WARNING Cebuanos against the negative implications of reclamations, a national scientist advised mayors of Toledo City and Cordova to consult oceanographers and marine biologists before pursuing their projects.

Dr. Angel Alcala, a marine biologist, said reclamation projects, no matter how small, will have a negative impact on marine resources, the coastal communities and their livelihood.

Alcala joined foreign and local environment conservation groups opposing the reclamation project within the Tañon Strait, which was declared a protected area because of its rich marine resources, including whales, dolphins and sea turtles.

He explained that filling up coastal waters change the direction of the water current, and drive away marine species needed for a balanced ecosystem.

As a result, there will be fewer fish and other marine species in the area for fishermen to catch, either for their own consumption or for their livelihood.

The proposed reclamation project covering 11 hectares of a coastal area in Barangay Poblacion, Toledo City should be stopped since it is within the Tanon Strait, Alcala said.

“They should not do anything there. Does Sonny (Osmeña) know anything about it? Does he know the implications of a reclamation project? He should be asked if he knows because the implications are negative. They change the oceanographic regime altogether and affect fisheries. Everything will be changed,” he told news reporters from Cebu.

Alcala, 87, was named by Malacañang as a National Scientist of the Philippines last year in recognition of his extensive research on ecology, marine biodiversity and marine-protected areas in the last 50 years.

His comments on the proposed reclamation projects in Cebu were sought at the sidelights of the US Embassy’s seminar on marine conservation in Coron, Palawan last Thursday, where he was a speaker.

Alcala recalled that when a 1.3-hectare reclamation project was proposed near the Dumaguete pier a few years ago, he and the people of Dumaguete City strongly opposed the project, “and we prevailed. It did not push through.”

“These guys should study it well. Reclamation projects are disadvantageous to fishermen so if they (local officials) don’t know the implications of reclamation, they should check with oceanographers and marine biologists, and they will tell you it’s wrong. They should consult, dili lang magpasagad. Dili kay pataka lang ug reclaim,” said Alcala, also a former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

During a marine survey at the proposed site of Toledo’s reclamation last month, divers from the Knight-Stewards of the Sea, Inc. (Seaknights) and Oceana Philippines said the area has area has juvenile fish, seagrass, a few corals and other marine life that need to be protected.

As for the proposed reclamation of a 1,500-hectare area off Cordova, Alcala said it would not only damage the sea grass beds in the coastal town, it would also reduce fish production there.

Sea grass beds, he said, are nursery areas for fish larvae.

“So if you reclaim sea grass beds, you will reduce the areas where fishes are nursed, and it will have an effect in the production of that particular area because you exclude the young ones from being nursed,” he said.

Alcala further explained that reclamation projects change the natural course of the currents, which results in erosion in some coastal areas.

In some reclaimed areas like the Manila Bay, he said that the reclamation caused the prevalence of harmful algal bloom, which in turn resulted in economic losses among fishermen since they could no longer sell their catch due to red tide organisms.

Interviewed separately, Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy said that SM Prime Holdings Inc. has been coordinating with an agency abroad and University of San Carlos to have a marine biologist or scientist who can look into how the reclamation project might affect the town.

Kinahanglan i-balance unsa’y madaot ug unsay makaayo (We have to balance what is good and bad for the environment),” Sitoy said.

The Cebu Provincial Board (PB) approved yesterday a report of its committee on planning and development related to the town’s reclamation project.

The committee headed by PB Member Miguel Antonio Magpale recommended the approval of the committee report and the “favorable endorsement” of the joint venture agreement of Cordova and SM for the 1,500-hectare reclamation and horizontal development project to the Philippines Reclamation Authority (PRA) and National Economic Development Authority (Neda).

The PB also approved a resolution drafted by PB Member Arleigh Jay Sitoy “confirming, ratifying and endorsing” the joint venture agreement.

In an interview, Mayor Sitoy said that the PRA will provide the requirements for the reclamation, including the presence of a marine biologist.

He said the town has provided health and education programs to about 3,000 fishermen, and that fishers will be prioritized for jobs once work on the reclamation starts.

Meanwhile, Toledo City Vice Mayor Antonio Yapha said he is amenable to having a marine biologist check the impact of the reclamation project on the city’s marine resources.

“As far as I am concerned, mas maayo atong testingan (it is better to check the impact of this project on the environment). We have to weigh the benefits and destruction,” Yapha said.

He said he will consult the municipal councilors if they will recommend this to the mayor.