Updated: a day ago
BY LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL, THE PHILIPPINE STARPUBLISHED JUL 17, 2021 5:00 AM
At least 13 species of whales and dolphins — or half of its Philippine population — will be doomed by the heartless reclamation of land along the entire length of Dumaguete City’s beachfront.
The extremely rare pygmy blue whale, to cite just one example, which has been spotted along the coast of Dumaguete City and Dauin, will soon be no more.
That will be just one of the tragic consequences of a massive, 174-hectare artificial island, dubbed the “Smart City,” set to rise on reclaimed land just steps away from the picturesque Dumaguete boulevard. Shockingly, the proponent is no less than the city’s very own mayor Felipe Romollo, in partnership with a little-known private construction company called ER Cuerpo.
One wonders how the plan received the nod from the usually eagle-eyed Department of Environment and Natural Resources. After all, these endangered marine mammals are important linchpins in preserving the balance of the country’s marine ecosystem.
Whales are actually indicators of the overall health of the marine ecosystem. An unhealthy or declining cetacean population in one part of the sea indicates problems that will ultimately affect humans as well.
An expert in these lovable creatures, Dr. Jom Acebes, founder of non-profit society Balyena at Lumba ng Pilipinas, explained it as follows: “Whales and dolphins or ‘cetaceans’ play an important role in maintaining a functioning marine ecosystem by keeping the balance of their prey (i.e. fish, krill, etc.) and by circulating nutrients needed by other marine organisms.”
She continued, “Whales serve as “whale pumps,” circulating and recycling nutrients like nitrogen that are important in sustaining life.”
Whales are so important, she emphasized, that “they are actually indicators of the overall health of the marine ecosystem. An unhealthy or declining cetacean population (such as sick/dying, stranded/beached whales and dolphins) in one part of the sea indicates problems such as pollution that will ultimately affect humans as well.”
“If this reclamation project pushes through, destroying the Dumaguete ecosystems will have flow-on effects to the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape and the species that move between Dumaguete and TSPS, such as the cetaceans.
The Dumaguete waters are also inextricably linked to the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape. It is the waterway that carries the majority of the Philippines’ whale and dolphin population as they travel to and from their breeding and feeding grounds across the country. The TSPS is preserved by Philippine law because of this critical role.
Tampering and obstructing Tañon — which is an area three times the size of the legendary Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park — will spell destruction for the Visayan waters from Cebu, Bohol, Negros, Iloilo, and all the way to Northern Mindanao.
Whales such as this pygmy blue whale are linchpins of the marine ecosystem.
“If this reclamation project pushes through, destroying the Dumaguete ecosystems will have flow-on effects to the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape and the species that move between Dumaguete and TSPS, such as the cetaceans. Habitats — everything from the coral reefs, sea-grass beds to mangroves — will be altered and destroyed, affecting nutrient availability and productivity, causing prey distribution to change or worse, food abundance to decline,” she warned.
Furthermore, when dredging begins, the reclamation activity, which needs to go as far down as hundreds of meters, will wipe out the four “marine protected areas” of Banilad, Mangnao, Looc and Bantayan. These sites are actually known throughout the world for its successes in the past 40 years and had its roots in Dumaguete City at Silliman University. It will be a painful irony that the mayor’s reclamation project will blight the birthplace of marine preservation in the country.
Dumaguete is considered the leader of marine protection in the country. Ironically, four marine-protected areas, renowned throughout the world, will be simultaneously wiped out by the reclamation project.
National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala, as well as former Silliman University presidents, Drs. Betty McCann and Ben S. Malayang III, have led the call to oppose the creation of the fake island.
A position paper issued argued that the project “will literally bury the few remaining coral reef, sea grass, soft-sediment ecosystems and the small-scale fisheries and gleaning in Dumaguete.”
The strongly worded statement sounded the alarm that an outrageous 84 percent of more than 200 fish species will be endangered, if not completely killed off. As a result, 95 percent of fishermen in the area will lose their livelihoods.
However, the ultimate price tag will not just be the estimated project cost of P25 billion but the horrendous loss of tourism and business income, the fishing industry, and the environmental damage in the thousands of trillions for generations to come.
These mind-boggling numbers make this not just a Dumaguete City matter, or even an issue limited to the Visayan islands. Indeed, it is one of such national scope and significance that should unite all of us to make common cause to save this part of our country.