The plan of the local government of Dumaguete City and a developer to build a 174-hectare “smart city” on reclaimed land has been met by staunch opposition from scientists and environmental groups who fear such a project will bring devastating impacts on the communities and coastal ecosystems in the affected area.
In a statement, national scientist and former environment chief, Angel Alcala, along with present and former presidents of Silliman University, said the planned P23-billion reclamation along the city’s coastline “will directly destroy, literally bury, the few remaining coral reef, seagrass, and soft-sediment ecosystems that support small-scale fisheries and gleaning in Dumaguete”.
A map created by the Students Toward Environmental Welfare and Research for Development and Sustainability (STEWaRDS) from Silliman University showed 62.5 percent of seagrass beds and 60.5 percent of coral reefs in the area will be buried should the reclamation project push through. Both seagrass beds and coral reefs provide important ecosystems for marine life. Seagrass meadows are also highly efficient carbon sinks, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.
The massive reclamation project is also seen to negatively impact four marine protected areas in the city covering 104 hectares.
The project, a joint venture between Dumaguete City and EM Cuerpo Inc., aims to uplift the lives of people, create more jobs, bring more investors in, and hopefully upgrade the status of the city from its current third class category.
Any project with an environmental and economic impact as significant as the 174-hectare reclamation that would change the landscape of a city rightfully deserves to be given as much thought and attention as it can bear. Interests and advocacies from all sectors will inevitably clash and it is only after all the sides have been heard and all the potential costs and benefits weighed should the decision be made.
It is the responsibility of the public officials, who will ultimately make the decision on behalf of their constituents, to do what is best and most sustainable for the city. A city that needs to reclaim land along its iconic boulevard in order to build a “smart city” might gain valuable real estate but its leaders have to ensure that it does not end up losing invaluable and irreplaceable assets in the process.*