Planned P23-B artificial island for 'villas, yacht clubs' to destroy Dumaguete's marine biodiversity, says group

A group of concerned Dumaguete residents are opposing a proposed artifical island-slash-reclamation project off the coast of the city due to the potential irreversible damage it could cause to the local ecology.

(Photo from the NO to 174DGTE Coalition)

The group, which calls themselves the “NO to 174DGTE Coalition", believes that the planned 174-hectare off-shore island would compromise 84 percent of local fish species as a result of the reclamation process.

"The artificial island, touted as a 'smart city' hosting a clubhouse, heliport, yacht club, retirement villas, high-rise commercial and residential buildings, malls, etc., has an estimated cost of P23 billion. We object to this massive reclamation project," the group said in a position paper sent to environment beat reporters.

It said the project came to light after the city government of Dumaguete "negotiated an agreement with Quezon City-based construction company E.M. Cuerpo with ties to a Chinese company to create a 174-hectare off-shore island." It said that the island is "more than twice the size of Apo Island."

"We object because we want to be true to our commitment to future generations. More than 20 years ago, Dumaguete legally established four marine protected areas (MPAs) off the coasts of Bantayan, Lo-oc, Mangnao, and Banilad. MPAs ensure a sustainable supply of fish while conserving marine biodiversity and boosting tourism. The reclamation project threatens these MPAs so much so that some may end up ceasing to exist," the coalition claimed.

It said that the construction of the artificial island poses a threat to the province's biodiversity.

"To build this island on our coral reefs and seagrass, millions of tons of sand and gravel will have to come from somewhere. Whether hauled down from our mountains and hills, taken from an existing quarry, extracted from our rivers, or dredged from the adjacent seafloor, the reclamation will ruin or worsen the damage to yet another habitat or ecosystem."

"The construction of an island, including any dredging of the seafloor, destroys deeper ecosystems that sustain up to 84 percent of fish species caught by local fishers and will release sediment plumes, construction debris, and waste to areas well beyond the reclaimed area," the group said.

"We object to the multiple destruction of our environment to make the lives of the rich and privileged more comfortable," it further said.

The group is also up in arms over the alleged lack on public consultation on the large-scale project. "No information was given to the public and no community consultations were ever held before the draft agreement with E.M. Cuerpo was submitted to the City Council for approval."

"The public was informed of the unsolicited proposal by E.M. Cuerpo, nor of E.M. Cuerpo’s prior arrangements with the Chinese company Poly Changda Overseas Engineering Co.10, nor of the negotiations between Dumaguete City and E.M. Cuerpo in February 2020 that led to a draft joint venture agreement 11," the coalition said.

It also noted that the announcement inviting other companies to submit a comparative proposal was published last April 2021 in Manila and not in Dumaguete.

"We are for shoreline protection but not the types of structures that further damage our environment and worsen flooding risks," it added.

With this, the coalition says it calls "for respectful dialogue and meaningful public consultations that explore the social, cultural, ecological, and economic implications of this massive reclamation project."

"We call for the release and full public disclosure of plans, project description, cost estimates, and transactions involving the public interest for the sake of an informed electorate—a key part of a functioning democracy.

"We appeal to the Mayor and City Council to refrain from entering into agreements or to rescind agreements that preempt a full and vigorous discussion of the merits of a project whose consequences extend beyond our city and indeed, beyond our generation," it said.