PHILIPPINES: Rare Marine Mammal Dies in Waters Contaminated by Mine Tailings

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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 Manila.

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 said.

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 did not 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," Bautista said.

"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.
Defend Patrimony 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).

AMP Section Name:Natural Resources
  • 183 Environment