A call to preserve all life for future generations

August 5, 2021

Haribon Foundation stands with the leading scientists from Silliman University to urge local and national government authorities to oppose and abandon the proposed 174-hectare “Smart” city reclamation project along the shores of the renowned university town in Negros Oriental.

The move to authorize the 174-hectare “Smart” city reclamation project without public consultation ignited an uproar among Dumaguete’s constituents most specially, its scientists. In a press release dated 11 July 2021 and signed by its current president, Dr. Betty McCann, two former presidents Dr. Angel Alcala and Dr. Ben Malayang III, its marine scientists Dr. Hilconida Calumpong, Dr. Rene Abesamis, Dr. Enrique Oracion, Dr. Janet Estacion, and Dr. Robert Guinoo, the group indicated that the proposed reclamation project will bury the biodiversity-rich coastal habitats of Dumaguete, impacting 63% of the 58ha of seagrass beds and 61% of the 60ha of coral reefs. These are equivalent to 1,047 and 1540 basketball courts respectively.

Dr. Angel Alcala, national scientist and former Haribon Board of Trustee and scientific advisor, led the marine protected areas (MPAs) movement in the Philippines. This movement started in Dumaguete City during his stint as the lead marine scientist in the Silliman University Marine Laboratory. Dr. Alcala and his team established the first community-based MPA, known today as Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape, and became one of the most successful MPAs in terms of tourism and fisheries management. It continues to be a beacon of hope as one of the 228 Key Biodiversity Areas in the country (PH0164).

The ecological and socio-economic damage

Recent information suggests deeper areas off the coast of Dumaguete City between 30 to 90 meters deep also harbor a high diversity of fish. While these areas offer less hiding places and less shelter than shallow reefs, 60% to 80% of the fishes found here are important to fisheries.

Our waters are interconnected. Fish stocks are shared and know no political boundaries, known as ecological connectivity. This irreversible ecological damage will have a ripple effect on dozens of other MPAs along the Negros Oriental coast, Siquijor, and Bohol, as well as DENR-managed MPAs such as the Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape and Tañon Strait Protected Seascape.

The city’s four MPAs will also cease to exist once the proposed “Smart” city reclamation project is approved. MPAs provide refuge for biodiversity including fishes to thrive, reproduce and be protected from human activities within its boundaries but will still allow them to move in and out and while providing eggs and fishes to other areas. These MPAs are legally protected through a city ordinance enacted by the Sangguniang Bayan of Dumaguete that localizes the implementation of Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and its internal rules and regulations, Republic Act 10654. Prior to their approval, these MPAs went through a lengthy process that involved consultations with several stakeholders of the city.

Beyond marine resources

Reclamation projects alter coastal topography and will change local water movement, adding to the imminent problem of sea-level rise in low-lying areas. Further, the development of artificial islands requires tens of millions of filling materials, which will be sourced through quarrying on land and/or dredging the seafloor. These are seen to result in permanent environmental damage to the source areas. While the effects may not be seen in the immediate area, their repercussions will be felt elsewhere through coastal erosion given the interconnectedness of ecosystems.

We support the call to junk the Smart City reclamation project and for the local government to reassess the impacts of reclamation on biodiversity and its ecosystem services. We are concerned that a reclamation project that promises to build infrastructures, such as high-rise hotels and even a yacht club, will further marginalize fishers and their communities that are dependent on the resources provided by the MPAs and the coastal habitats of Dumaguete. We believe that decisions over the establishment of large infrastructure projects that creates long term impacts on the lives of those dependent on these resources should be inclusive and transparent.