Rare Marine Mammal
Dies in Waters Contaminated by Mine Tailings
The recent fish kill and death of the
dugong, a rare marine mammal, in Rapu-Rapu Island validate the toxic
effects of cyanide and other heavy metals found in mine tailings that
spilled from the mines of Lafayette Mining.
By GERRY ALBERT
A pregnant dugong
(dugong dugon) or baboy daga (pig rat), a rare marine mammal,
was found dead morning of Jan. 25 at Sitio Gogon, Brarangay Poblacion,
Rapu-rapu, Albay. The area is affected by the spill of toxic tailings
from mines operated by Australian owned Lafayette Mining Inc.
The anti-mining alliance groups Defend Patrimony and Kalikasan
(Nature)-People's Network for the Environment (KPNE) said local fisherfolk
found the dugong. They suspected the cause of the dugong's
death was exposure to toxic chemicals that contaminated the seawaters of
Rapu-Rapu Island. The island is part of Legazpi, Albay, 550 kms. from
Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan national coordinator, said the dugong
is a large marine mammal belonging to a group of animals known as
Sirenians. It is a grey brown bulbous animal with a flattened fluked tail,
like that of a whale, has no dorsal fins, with paddle like flippers and a
distinctive head shape.
"It is classified as a vulnerable species by the Union for the
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and protected by the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In the Philippines,
dugong is considered as endangered animal," the environmental activist
Bautista said Fr. Felino Bugauisan, local assistant parish priest and
spokesperson of Sagip Isla (Save the Island), a local movement in the
island calling for the closure of Polymetallic Mining Project of Lafayette
Mining, told him during a phone conversation last week that it was the
first time Rapu-Rapu residents found a dead dugong in the island.
"The local priest told us that prior to the Lafayette mine spills, they
experience any fish kill and no dugong was found dying in the sea.
The recent fish kill and the death of the dugong validate the toxic
effects of the cyanide and other heavy metals found in mine tailings that
spilled from the mines of Lafayette Mining on Oct. 11 and Nov. 1 2005,"
"The threat of contamination still lingers in the island, contrary to the
claims of Lafayette Mining and the Department of Environment and Natural
Resources (DENR). Both claimed that the incident has been sufficiently
addressed and its effects have been contained," Bautista said.
asserted that the cyanide spill and the voluminous toxic mine tailings
that have been dumped in Rapu-Rapu island has caused the contamination of
the sea grass and poisoned sea life including the dugong. Dugong is
a sea mammal that naturally feeds on sea grasses found in shallow waters
of coastal areas.
On the average, a dugong eats 25 kilos of sea grass a day. The
presence of toxic heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic in their
food is fatal to the dugong.
Aside from the dugong, whale sharks, commonly known as butanding
are also found in Rapu-Rapu Island. The people and local government of
Sorsogon also opposes the large-scale mining project because it is
affecting the multimillion whale watching tourism in the province.
Rapu-Rapu Island and Donsol, Sorsogon is the natural sanctuary of
butanding and dugong, according to a report e-mailed by Defend
Patrimony and Kalikasan to Bulatlat.
Until now, the residents and fishers of Rapu-Rapu Island are reeling from
the effects of the spill of mine tailings. “The volume of fish catch
drastically decreased and people from other places are afraid to buy
our catch for fear of toxic poisoning,” according to Sagip Isla.
Kalikasan and Defend Patrimony said that the cyanide spill and the
consequent fish kill and
death of the dugong in the Island only shows why the DENR can not
be trusted with the protection of the people's welfare and the
environment. They said these incidents also affirm that there is no such
thing as an
environmental-friendly mining operation under the mining revitalization
program of the Arroyo administration.
Sagip Isla and Defend Patrimony reiterate their demand for the closure of
the Lafayette mining operation in the island. On Monday, January 30, they
will join the presentation of results of the laboratory analysis of local
samples drawn from waters surrounding the island by an Independent
Investigative Mission led by the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC).
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© 2006 Bulatlat
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