Environmental and antimining groups are up in arms against applications for seabed quarrying and offshore mining applications currently flooding government regulatory bodies. 

Seabed quarrying is being eyed for land-reclamation or dump-and-fill projects in the pipeline.

The lifting of the “mining moratorium,” following the signing of Executive Order (EO) 130 by President Duterte on April 14, has now opened the floodgates for new mining projects, including massive extraction of magnetite sand in coastal and marine areas.

Both seabed quarrying and offshore mining involve the massive extraction of sand and other minerals, like magnetite sand.

Massive mineral extraction  

Silverquest Mining Resources Inc. (SMRI), an offshore mining firm, for instance, is eyeing the massive extraction of sand and other quarry materials in the municipal waters of Ternate and Naic in Cavite.

The firm is currently in the process of securing its environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the P12-billion SMRI Government Seabed Quarry Project.

The dredging of mud, silt, sand and other materials from the seabed is for the 318-hectare Manila Waterfront Project, a five-year, P34.377-billion land-reclamation and development project of the local government of Manila and Waterfront Manila Premier Development in Manila’s South Harbor in Manila Bay. 

The project has yet to secure an area clearance from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which is the last and final permit needed to start seabed quarrying and mining that include offshore mining operation.

Strict regulatory process

Seabed quarry projects, even by the government, however, go through the proverbial eye of the needle, because of the various laws, rules and regulations that include the Philippine Mining Act.

In May 2021, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) canceled a technical session with experts to discuss and formulate recommendations on the issue of two government seabed quarry permit applications in Tayabas Bay in Tayabas, Quezon.

The Tayabas Bay is an important fishing ground in Southern Luzon. It is also important as a staging ground of migratory waterbirds that pass through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway of which the Philippines is a part.

The BFAR also nixed in March 2021 a total of 13 similar applications permits requested by the DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) which will be conducted by various project proponents within Manila Bay. 

BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona cited that Manila Bay is currently the subject of rehabilitation by the government as part of a continuing mandamus issued by the Supreme Court. 

Direct impacts

During a webinar on seabed quarrying organized by the group of Tanggol Kalikasan on September 30, Dr. Fernando Siringan of the UP Marine Science Institute said applications for seabed quarry should specifically identify the materials to be dredged or extracted. 

Siringan warned that even sediments under the sea are home to important organisms that is part of the food chain in the ecosystem. 

Coastal and marine, ecosystems, he added, are interconnected, such that disturbing an area have direct, as well as indirect impacts, to the network of ecosystems under the sea.

Siringan pointed out that the government, or the Environmental Management Bureau, as well as MGB, should first identify the living organisms in an area to be disturbed by the proposed quarrying or offshore mining operations. 

“They should know what are the direct benefits of the organisms in the ecosystems” to get the bigger picture of the impact of seabed quarrying in a particular area. 

“In the food chain, what are their importance? The direct impact when you disturb an area, the sediment can also be the nesting ground of organisms because they are sometimes picky of areas to spawn,” he said in Filipino.

According to Siringan, corals will also be affected by seabed quarrying. Sediments may eventually be carried by ocean current and brought to areas with corals. Once covered with fine-grade materials, there’s a big chance that corals may die, he said.

Offshore mining

Besides seabed quarrying, another serious threat to the country’s coastal and marine environment is offshore mining. Applications for various projects are expected to flood the doorstep of government mining regulatory bodies with the signing of EO 130.

In her presentation titled, “Impact of Offshore and Onshore Mining on Biodiversity in the Lingayen Gulf and Surrounding Waters and its Implication on the Socio-economic Activities in the Area,” Nilda S. Baling said among the threats of offshore mining is the disturbance of the seafloor. The event was part of Tanggol Kalikasan’s Webinar Series on Offshore and Onshore Mining held on October 7,

Baling, the chief and Supervising Environmental Management specialist of the Integrated Coastal Management and Partnership Section of the Coastal Marine Division of the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), expressed alarm over the potential adverse impact of massive seabed quarrying and offshore mining.

“The scrapping of the ocean floor by machines can alter or destroy deep-sea habitats, leading to the loss of species and fragmentation or loss of ecosystem structure and function,” she said.

A zoologist, Baling talked about the importance of keeping the coastal and marine biodiversity intact and discussed the DENR-BMB’s mandate on the management of coastal and marine resources.

Black sand mining

The webinar was held as an offshore mining firm is seeking to extract magnetite sand in the Lingayen Gulf, stretching over five coastal towns in Pangasinan province. 

The Iron Ore, Gold and Vanadium Resources (Phils.) Inc.’s proposed Iron Ore Pangasinan Offshore Magnetite Mining Project in the municipalities of Sual, Labrador, Lingayen, Binmaley and City of Dagupan is an environmentally critical project that involves the massive extraction of metallic and nonmetallic minerals, including oil and gas. 

The company is eyeing to extract magnetite, also known as black sand, from a total of 9,252.4506 hectares of seabed areas, in the next 33 years at an annual extraction rate of 25,000,000 dry metric tons.

Ecosystems interconnectivity

During the open forum, Baling, underscored the importance of protecting and conserving the country’s coastal and marine ecosystem.

Because of their interconnectivity, massive extraction of resources, she said, have direct impact to fisheries, underscoring the need for local government units (LGUs) to look into the potential impact of the proposed projects to the livelihood of coastal communities.

She said even the destruction of the environment in the highland can be felt in the lowland and agricultural ecosystems, the urban ecosystem, down to the coastal and marine ecosystem.

“Sometimes, when we are along the coasts or we belong to the coastal community, we do not know the connection of the watershed, as the communities in the watershed that they are creating impact at the lowland and also to the coastal communities,” she said.

Gearing for battle

During the webinar, Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of the antimining group Alyansa Tigil Mina, said they are gearing up for battle against seabed quarrying and offshore mining in the country.

The group has been stiffly opposing black sand mining because of its environmental and social impact on affected communities.

According to Garganera, they were blindsided by the offshore mining projects last year.

The river dredging issue, he said, raised red flags in late 2019 and early 2020 and said they were totally linked to coastal extraction activities.

“The offshore mining project was never presented to local communities. We’re not sure if LGUs knew about this project,” he lamented.

He added that the DENR failed to disclose offshore mining projects in its database. 

Even groups like Bantay Kita, Publish What You Pay-Phil. and EITI-Philippines were surprised by the influx of the offshore mining projects, they acknowledged the fact that media announcements and references were the only sources of information of offshore mining activities.

Garganera said: “With EO 130, we can expect more mining applications, faster approval of mining contracts and permits, and easier operations of mining projects. This project in Pangasinan is covered by this.”

Moreover, Garganera concluded that offshore mining and black sand mining projects will expand, mainly because of the demand from China.

“While we may not have the paper trail, the logical end-buyer is China [with its big] demand for iron and nickel, as Indonesia has tightened its supply chain,” he said.

As such, Garganera said it is important to pin the campaign against offshore mining to the campaign platforms of candidates to the 2022 elections. 

“Long-term, offshore mining will definitely contribute to climate-change impacts, especially to coastal areas,” he said. 

Image courtesy of Tanggol Kalikasan Photo

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