Negros Occidental faces more ecological stress
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The environmental condition of Negros Occidental is already in critical state with the deterioration of its numerous ecosystems. The natural forest of the province is hardly four percent of its total land area, and its capacity to provide ecological services is already threatened. The remaining forests of Negros Occidental are primarily confined in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Northern Negros Natural Park, and some forest patches in the southern part of the province. These minimal forests are not yet fully secured because they are still threatened with destruction, especially in southern Negros Occidental where there are several mining applications and operations. Mining is a key environmental concern not only in Negros Occidental but the entire country, because most mining sites are similarly situated in the remaining forested areas. Mining operations entail forest clearing, landscape alteration, and pollution. Washouts from mining operations also find their way into river systems and ultimately into coastal and marine ecosystems. Mining activities also affect wildlife and their habitats. Based on scientific studies, the forests in southern part of the province serve as critical habitats of important wildlife species, many of which are already threatened with extinction in the wild. The presence of threatened species clearly indicates the bad and worsening state of the environment.
Adding pressures to the already deteriorating ecological situation of Negros Occidental are the proposed coal-fired power plant and the offshore magnetite sand mining. Coal is known as a dirty source of energy and it contributes carbon emission in the atmosphere, not to mention that it is likewise hazardous to human health. Coal-fired power plant is being entertained because of the reported power shortage in Negros Occidental but ultimately it will likely result to a more serious environmental problem. The proposed offshore magnetite sand mining in the different parts of the province is really a disturbing development because it will create environmental havoc. Very recently, a scoping was held for the environmental impact assessment of the proposed magnetite sand mining covering more than 20,000 hectares offshore areas in Silay City and EB Magalona. The reported proponent of this offshore mining is the Massart Mineral Resources, Inc. based in Ermita in Manila City.
This proposed mining operation will surely affect the coastal and marine ecosystems, because it involves dredging and barging and construction of port facilities, among others. Just like the forest, the coastal and marine ecosystems in Negros Occidental are already in terrible state with limited mangrove forest left and the coral reefs are fragmented and in poor condition. The proposed offshore mining may possible cover mangrove sites, particularly in Barangay Balaring in Silay where mangroves are still available. The fact that this mining operation will entail dredging of minerals will loosen and destabilize the sand. Moreover, this mining claim will dislocate the economy of fishing communities because the proposed area of operation is basically within the municipal waters, which are intended as fishing grounds of municipal fisher folks.
While it is true that these proposed environmentally critical projects may offer economic opportunities, it is very important that we shall also consider their social and environmental costs. Unfortunately, the environmental impact assessment in the Philippines does not provide detailed cost and benefit analysis and valuation, to determine if these proposed projects are indeed beneficial in the long-term. The economic benefits derived from these projects may not be enough to compensate environmental damages and far below the ecological services provided by natural ecosystems. If all these projects will finally be approved, Negros Occidental will become highly industrialized but how long the critical ecosystems of the province can withstand with these?
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