A DAY after the Lapu-Lapu City Government lifted the suspension order against the Cebu Yellow Submarine Underwater Tour Corp., findings of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 showed that the tour operator’s vessel damaged corals in its underwater route.
The investigating team led by Coastal and Marine Management Division Head Edmundo Aregadas reported several broken corals and reef blocks along a 200-meter length of the reef ledge in front of the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort and Spa and the Kontiki Dive Resort and Shop.
“These were, alleged by the Task Force Kalikasan dive guides, indications that damage to the corals and the coral reef were caused by accidental bumping in the conduct of diving and navigational operation of a small submersible craft,” the team said.
The team said the submarine’s activities are expected to result to moderate or severe damage to the marine ecosystem, depending on the intensity of the activity, unless properly regulated.
Cebu Yellow Submarine general manager Jun Kim said they’ve yet to receive a copy of Mayor Paz Radaza’s order to lift the cease-and-desist order and the DENR 7 investigation report.
However, Kim said they are grateful to the City for the development.
“We will do our best to keep with local government policies,” he said.
He said they are willing to comply with recommendations and conditions imposed by the government agencies.
“We express our openness and willingness to participate in the rehabilitation and protection of the marine environment,” said Agnes Escaño, the tour operator’s spokesperson.
“We thank the City Government for considering our plight in the alleged crash,” she said.
Aregadas said the estimated area of damaged corals is 26 square meters.
He told Sun.Star Cebu they saw other areas that were damaged but they couldn’t determine what destroyed the corals.
The team recommended “assumptions and derivations to determine relative liability cost to include a period of reef recovery and rehabilitation program.”
The team suggested to include in the computation for liability the annual potential sustainable economic benefits for Philippine reefs at US $1,130 per hectare; the rough global estimate of the average total annual value of coral reef goods and services at US $6,075 per hectare; heritage value of 20 percent of the City’s annual budget for heritage maintenance and development; and ecotourism value that is 20 percent of the City’s annual budget for ecotourism development.
The recommended fees will be computed for a projected time period of coral recovery to previous state, or a span of 25 years.
The team also suggested the formulation of rules and regulation or code of conduct for underwater activities and operations; the implementation of coastal zoning; the formulation of a comprehensive management plan; the strengthening of the management council; the allocation of budget and other logistics in support of effective management; the strict enforcement of rules, regulations and sanctions against violators; and the continuous conduct of education and information campaigns.
In a speech during the Coral Triangle Day yesterday, Mayor Radaza called for stronger cooperation between the City and national government agencies to protect Mactan Island’s marine life.
Radaza assured that while the City welcomes the country’s first submarine tour business, it will not allow the operation to harm the corals.
“I will never hesitate to swiftly use the powers of my office to preserve and protect our natural assets and our underwater world against those who just want to earn a profit without caring for the environment,” she said.
She said the tour may resume “in a few days” but it will be strictly monitored by the City, which will send representatives to join each submarine trip.
An initial cost of P250,000 will be charged to the operator for monitoring activities. The cost of rehabilitating the damaged corals has yet to be determined.
Marine biologists of the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, which conducted a study in the impacted area, said the loosened and broken corals may be rehabilitated with the use of marine epoxy.
“Monitoring their operations will allow us to institute measures that will protect and preserve the environment, particularly our coral wall in Kontiki,” Radaza said.
She reiterated she is not against the operation of a submarine tour, saying it can help the City attract more tourists.