Environmental groups are urging the City government and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) to withdraw its endorsement previously issued to a company which planned to develop an “ocean park” attraction in Turtle Bay, Barangay Mangingisda.
A company identified only as “Seven Seas Properties Inc.” was granted a Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance by the PCSD in October 2014, which enabled them to secure an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The project’s ECC, however, has expired in 2016.
Diana Limjoco, a lead campaigner against the project, said they are continuing their opposition to the project, through an online petition which they launched as early as 2015.
“So far it looks like nothing is going on. It looks like they might have dropped it. But we must stay vigilant,” said Diana Limjoco, who noted that the company has long taken down its website which carried details about the project.
The City government earlier gave the green light to the project despite opposition from environmental groups which claimed that area had been previously classified as “core zone” or a protected area under the zoning system of the SEP law.
The company had announced its plans in July 2015, describing an “ocean park” with facilities that will include an oceanarium, a hotel, a commercial center and a docking area, among other features.
Limjoco said a tourism development of this “magnitude will be severely detrimental to the natural environment” of the bay.
“Turtle Bay is a beautiful small shallow bay surrounded by mangroves which act as sea life nurseries, and form a habitat for various assorted native and unique species, including a population of already vulnerable Asian small clawed otters, which occur only in Palawan,” she said.
Turtle Bay and Binunsalian Bay, with a total area of 16,185 hectares of mangrove forest, had been declared a marine sanctuary through Puerto Princesa City Ordinance 13-1992.
This ordinance stated that it should be “protected from any maritime activity, including, but not limited to exploitation and/or utilization, except by sustenance/marginal fishermen.”
However, through City Ordinance No. 619-2014, the earlier ordinance was amended to reclassify the once no-go marine sanctuary into three: core zone, buffer zone and “special zone for tourism.”
This paved way for the barangay and city councils to grant respective endorsements, necessary for the proponent to secure the SEP clearance ECC.
Limjoco earlier claimed it was rezoned to accommodate the planned attraction.
But the ordinance says the reclassification, backed up by an extensive assessment done by a group marine experts, still supports the protection and conservation of the marine sanctuary, while maximizing or utilizing its other parts for the benefits of residents living near the area.
Limjoco, however, believes restoring these “natural gem” into their original zone is the only means they would be kept away from such kind of “unsustainable development.”
“Why put in a fake ocean park when the one there is fine the way it is?” she said.
Before the Seven Seas’ website was put under maintenance, it said the project with an eco-tourism concept will be built on land and not underwater to avoid disturbing seabed and other marine animals.
Based on reports earlier in 2017, Seven Seas has been applying for the renewal of its ECC which expired last year. The proponent plans to develop in an allowable zone and thus was able to acquire a SEP clearance in October 2014, a requisite before an ECC can be granted.
The SEP clearance was issued on the condition that Seven Seas will not introduce exotic species to the area, and guarantee that the project will not cause adverse environmental impact and pose a nuisance to public health and safety, PCSD Staff Jovic Fabello previously told Palawan News.
Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda, executive director of Environmental Legal Assistance Center, called for the cancellation of the local government endorsements.
“We have to stand by our own natural uniqueness,” Anda said.