Experts Call for End to Destructive Seabed Quarrying in the Philippines

Harmful to humans and environment.

Marine experts, fisherfolk, civil society groups in the Philippines have raised alarm on massive seabed quarrying projects which they described as ‘destructive’ and which continue to threaten coastal and marine habitats including fisheries resources nationwide. 

They warn about coastal erosion, red tide and heavy metal contamination along Manila Bay and Lingayen Gulf coasts – crucial fishing grounds that provide food and livelihood to Metro Manila and its neighboring areas – if the Philippine government allows seabed quarrying. 

An ocean conservation group, Oceana Philippines, opposes the massive seabed quarrying projects in the country that would negatively affect the livelihoods of coastal communities and the country’s food security. 

Oceana Philippines Vice President Atty. Gloria Ramos said this is an offshoot of the proposed reclamation or dump-and-fill projects that are being planned. 

Oceana Philippines Vice President Atty. Gloria Ramos.
Oceana Philippines Vice President Atty. Gloria Ramos.

“In this regard, we call on the government to immediately stop these projects. We demand accountability from the concerned national and local governments who are allowing these ecologically devastating projects to destroy our ocean, without compliance with the requirements and mechanisms provided for by our national laws including the required genuine public consultation provided for by the Local Government Code and compliance with Environmental Impact Assessment System Act,” Ramos told the Maritime Fairtrade in an interview.   

“We urge the government to immediately halt these destructive projects before it is too late. It is not enough to merely place a spotlight on the harmful human activities that are slowly killing our planet. We need to call on our government to act now and not allow such destructive practices to continue,” she added. 

Ramos said they have already requested the Senate for an investigation on the growing number of large-scale reclamation projects and fully support Senator Leila de Lima’s resolution to investigate reclamation projects including these massive seabed quarrying projects. 

“Likewise, the communities joined hands with the civil society organizations in requesting for an investigation by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) into the compliance by local governments concerned of the procedures required under the Local Government Code such as public consultations, among others,” Ramos said. 

According to Ramos, seabed quarrying requires scraping of the seabed for filling materials needed for dump-and-fill, also known as reclamation projects. 

“The science is clear that seabed quarrying causes massive damages and losses in fishing grounds and marine resources that serve as sources of livelihood for subsistence fisherfolk. These will cause irreversible destruction on the fragile marine ecosystems that we are trying to safeguard and restore in order to be resilient against climate change and address the poverty and health situation in the country,” she explained.

Seabed Quarrying at Manila Bay
Quarrying at Manila Bay. Photo courtesy: Oceana

Irreversible damage 

Academician Fernando Siringan of the University of the Philippines (UP) Marine Science Institute also urged the government to think twice before approving applications for seabed quarrying in these areas. 

During the National Science Colloquium organized by Oceana, Siringan presented seismic data showing how workers would need to dig through more than 10 meters of mud, causing irreversible damage on the seabed and the organisms present.

“There are areas that did not have mud in the past which will soon be smothered. The seafloor will change along with the benthic habitat, and organisms present will be disrupted and endangered,” Siringan said. 

“There are studies done in the UK which show how organisms that were ravaged by seabed quarrying were unable to fully recover even after 15 years,” he added. 

According to Siringan, changes in the overall characteristics of the benthic habitats will occur not only in the area where filling materials are sourced but will spread to other areas as well. 

“That is why exhaustive studies must be done on (1) what lies underwater, what materials will be mined, and how thick this material is; (2) what organisms and marine animals are present and what are to lose from seabed quarrying. Any changes in the benthic habitat will inevitably affect our fisheries,” he said. 

Siringan further explained that seabed quarrying has health risks and could cause cysts of Pyrodinium bahamense, the primary cause of paralytic shellfish poisoning or red tide, to be resuspended from the sediments and which will release toxins in the water. These may in turn contaminate mussels and other shellfish harvested and sold in nearby markets.

He also warned that heavy metals in the sediments may also be released into the water channel, and that coastal erosion could also become a problem in the future if seabed quarrying activities continue.

“Changes in the seafloor will change the direction of the waves. This can trigger more concentrated wave energy that can lead to coastal erosion. By taking out sand from the shore, you are also removing support from the upper part of the sediments,” he explained. 

Coastal erosion

This was echoed by Dr. Irene De Vera of the Pangasinan State University who warned that the drilling being done in Lingayen Gulf was affecting water quality, disrupting sea mammals, fish, and plankton.

“Mining is not compatible with Lingayen Gulf. It is used for fishing, tourism, and other purposes but not for mining. The deep holes created by drilling may cause coastal or shoreline erosion. An earthquake will intensify the erosion and dislodge sediments, causing the water force to go up and may result in a tsunami,” De Vera said. 

“Lingayen Gulf is prone to tsunami, and an earthquake can trigger a tsunami as high as seven meters,” he added. 

Benefits must far outweigh costs

Dr. Rico Ancog, Dean of the School of Environmental Science and Management of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, cautioned that in order to be worthy of approval, the benefits of any project that affects the environment must far outweigh the losses.

“Any interventions, any changes within this part of our country are surely matters of important concern,” he said on the cost-benefit analysis he conducted on Manila Bay, adding that monetizing its existing coastal resources is important because new interventions such as seabed quarrying would trigger changes in the habitats, thereby altering their value.

Ancog’s assessment of the Manila Bay resources indicated the many benefits provided by its fisheries, aquaculture, mangroves, coral reefs, tourism, as well as the activities of its ports and harbors.

“Data show how valuable and thriving the fisheries and aquaculture of Manila Bay are. Economically, Manila Bay is important and (its benefits) wide-ranging. Environmental changes will affect fisheries and aquaculture. There might be negative impacts and when we do monetization of those negative impacts, the benefits must be significant – up to a point that if we can hypothetically compensate the costs, there should still be net gains,” he added.

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