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‘Coron is not Bikini Bottom’

I grew up watching the first animated series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and laughed at every funny episode of SpongeBob SquarePants—until today, in fact. But I believe the entertainment I got from those shows would never trump the joy and pride I get from seeing the natural wonders of the Philippines.

On Jan. 9, Nickelodeon announced its plan to build a 100-hectare undersea-themed attraction and resort as part of Coral World Park’s (CWP) 400-hectare master-planned development in Coron, Palawan. 

The global kids brand of Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) said in a statement that it will partner with underwater resort developer Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc. to put up the “first undersea attraction and Nickelodeon’s first resort in Southeast Asia” located amid a cluster of 16 white sand islands of the CWP. 

It was like a slime in our faces, only it didn’t mean honor as in Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, when we found out that the said development would cover 70 hectares for resort’s accommodations and 30 hectares for themed attraction of our country’s last ecological frontier. 

In addition, there’s a plan to build underwater lounges and restaurants, about 20-feet below sea level of the province’s diverse marine ecosystem, as stated in the press release. 

When completed in 2020, Nickelodeon said, CWP “will be the largest coral reef conservation program in Asia.”

But environmentalists are not buying. 

In a statement released following the announcement, Save Philippine Seas (SPS) co-founder and executive director Anna Oposa refuted the firm’s claims of  advocating ocean protection, because the underwater theme park, she said, will do the exact opposite. 

“By building artificial structures, you will undeniably damage and disrupt Palawan’s marine ecosystems,” said Oposa. 

SPS and other environmental activists call on the local government of Palawan, Nickelodeon and CWP to junk their plan which could destroy the area’s world-famous pristine coastlines, rich forests and diverse marine ecosystem. 

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina Lopez has already made it clear that she would not allow the building of an underwater theme park in Palawan.

“I will never allow the corals to be harmed. You can’t kill the corals for a theme park, no way,” stressed Lopez.

WHO LIVES IN PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA? Nickelodeon’s announcement of its plan to build an undersea-themed attraction in Coron, Palawan has alarmed environmentalists, government officials and concerned netizens due to the possibility of destruction and disruption to the marine ecosystem of the Philippines’s last ecological frontier. (Photo of Kayangan Lake by H.abanil)
Concerned netizens were also quick to express their outrage through the hashtag #CoronIsNotBikiniBottom, which quickly reached the top of Twitter Philippines trends by midday on Jan. 11. 

SPS launched an online petition on www.bataris.org.ph, which quickly gained traction in a short period. 

Amid online uproar, local officials of Palawan denied receiving any application from the developer to put up a theme park in the province. CWP, meanwhile, backtracked on its earlier announcement and clarified that it is not building any structure underwater. Developments, they said, would be land-based and the only infrastructure in the water is floating. 

Oposa welcomes the clarifications from CWP and Nickelodeon but questions the plan just the same. “They said it will be land-based, but with floating structures—which will still be anchored somewhere,” Oposa said in an email interview with Manila Standard Young Life

Some of their statements, she added, also contradict the original statement by Viacom. 

Despite the recent developments, Oposa urges the public to remain vigilant. “The public needs to be wary because we haven’t seen the master plan yet.”

She said their group will continue to communicate with the developer and look at their plans, “The general public can help by sharing our petition, signing it, and monitoring the developments on the project.”

The hashtag #CoronIsNotBikiniBottom refers to the possibility of transforming parts of Coron into the fictional town in Nickelodeon’s hit series SpongeBob SquarePants 
For a developing country like ours, this issue is not only a matter of environmental protection and conservation but an economic one as well. Such resort and theme park is expected to create job and business opportunities to locals. 

But Oposa remains on the nature’s side, saying, “There are many developments that provide local jobs but are still destructive to the environment.” 

Even Lopez asserts that Filipinos’ welfare, especially that of farmers and fishermen,  is much more important than the money these businesses would earn from the development.

On the other hand, according to data from Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), only 0.6 percent of Coron’s live coral cover is in excellent condition. While only one percent in very good and 3.2 percent in good condition. 

This is where Oposa’s words ring true. “If you are sincere and serious about marine conservation, the money allocated for the underwater theme park would be invested in marine protected areas, sustainable livelihoods for local communities, and environmental education programs.”

Sure, many people would perhaps pay to interact with SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick Star and Mr. Krabs on an island paradise such as Coron. But if that means destruction and disruption to our rich marine life, we’re better off interacting with the real thing—real sponges, real starfishes and real crabs, among many others. And isn’t a real paradise better than a theme park?

Topics: Secretary Gina Lopez , Nickelodeon , Coral World Park’s (CWP) , Coron , Palawan , Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) , Save Philippine Seas (SPS) , Anna Oposa , Underwater theme park , Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc. , #CoronIsNotBikiniBottom
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