Editorial: A delicate balance

THE construction of large-scale infrastructure projects is always seen as a big step in the development of the country. These infrastructures are not merely being constructed for scale or legacy. These projects are there to usher in progress in the localities around it.

Goal 9 of the 17 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is on the industry, innovation, and infrastructure. It states that “investment in infrastructure and innovation are crucial drivers of economic growth and development.” The Philippines is among the 193 UN member-states that committed to achieving the 17 SDGs.

The construction of the Samal Island-Davao City Connector (SIDC) Project is seen to help spur development in the Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos). A reliable bridge connecting the island to the mainland means that those living on the island can expect a drop in the prices of products being brought from the mainland, easier access to services, and more opportunities for developments.

However, constructing a bridge over the Davao Gulf is much more complicated than one thinks. While the project has been delayed for decades and is just seeing progress now, more and more issues are surfacing as to why the project can potentially put the gulf at risk of environmental damage.

According to the World Wild Fund, Davao Gulf is among the “richest national zones for fish production” in the country and “ranks as one of the priority conservation areas of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion.”

“It is a breeding and nursery ground for small and large pelagic species, with frequent sightings of whale sharks, dugongs, and leatherback turtles, among the list of species cited in the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).”

Goal 14 of the SDG is Life Below Water. This goal aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development." Among the target indicators of the goal are to reduce marine pollution, protect and restore ecosystems, and conserve coastal and marine areas.

Sadly, the SIDC Project may cause pollution and damage the local marine environment in the area it will be traversing. According to the SIDC Project Description Report of Ove Arup and Partners Hong Kong Ltd (Philippines Branch), “Arup,” which is the lead consultant for the feasibility study of the project, the project could create land, air, water, and noise pollution.

During the construction f the project, oil leaks and accidental spill of construction materials may damage habitats of aquatic life, domestic wastes will be coming from the construction base, and there will be changes in channel beds and impacts on fish and aquatic life resulting from demolition, excavation, pile driving, and bridge structure construction. The project proponent and Arup have also provided built-in measures that could mitigate the effects of the construction of the bridge to the local marine environment in Davao Gulf.

In a study commissioned by the Rodriguez Family, owners of Paradise Island Beach and Resort, the area where the beach will traverse on is one of the remaining healthy reef gardens surrounding the island. The construction of the bridge could cause irreversible damage to the reef. However, the family clarified that they are not against the project and has recommended a shorter route with the least biological activity where the bridge can be constructed. This realignment is also based on the study conducted in 2016 by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. A portion of the family’s property will be the landing site of the bridge.

The Davao Gulf is big and the bridge will only be constructed on a small portion of the gulf. However, this does not mean that this will have little impact on the marine environment of the gulf.

The gulf, currently, has already been struggling with many human activities that have yet to be resolved -- throwing of waste into the sea and rapid development with few environmental measures, among others. The effects of these have been causing problems to the gulf and those living below it.

The construction of the bridge without neither environmental consideration nor strict environmental measures could cause long term problems ranging from a deteriorating local marine environment to threats to food security.

It is a wrong mindset to say that we have to sacrifice a portion of the environment to allow progress. If we sacrifice our environment for progress, we may be sacrificing a brighter future. How can we enjoy progress when the habitat of where our food comes from is destroyed?

Therefore, it is also good for the Department of Public Works and Highways to take a look again at the feasibility study conducted by Jica and the one done by researchers commissioned by the family. If it is final with its decision, it might want to reassure the public that they have put in place mitigating measures to protect the marine environment. It could also help if it comes out with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the area where the bridge will traverse.


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