Rapu-Rapu island mining

Feature story - 29 May, 2006
As the Esperanza begins its work in the Mediterranean we take a look ahead at developments in a region the ship will visit later in the tour.The Lafayette open pit mine area occupies 180 hectares (445 acres) of the Philippine island Rapu Rapu. Early on, environmentalists warned that siltation and pollutants from the mine would pose a risk to the island's coral reefs; locals worried about the their limited supply of drinking water and their livelihoods, which are mostly dependent on the sea. On October 11th and 31st, 2005, cyanide spills proved these fears valid.

Siltation from mine operations in steep Rapu Rapu island threatens to smother vital coral habitats in the surrounding waters.

What's at stake

The pristine waters of Rapu Rapu are home to coral reefs, mangroveforests on the shoreline, rich sea grass beds and a high amount ofbiodiversity.  Local species include five of the world's sevenknown marine turtles, purple herons, dolphins and whale sharks - theworld's largest fish.

Vegetation and fishkills immediately followed the spills, as well ascontamination of local rivers and creeks. Municipal fishermen reportthey now have to work longer hours and travel farther to catch the fishthey need.  In addition to toxic contamination, simple siltationthreatens to smother vital coral habitats with dirt runoff from themine.   


The Philippine government fined Lafayette for the spills, and suspendedoperation of its processing plant. However, the mine itself continuedto operate.

The president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, instituted a fact-findingcommission to investigate the mine spills.  On May 19th, 2006 thecommission returned its recommendation:  Cancel the license ofLafayette in Rapu Rapu and put a moratorium on all mining activities inthe island.

This finding reflects the reality that Rapu Rapu is located in thecountry's typhoon belt and sits on a fault line - making it a high-riskarea for mining.  Furthermore, Lafayette showed negligence byramping up operations "too fast too soon" (their words) and failing totake weather conditions into account in the design of their facility.

What's next

A clear-cut case of corporate irresponsibility, a clear recommendationfrom a presidential commission and opposition to the mine from localcommunities.  So that should be the end of it, right?

Not so fast.  Lafayette, an Australian company, is the first (andto date biggest) firm to take advantage of new policies designed toincrease foreign investment in the Philippine mining industry.  Sothe government is dragging its feet - with some people saying thatclosing the mine would send the wrong message.  But we think thatclosing the mine sends exactly the right message.  The long-termviability of the environment and health of local communities is farmore valuable than the six or seven years of profitability expectedfrom the mine.

Meanwhile, Lafayette and another mining company (Miracle Mile MiningCorp.) between them have applied for explore to a total of 4,486hectares (11,085 acres) for minerals... that's 80 percent of theisland.

Read more on the Greenpeace Southeast Asia webiste.

Take Action (Greenpeace Philippines)

Help us save Rapu Rapu and the marine treasures surrounding it by sending a message to Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.