Dumaguete reclamation to devastate nearby protected areas, marine biodiversity— conservation group

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 22 2021 06:09 PM

MANILA— A conservation group has warned of the proposed land reclamation in Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, as the project would devastate the town's marine biodiversity and nearby protected areas.

In a statement, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines pointed out that the planned 174-hectare offshore island construction would negatively impact the city's marine life.

"We at the WWF Philippines urge the government of Dumaguete to rethink their plan to reclaim their coastline for the construction of a smart city, and to open up to public review the real-world cost-benefit study done that led to their decision," the statement read. 

"The waters of Dumaguete are teeming with marine life and engenders a strong sense of place to its people. These natural resources provide services and benefits... including livelihood to fishers and enlivening the surrounding seas as part of a fragile, unique and essential ecosystem."

The proposed 174 hectare land reclamation project fronting the city's shoreline, aims to build a 5G-ready “Smart City” ​​under a private-public partnership. 

It also plans to build a coastal wastewater treatment/wave protection facility, esplanade, marina, modern ferry port and raw reclamation and horizontal development. 

But the WWF emphasized that some 36.15 hectares of seagrasses and 36.20 hectares of coral reef would also be "lost" to the project. 

Seagrasses have an important role in maintaining marine biodiversity, and research showed that aside from keeping sediments intact and reducing surface erosion, it preserves microbial flora, and serves as breeding ground for marine organisms. 

Meanwhile, corals are home to 25 percent of the ocean's marine life. 

A report from Vera Files in 2019 showed that the habitat of marine organisms suffer when corals get destroyed, thus endangering their existence.

The coral reefs also provide an important preventive layer against destructive effects of storms, hurricanes, and typhoons on coastal residential areas, according to Vera Files.

"We hold that the social and environmental costs gravely undercut any perceived gains it may bring to Dumaguete," WWF added. 

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Meanwhile, the conservation group said the project could also affect Tañon Strait indirectly, as the city is located near the largest marine protected areas (MPA) in the Philippines. 

"Many species of whale and dolphin have been sighted in the strait, including the spinner dolphin, the short-finned pilot whale, and the dwarf sperm whale," WWF said.

Ecologist Dr. Rene Abesamis earlier said about 14 species of marine mammals travel through the waters of Dumaguete to reach Tañon Strait. 

“I think we really need to avoid this because there is no doubt in my mind that is going to be a monumental ecological disaster…we have to understand how big this is," Abesamis had said.

LIQUEFACTION, OTHER ISSUES

The Silliman University's board of trustees cited the environmental degradation it could cause to the city's 4 MPAs that are "functional."

The marine protected areas are located in barangays Bantayan, Lo-oc, Mangnao and Banilad. 

"These MPAs are part of a system of protected coral reefs, seagrass beds and soft-sediment ecosystems in Negros Oriental that is meant to boost fisheries productivity, conserve marine biodiversity and support tourism," the statement from the university's board of trustees released on July 20 read. 

"They are thriving with various species of marine life and are now in danger of being destroyed."

Should the project proceed, liquefaction on the reclaimed land is also possible since there are active fault lines nearby. 

Liquefaction is the state of reduced strength, as well as the solidness of the soil due to earthquakes.

"Scientific studies have shown that reclaimed land is prone to the phenomenon of liquefaction in the event of earthquakes... Such a phenomenon endangers the lives of people," according to the statement. 

The university earlier pointed out that over 200 fish species in the area would be directly affected in the land reclamation, more than half of which is important for the residents’ livelihood. 

Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo said the project is still "open, this is not a done deal." 

He said he would "personally hand over to the deciding authorities" the opposition to the project to show his transparency, urging the sectors and environmentalists concerned to come forward with their inputs. 

The local chief executive said the city government and the project's proponent are still in the process of securing the necessary clearances from various government agencies.