Mining threatens 4th largest freshwater lake in PH

Mineral explorations and mining activities are threatening the biodiversity of the Philippines’ fourth largest and Mindanao’s second largest freshwater lake, Lake Mainit, which is being shared by the provinces of Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte.

Lake Mainit, located in the northeastern part of the southern Philippines, also carries the distinction of being the deepest lake in the country with maximum depth of 223 meters. It has a total area of about 17,060 hectares and its lakeshore has total length of 62.10 kilometers, which is being shared by 31 barangays of the Surigao del Norte towns of Mainit and Surigao del Norte, and Agusan del Norte towns of Kitcharao and Jabonga.

Lake Mainit is the habitat of rare fish species like the puyo or perch and gabot, which are being threatened due to the introduction of new fish species. But more than fish, the whole biodiversity of Lake Mainit is being endangered by human activities such as mining, making the lake and its surrounding area of very high ecological value.

Of the 15 exploration permits (EP) that the Regional Office 13 of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Environment department approved as of June 30, 2010, seven are in the town of Mainit, Surigao del Norte, and one in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte.

The rest are in the Agusan del Sur towns of Bunawan, Prosperidad and Bayugan; Agusan del Norte towns of Tubay, Cabadbaran and Santiago; Surigao del Norte towns of Malimono, Tubod, Bacuag, Placer, Sison and Claver; and Surigao del Sur town of Marihatag. One is in Libjo in the Province of Dinagat Islands.

The tenement holders of these approved EPs are Minimax Mineral Exploration Corp.; Silangan Mindanao Mining Co., Inc.; Manila Mining Corp.; Coolabah Mining Corp.; Occidental Mining Corp.; MRL Gold Phils., Inc.; and Kalayaan Copper-Gold Resources, Inc.

All these companies are prospecting gold and other mineral resources in a total land area covering 19,773.29 hectares of land around Lake Mainit.

And the lake’s traditional keeper—the Mamanwa tribe, who claims the lake’s surrounding areas as part of their ancestral land—are howling to high heavens to help protect the pristine beauty of the lake and their territories.

Fortunately, the Mamanwas are not alone in this fight. Residents of the municipality of Mainit, Surigao del Norte (including those working and based in Manila and abroad) are using modern technology like the internet to protest against large-scale mining in the lake’s environs.

Using a blogsite called Pidjanga, the residents of Mainit denounced mining companies, most especially the Mindoro Resources Limited (MRL) causing environmental degradation to the already endangered Lake Mainit.

Pidjanga blogsite’s host, Zimmbodilion Yap Mosende, monitoring and evaluation adviser to UNAIDS Philippines, said MRL entered Mainit without informing the residents of its activities.

Mosende also said that MRL has formed small-scale miners into a cooperative without consulting the residents and informing them of the environmental impact of such move, which he said will only exacerbate the denudation of Mt. Diwata ranges surrounding Lake Mainit.

Nokie Calunsag, campaign officer of the environmental non-government organization Green Mindanao Association, Inc. said the entry of mining companies into the surrounding municipalities of the lake is a “very big challenge.”

“This is really a very big challenge, especially on how to prevent them from further destroying our environment,” he told this reporter by mobile phone.

Calunsag said that Green Mindanao and other environmentalists should work together to help preserve and rehabilitate Lake Mainit by using modern technology such as the internet and the media.

“If we continue shouting through the media, I think they will be moved to listen to us,” he added.

Green Mindanao founder, president and executive director, said that the lake’s surrounding communities should also take action to chart a better future for them and for the lake, which is the source of livelihood for many of them.

“Communities should be empowered to control invasive development,” he said through mobile phone.

The Lake Mainit Development Alliance (LMDA), now headed by Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol Matugas, which serves as the coordinating body in the Lake Mainit area, is not doing anything to prevent mining from destroying the diverse ecosystem of the lake and its environs, said Calunsad.

The LMDA, organized in 1999, is an association of the local government units in the Lake Mainit area, concerned government line agencies and civil society organizations. Its main mission is to protect the ecology of the lake system and the environment that sustains the lake. One of its responsibilities is to assist LGUs in the conservation and protection and pursuing sustainable development and the management of the lake, including people empowerment.

But Calunsad said: “Wala. Deadma lang sila (Nothing. They just ignore us),” when asked what the LMDA is doing regarding the entry of mining companies in the lake’s surrounding areas.

According to Calunsad, it will not be Lake Mainit that will only suffer the consequences of peoples’ and LGUs’ inaction about mining but also the diverse ecosystem of the municipalities surrounding the lake — Alegria, Mainit, Kitcharao and Jabonga, with the two upstream and headwater municipalities of Sison and Tubod, and with the downstream municipalities of Santiago and Tubay.

Growing population, wasteful practices and invasive development like mining in the lake areas is also beginning to negatively impact the Lake Mainit watershed, which is composed of five ecosystems —upland, lowland, rivers, lake and coastal areas — thus, its sustainability is now in question.

One report posted on the Pidjanga blogsite said that Jerry Acero, a forester working at Surigao del Norte School of Arts and Trades who also sits as member of LMDA, said exploration and full mining operations especially at the top ridge downhill to the lake will have adverse impact on the lake and its watersheds which will be felt both on short and long term effects.

Acero cited the effects such as loss of vegetation, which is vital to climate change, change in bio-diversity and change in water quality, among other things.

Lake Mainit is situated slightly below the small peninsula running north from the eastern side of Mindanao. It is located 42 kms north of Surigao City and approximately 82 kms south of Butuan City. Lying on its eastern coastline are the Diwata mountain range including Mt. Kabatuan and Mt. Mabaho. On the western border is the southern ridge of Mt. Tendito that extends up to the town of Tubay and walls the lake in the east but drops steeply to the coast.

Lake Mainit is fed by twenty small rivers and creeks but has only one outlet, the Calinawan River, which flows southward to join Aciga River and forms the Tubay River which eventually flows out into Butuan Bay. It is eutrophic with high primary production despite a low standing crop, indicating high turnover.

The lake is clear with 1% of the indirect sunlight penetrating to a depth of 13 meters indicating that primary production is distributed throughout a substantial depth of the water column. The lake water is greenish and odorless with an average transparency of 3.0 meters. The coastal substrate is sandy mud. The maximum depth is 223 m and the mean depth is 128 m. It is, thus, the deepest lake in the Philippines.

The mouth of the lake outlet is increasingly becoming shallow as a result of silt deposition in the area due to a denuded mountainside where timber and mining companies operate, which threatens the watershed area as well as the lake.

Mining waste, domestic sewage, fertilizers and pesticides are serious pollutants of the lakewater that also threatens the resident, non-migratory fish in the lake such as white goby, mud gudgeon, mudfish, goby, catfish, climbing perch, among others.

Migratory fish species that call Lake Mainit home are milkfish, mullet, golden snapper, red snapper, eel, spadefish, jack, silverside and rabbitfish.

Lake Mainit is also home to endemic bird species such as Dendrocygna arcuata, Bubulcus, Aythya fuligula, Ixobrychus cinnamomeus, Megalurus alustris, Geopelia striata and Lanius schach. (Bong D. Fabe, CBCP news)

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