It’s no secret that of recent month the Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has been belligerently – and only verbally, thank goodness – hostile towards the United States regarding opinions on multiple issues concerning both countries and the Southeast Asian region in general. Now granted things may have eased up on the war of words since Duterte appears to consider incoming US president Donald Trump as a kindred spirit, but after the surprise announcement of an American media outfit about their plans to develop an area near the island of Palawan into a Nickelodeon tourist attraction – some say it’s a theme park and that part of it would be underwater – it’s possible Duterte’s infamous temper may flare up yet again.

One of his cabinet secretaries already did.

A Nickelodeon park under the sea?

It all started with an announcement Monday, January 9 by Nickelodeon’s parent company Viacom, that it would join hands with Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc., in developing an area close to 1,000 acres into what they described as “the world’s first undersea attraction to be built in Asia,” a resort with underwater restaurants and lounges themed after Nickelodeon characters, in particular a certain yellow critter named Spongebob Squarepants, who lives in a pineapple under the sea in the ocean-deep community of Bikini Bottom. The location was set at Coron Island, a picturesque island with pristine beaches and surrounded by shipwreck scuba diving spots due north from the larger island Palawan, but part of its namesake province.

Coron is not Bikini Bottom!

Now here’s where the problem comes in. The companies say they want to build the park under the sea. That means some pretty intensive construction, and Coron is ecologically protected by a number of legal government proclamations. And it’s part of the territory of Palawan which was declared a UNSECO World Heritage marine site.

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Despite CWP’s assurances that the resulting attraction will also double as a center for coral reef conservation, local environmental groups are not amused. Leading the charge is Philippine secretary of environment & natural resources Regina Lopez, as well as the Save Philippine Seas NGO, which opened a petition against the Nickelodeon Park with the slogan “#CoronisnotBikiniBottom”.

As of Wednesday morning, it has gathered 150,000 signatures.

Damage control

In some attempt to save face, CWP has released a new statement explaining that no underwater structures will be built for the park. Rather, certain buildings will be floating instead with major facilities built on the island itself. So in effect, the project will be an undersea-themed Nickelodeon attraction, not a literally underwater park. Protesters are not buying it, making the planned opening date of 2020 a big if. The kid’s network may have to concentrate now on their Australian-Malaysian produced animated series themed after Gwen Stefani instead.