On January 12, Viacom International Media Networks announced that it would create the first Southeast Asian Nickelodeon resort in the Philippines.

The attraction will be an undersea resort that will feature characters from the children’s TV network including Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With over 70 hectares of accommodations and 30 hectares of attractions, the resort will offer immersive dining and lounging experiences 20 feet below sea level. “

This is yet 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,” said Gerald Raines, Senior VP of Global Recreation for Viacom International Media Networks.

The resort will be part of Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc., a large 400-hectare development spread across white sand islands in the province of Coron, Palawan. The attraction will be completed in phases, with construction starting in 2018. It’s advertised to include island hopping, hot springs, lagoons, an animal reserve and shipwreck diving. Nickelodeon’s portion is projected for completion in 2020.

To some, this may sound like a utopian dream destination for families and friends that could grow to rival Disney World. But just a week after this project was announced, more than 200 thousand people signed a petition denouncing the resort.

The petition was attached to a letter sent to Nickelodeon by Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines and Save the Philippine Seas amidst outrage from environmentalists. The backlash is primarily based on the fact that Coron is one of the last ecological frontiers relatively untouched by development.

However, much of the debate was also centered on the fact that the resort was to be built underwater. The initial press release from Viacom on January 9 stated that the resort was to be equipped with “underwater restaurants and lounges, which will be located about 20 feet below sea level with vivid views of the world beneath the ocean.” The Secretary of the Philippines’ Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Gina Lopez, joined the outrage in saying she will not allow the underwater theme park in Palawan.

In response to the adverse reactions, Marketing & Communications Director of Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc., Susan Lee, modified the statement to say that the “only infrastructure in the water is floating and all developments are on land.”

The above statement completely downplays the fact that this resort will still have an irreversible effect on the pristine ecosystem that it occupies. Even more troubling, the company lies and backtracks their statements to make it seem as though the undersea concept was a misconception.

To confuse matters further, Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc., has said that their project “will help create jobs for locals,” and “will help provide the necessary funding to ensure on-going protection of the area.”

It’s true that in some cases, ecotourism can provide much needed revenue for the protection of natural reserves and can spur economic development that is based in sustainable principles. Yet, just as the Nature Conservancy organization points out, there is an added risk that “increasing tourism to sensitive natural areas without appropriate planning and management can threaten the integrity of ecosystems and local authorities.”

Even if Coral World Park promises to meet vague environmental standards and protections, a high-traffic development spread over multiple islands in a previously isolated region is a setback for world-wide conservation efforts.

 

Image curtesy of Tess King.