Philippines - trash, oil spill, toxic mine and marine reserve

Feature story - 1 September, 2006
During the Esperanza's tour of the Philippines our crew bore witness to shocking environmental tragedy. But we were also impressed by the resolve of people here to protect their marine resources for the benefit of future generations, and we were lucky enough to also visit places of amazing beauty.

The Whale Shark's migration route takes them close to the shores off Rapu-Rapu Island, site of toxic sea pollution from the Lafayette mining operation.

Thousands of Ocean Defenders have already taken action to help.  Click here to add your voice to theirs.

Manila bay

"Instead of a fresh sea breeze there is a strange smell, a mixture of chemicals, garbage and rotten fruits. When we met this morning at the harbour with the local Greenpeace activists the problem was obvious before we could even see it: rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish, simply thrown into the water."

-- Heike, web editor on board the Esperanza

We found that plastics and various industrial chemicals and domestic sewage are suffocating the bay's once productive waters, and joined volunteers from the Manilan "Eco Waste Coalition" in a clean up.  We filled garbage bag after garbage bag, and hardly made a dent.  

Much of the trash was from was plastic from 'single use' sources (plastic bags, beverage bottles, cups and other items intended to be used once and thrown away).  Fortunately, we also got a lot of media attention. Hopefully this will help with the bigger problem - stopping the trash at its source.

Oil spill response

"I learned to fish when I was seven years old. On Friday 12 August I was on my way back from school along the beach when I found it all black. I didn't know what it was and thought it was just some mud the sea had brought in and that would go away quickly. But than I heard in the radio it was oil."

-- Francisco, 12-year-old student

On Friday, August 11, a Petron-chartered single hull vessel carrying 2.1 million litres of oil sank in Guimaras Strait - causing the Philippines worst oil spill.  

The Esperanza helped the Philippines Coast Guard survey the hardest hit area, aided local efforts to contain the spill, transported clean up equipment and delivered relief supplies donated for the tens of thousands of affected locals.  

"I saw whole swathes of mangroves with their root systems covered in the black tar. A clean up of such a tangled mass of roots would be impossible; the oils will remain trapped within the roots for years.   It made me so sad as I know mangroves are very sensitive to oil pollution. These mangroves will probably die over the next weeks."

-- Dr. Janet Cotter, scientist on board the Esperanza

"We are very angry with the oil company. We took so much care of our mangroves. They were really our pride - and now the company has destroyed it. I think they have to pay a compensation. Not only to the fishermen but also for the damage on the ecosystem."

-- Connie Gamuya, counsellor of La Paz, island of Guimaras

Help the people of Guimaras.

Rapu Rapu

"The proximity of the mine to the sea means that the marine organisms such as corals are likely to be impacted causing harm to the fragile coral reef ecosystem. Such impacts on the reef would be a disaster for marine biodiversity, including the whale shark, and also local fisheries."

-- Dr. Janet Cotter, scientist onboard the Esperanza.

At Rapu Rapu Island the Esperanza joined a local flotilla of some 70 traditional outrigger boats in protest against the gold and silver mining operation.  The mine was reopened in July despite government investigations, which revealed ongoing leakages of highly toxic chemicals into the pristine waters of the Albay Gulf.

A Greenpeace science team took water samples tracing water contamination back to the mine, and our activists entered the complex and hung a banner calling for the mine to be shut down.  

"These local people are justifiably outraged. The rich marine ecosystem they rely on for food and livelihood is being destroyed for the profit of far off multinational companies."

-- Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Philippines

Ask ABN Amro and ANZ, two banks financing this mine, to pull their funding.

Apo marine reserve

"Apo Island has always been the model of hope for coastal communities in the Philippines. It demonstrates how reserves can effectively restore the productivity and biodiversity that once characterized the seas."

-- Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia

On Apo, local fishermen used to use dynamite, and other destructive fishing practices. Then a team from Siliman University convinced them to try setting up a marine reserve instead.

Now the dynamite is history. The marine reserve, carefully guarded by the local community, supports hundreds of species of corals - and marine catches have doubled.

"If it was not an official reserve some fisherman would go back to the old destructive methods, I think. We do a lot to educate the people, especially the children. But it has to be official to make sure everybody protects the sea."

--- Jerry Mendez, 39-year-old fisherman and Sea Ranger

Help us establish a global network of marine reserves.

Greenpeace Philippines

More information on the Greenpeace Philippines site.

Esperanza weblog

Read updates on the Esperanza crew weblog.