the biodiversity is kept intact,” Coral World Park chairman Paul Monozca told AFP.
The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, a government body, said the project had yet to be approved.
VIMN said the project will also 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.
VIMN is a unit of Nasdaq-listed media company Viacom Inc. which is behind multimedia entertainment brands such as MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Paramount Channel.
The company said Nickelodeon’s first resort in Southeast Asia would cover 70 hectares for the resort’s accommodation and 30 hectares for the themed attraction and would open by 2020.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Coral World Park to open the world’s first undersea attraction and Nickelodeon’s first resort in Southeast Asia as we continue to expand on our theme-based attractions in Asia and across the world,” said Gerald Raines, senior vice president for global recreation at VIMN.
Mark Whitehead, president and managing director of VIMN Asia Pacific said the investment would be another important step in boosting the Nickelodeon entertainment experience “as we continue to give our fans, kids and their families, new ways to interact with the brand and the iconic characters they love.”
“Creating immersive on-the-ground consumer experiences are increasingly important. Hence, growing the recreational and consumer products footprint of the Nickelodeon brand in Asia Pacific is a priority for us. I am delighted this collaboration will add another Nickelodeon themed attraction in Asia, which will in turn give a significant business opportunity for our partners across multiple platforms,” Whitehead said.
The Nickelodeon undersea attraction and resort will be located amid a cluster of 16 white-sand islands of the CWP. The company said with a distance of 5 to 20 minutes apart by speedboat, visitors could expect a multi-island experience within CWP that would include island hopping, hidden lagoons, hot springs, an animal reserve and world-class diving amidst shipwrecks.
It said when completed, CWP would be the largest coral reef conservation program in Asia, with Asia’s largest marine sanctuary for five key species – dolphins, sea cows, sea horses, turtles and whale sharks.
The Ocean Protection program is jointly funded by Monaco-based Dr. AB Moñozca Foundation and its CWP Trust, and supported by global personalities advocating awareness on climate change.
CWP will open in phases starting 2018 and is within a three to six hour radius to major cities within Asia.
Paul Moñozca, chairman of Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc., said “the Nickelodeon undersea attraction and resort will be exciting additions to Coral World Park and I am delighted we are collaborating with Viacom international Media Networks to create this unique undersea themed family experience.”