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TV network axes Philippine resort plan after outcry
[MANILA] American children's television network Nickelodeon said Wednesday it had abandoned plans for a themed resort on an island known as the Philippines' last ecological frontier following a backlash from environmentalists.
Nickelodeon said in January that it would build an "undersea attraction and resort" on Palawan island that would let fans "interact with the brand and the iconic characters they love", including SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer.
The announcement triggered fierce criticism from environmental campaigners who said it would destroy the area's world-famous marine ecosystem, and an online petition calling for the project to be scrapped attracted more than 260,000 signatures.
Viacom International Media Networks, which owns Nickelodeon, said Wednesday it had abandoned the project.
"(Viacom) and Nickelodeon will no longer be involved with this proposed development," the company said in a statement sent to AFP.
Viacom said the decision was "mutually agreed" with its Philippine partner, Coral World Park.
The statement did not say why Viacom had pulled out and its regional spokeswoman would not elaborate when contacted by AFP.
Conservation groups call Palawan "the last frontier" because of its pristine coastlines and forests, which are among the oldest and most diverse in Southeast Asia.
It is home to two Unesco World Heritage-listed sites, a subterranean river and the Tubbataha coral reefs.
Viacom's initial statement in January promoted the project as its first resort in Southeast Asia that "would give a significant business opportunity for our partners across multiple platforms".
However Viacom and Coral World Park also highlighted the project's "ocean conservation focus" and plans for a giant marine sanctuary.
Environmental group Greenpeace on Wednesday hailed Viacom's decision as a victory.
"We commend Viacom for heeding the call of more than 200,000 online petitioners and the offline community campaign," Vince Cinches of Greenpeace Southeast Asia told AFP.
"They were able to dodge the bullet that has a huge reputational backlash for Nickelodeon which has been claiming it is children oriented." The Nickelodeon resort was meant to be part of Coral World Park's 400-hectare development.
Coral World Park said in a statement on Wednesday it planned to continue with its project, while describing reports the development would harm the environment and a local tribal group as "misleading information".
"We are converting a former mining site into a tourism development contrary to reports that we are building on pristine land," it said.
The executive director of environmental group Save Philippine Seas, Anna Oposa, told AFP the campaign against the development would not let up.
"Our position and strategy will not change: we'll continue to call on the local government of Coron and provincial government of Palawan to reject the project," she said.