in coastal regions and in small islands
An ecological assessment of Ulugan Bay, Palawan, Philippines, CSI info 12
In the Philippines, the last ten years have witnessed an increasing interest in coastal environmental planning. This interest seeks to achieve a development modality that integrates environmental needs with economic development planning. Most land use planning decisions have hitherto been made without proper regard for coastal areas, and have been formulated principally on the basis of economic criteria, emphasizing development supported by infrastructure. Key in this planning has been the minimization of economic costs and the maximization of economic advancement. When the natural environment has been considered, it has often been as an economic constraint for development.
Flooding, slope stability, soil structure and seismic activity have been viewed as environmental factors reducing development potential, factors which could be made benign through engineering solutions. This improper regard for environmental factors in development planning ‘[...] has led to significant environmental degradation, irreversible loss of precious ecological and natural resources and, in many instances, hazard to life and property, unanticipated social costs, loss of amenity and quality of life’ (Asian Development Bank, 1992). In addition, too much concentration on overall economic growth has engendered socio-economic disparities, which in turn have led to the creation of urban slums and their attendant effect on water supply and sanitation. Hence, there is an urgent need to modify development planning to incorporate protection of nature and her resources, as well as the provision of acceptable habitation for even the poorest of the poor (School of Urban and Regional Planning, 1997).
Thus, acceptable and comprehensive coastal planning has yet to be developed in the Philippines. Such planning should aim to create sustainable competitive advantages in coastal and marine industries – including the application of science and technology – and so contribute to industrial diversification and new opportunities for employment. It should also act as a catalyst to improve co-ordination between and within the public and private sectors.
This document demonstrates the significance and primary importance of ecological assessment as a tool in the coastal planning process. Our case in point, Ulugan Bay, is one of the relatively few remaining significant coastal areas in southeast Asia that has yet to see significant infrastructural development despite its location near a major urban settlement. It is still possible to see in Ulugan Bay natural scenery as it may have been prior to human settlement in the region. While this document by no means wishes to deter the economic development of the coastal zone, the hope is that such development will take place with due consideration that man-made laws simply serve to support the laws of nature. As recent examples from around the region have shown, unchecked development may end up costing society much more than the potential profit. The floods along China’s rivers and their heavily logged catchment areas bore witness to this in the summer of 1999, as did the coastal areas of central Vietnam where previously mangrove-covered tidal areas had been left exposed to the ravages of tropical cyclones striking with disastrous effects. The application of scientifically supported interdisciplinary coastal planning is a key tool towards realizing this objective.
At Ulugan Bay, the chance exists to set an example for coastal development that balances the economic and social needs of the people with the long-term needs of the environment – both human and natural.