By Ben Serrano
Due many requests of different people’s organizations and the Lanuza Bay Development Alliance composing of fisherfolks, environmentalists and lumad groups, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) led project dubbed SMART SEAS Philippines will conduct scientific studies on the effects of mining and upland farming on marine areas along Lanuza Bay in Surigao del Sur.
Coastal areas covered by Lanuza Bay were seven municipalities namely Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen, Lanuza, Cortes, and Tandag City.
It has total area of 175,000 hectares of coastal areas or within municipal waters of the seven local government units
Municipal waters are measured 15 kilometers away from shores of a municipality. These areas are also called the Municipal Fishing Waters.
Faced with increasing degradation of its fishery resources due to overfishing, lately some concerns in mining affecting some areas, use of active and illegal fishing gear, the local government units and the private sector decided to work together to address these concerns and formed Lanuza Bay Development Alliance (LBDA).
SMART SEAS Philippines project dubbed “from ridges to reefs” is composed of development institutions like the UNDP which spearheads the project, NGOs like Haribon Foundation and the GEF or the Global Environment Facility, government agencies like Department of Environment and Natural Resources , local government units that has marine protected areas.
From May 9 to 12, Project SMART SEAS Philippines officials and member organizations with UNDP team visited municipalities within Lanuza Bay area, conduct visitation, monitoring and brief consultation with different people’s organizations like fish and bird sanctuaries associations, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and LGUs concerned.
“Depending on the resources available, the study will provide scientific data on the effects of mining, upland farming, other agricultural activities from the mountains to the coral reefs which are natural habitats of fish and other marine life and resources which are source of food of communities, people and even mining firms’ workers and officials operating within Lanuza Bay areas” says Grace Tena, UNDP Inclusive Development Officer.
Thailand-based UNDP regional technical adviser for Southeast Asia Doley Tsering , for his part, clarified that the UNDP-led project is not anti-mining but for sustainable and wise use of natural, coastal and marine resources development within Marine Protected Areas.
“In development, you have to balance everything, protect the ecosystems due harmful effects of mining upland farming if there are many as well as conserved environment and wise, sustainable used of natural, marine and coastal resources. This is the reason why we are now here for monitoring and consultations with stakeholders of our project” added Tsering.
SMART SEAS Philippines Project Management head Dr. Vincent Hilomen also claimed the project is not anti-mining, saying it will just provide scientific data as basis for any future policies as well as it will also guide mining companies on what to do with siltation and sedimentation caused by mining activities.
There about seven mining firms operating within Lanuza Bay areas or within the six towns and one chartered city, Tandag, the provincial capital of Surigao del Sur.
Although threats posed by mining activities within Lanuza Bay are visible to the eyes due discoloration of waters along seashores especially where there are presence of mining ports, and hauling of mineral ores, lawyer Gerry Maglinte, who is past president of Lanuza Bay Alliance told UNDP team and SMART SEAS team during meeting with DENR Caraga officials headed by Regional Executive Director Charlie Fabre at DENR regional office in Butuan City that what is needed really are scientific study on effects of mining to marine coastal resources and ecosystems.
This was seconded by SMART SEAS Philippines Project Director Vincent Hilomen, saying he talked with top DENR and Mine and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) officials in Manila about the matter and said government officials negate the theory that mining alone slowly disrupting, destroying marine protected areas saying upland farming are to be blamed too.
“That’s why there is really a need to conduct scientific study on both mining and upland agricultural activities,” Hilomen said.
Hilomen showed data from the initial studies conducted by U.P Marine Institute on Lanuza Bay and Davao Gulf areas showing patterns of different fish species especially Tuna, Groper fish and other known broadcast fish species or fishes who traveled far in seas that sedimentation and siltation due mining activities affect coral reefs which are natural habitats of fish.
“Destruction of coral reefs also will greatly affect population of fish, laying eggs and conversion of fish eggs into production fishes. When there is dying fish eggs due destruction of coral reefs, it means lower fish catch and lower fish catch means affect livelihood of fisher folks within coastal communities,” Hilomen concludes.