Bicol’s whale sharks underscore urgent need to defend seas from pollution

Press release - August 27, 2006
The recently-discovered presence of feeding whale sharks in the Albay Gulf, particularly along Legaspi City’s coastline, only confirms the urgent need to defend the rich coastal waters of the Bicol region from threats like mining pollution, Greenpeace said today during a welcome ceremony organized by the municipality of Donsol, Sorsogon, to celebrate the arrival of the Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza. Crew from the Esperanza which arrived in Legaspi Pier a day before, was able to document several whale sharks swimming in the waters of Bigaa, Legaspi City.

"The astounding numbers of whale sharks present in the waters all around the Bicol region is a clear indication that protecting the well-being of this unique marine environment should be an utmost priority," said Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner Beau Baconguis. "But as long as Lafayette corporation's mine in Bicol's Rapu Rapu island exists, these waters-home to whale sharks, sea turtles, mangrove forests and thick sea grass beds-will continue to be endangered by toxic pollutants."

Two days ago, Greenpeace revealed that very high levels of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, copper, and zinc had already contaminated Mirikpitik Creek. The creek leads out from Lafayette's mine and into the seas around Rapu Rapu in the Albay Gulf. This new evidence of toxic contamination is based on test results of water samples taken from the creek on August 2, 2006 during the second stage of the mine company's 30-day test run undertaken after operations were halted due to environmental lapses.

The Esperanza, which visited the Lafayette mine site, arrives in Donsol following four days of joining local communities from Albay and Sorsogon in their campaign against the mine. The mine's continuing operations will inevitably leave grave consequences on the region's fragile marine environment, and on the coastal communities who rely on the seas for livelihood and subsistence.

The municipality of Donsol, famous for the pods of whale sharks which congregate in its plankton-rich waters, was one of the first towns to voice opposition against Lafayette. Donsol is concerned that the mine's toxic tailings will affect the whale sharks, a vulnerable species that congregates only in a few places around the world.

"The Bicol region has been blessed with such rich marine resources, including the majestic whale shark,"  said Donsol Mayor Salve Ocaya, "we're pleased that Greenpeace joins us in the campaign to stop the mine from spreading pollution in our waters."

The Esperanza is in the Philippines on the latest leg of her global Defending Our Oceans expedition to highlight the wonders and the environmental threats to the world's oceans and to campaign for the establishment of marine reserves. Scientists recognize the Philippine archipelago as the world's center of marine biodiversity, but warn that its seas are among the most highly threatened.

Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organization, which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force solutions essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace is committed to defending the health of the world's oceans and the plants, animals, and people who depend upon them.

Other contacts: Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigner, +63 917 803 6077 Lea Guerrero, Media Campaigner, +63 916 374 4969

Notes: Lafayette causes pollution during 30-day trial run Acid Mine Drainage: devastating to aquatic life