HONG KONG (CNNMoney) – Environmentalists and their political allies are trying to scuttle Nickelodeon’s plan to build an underwater theme park among picturesque islands in the Philippines.
The attraction is part of a 400-hectare (988-acre) undersea development planned in Palawan, an archipelago rich in pristine beaches and coral reefs.
Gina Lopez, the country’s environment secretary, announced Wednesday that she opposes the controversial project. In a tweet posted to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Twitter account, Lopez said she “won’t allow” the planned construction of the underwater resort and theme park.
Coral World Park, the firm partnering with Nickelodeon on the project, said it was working on a response to Lopez.
“We are sure she will be better informed after reading our official statement,” said Coral World Park marketing director Susan Lee.
Nickelodeon parent company Viacom claims the undersea attraction and resort will advocate ocean protection. And Coral World Park touts its development as a coral reef conservation program.
But environmental groups are crying foul on the companies’ claims of protection and conservation.
“It’s quite despicable for them to put up a theme park in paradise,” said Vince Cinches, oceans campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “The project will basically destroy the marine ecosystem.”
Palawan — which is made up of one main island and smaller groups of islands around it — is a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve and home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site marine park.
The company behind SpongeBob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer said its attraction would be located amidst a cluster of white sand islands. Visitors would get to the islands by speed boat, and then drink and dine in underwater lounges and restaurants located 20 feet below sea level.
Building artificial structures underwater will undeniably damage and disrupt Palawan’s marine ecosystems, said Save Philippine Seas executive director Anna Oposa. More than 100,000 people have signed a Save Philippine Seas petition opposing the plan.
“Whatever kind of safeguards you put in place, you will disrupt marine life,” said Oposa. “If [Coral World Park] were really serious about protecting the sea, they would invest that $150 million in marine protected areas and livelihoods in the community.”
In a press release issued Monday, Viacom touted the new underwater attraction’s earnings potential.
“[This] collaboration will add another Nickelodeon themed attraction in Asia, which will in turn give a significant business opportunity for our partners across multiple platforms,” Viacom executive Mark Whitehead said.
Viacom did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.