Apart from toxic waste and loads of garbage, Manila Bay is now home to the country’s most controversial faux white sand as a desperate move to save the decaying shoreline.
A project by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a 500-meter portion of the infamous Bay of the city is now coated with white sand from crushed dolomite, a rock-forming mineral that is commonly used for construction purposes. The said ‘sand’ is mined from the mountains in Cebu and shipped to the ports of Manila. However, according to the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Cebu, they were left blindsided to the operations. Provincial Board Member John Ismael Borgonia was alarmed by the information DENR disclosed during the actual “beach nourishment” of the Manila Bay.
However, the intervention received heavy criticism for its understudied plan that failed to include several factors the project might/or is affecting. Organizations such as the fisherfolk group, Pamalakaya, Greenpeace Philippines, PANGISDA-Philippines, and more have raised their voice in opposition to the unsustainable beautification of Manila Bay.
THE PRICE OF FAKE BEAUTY
More than its P389 million budget, the ‘white sand’ project contributed to the destruction of the mountains in Cebu and indirectly affected the aquatic life in the body of water near the sourced mountain every time the sand is transported to the cargo vessel.
The fallen debris of dolomite sand in the ocean accumulated and killed the coral reefs in the area. With that small amount of dolomite causing that much harm, experts continue to raise awareness of the negative side effects of the white sand project to the existing ecosystem of Manila Bay and the affected mountain in Cebu.
In an article published by Rappler, Lehigh Hanson stated that the sand in the water can increase the Total Suspended Particulate (TSP) Level which then can be harmful to aquatic life in the Bay. Diovanie De Jesus, a Marine Scientist, claims that the synthetic sand can make the water a stressful environment for the existing fishes in the area.
A HEALTH RISK
Beyond its aesthetic value, the crushed dolomite is also a serious health risk according to professionals.
At the beginning of the project, the Department of Health (DOH) voiced out the negative health implications of dolomite to the people. However, they immediately retracted their announcement.
Initially used for construction, the material has long been studied to have negative effects not just on the environment but to the public as well. In a safety and data report by Lehigh Hanson Inc. (2008), dolomite is said to cause eye and skin irritation as well as cancer and lung damage for prolonged exposure.
An article published by Inquirer also claimed that Lhoist North America, another company, reported that dolomite contains crystalline silica which causes chronic lung disorders.
THE OTHER OPTION
Aligned with the beautification of the Bay, Wavefarers, a youth environmental group, called on DENR to focus on restoring the ecosystem of Manila Bay instead.
According to the environmental group, Mangrove forests filter, and store metals which helps keep the coastal water clean. Before garbage took over the shoreline, Manila Bay was a mangrove forest rich with seagrass beds, tidal flats, and coral reefs. Moreover, the presented option also softens the impact of tsunamis and storm surges.
MASSES VS DENR
As the agency that leads in environmental protection, the DENR is expected to be scientifically equipped with knowledge about the proper care for the environment and not as a catalyst for careless projects.
In an interview with Philippine Inquirer, University of the Philippines law professor Jay Batongbacal expressed that the hard evidence from US contractors about the potential harm of dolomite is a ground for filing a petition for a writ of kalikasan, the legal way to halt the project.
Organizations such as Akbayan have also filed a motion before the Supreme Court for a tribunal to cite the DENR for its white sand project claiming that it’s against the Mandamus judgment of the area.
The ideal aesthetic for Manila Bay cannot be fully achieved without proper and sufficient planning. An empirical and sustainable project that is backed by scientific data is ideal especially when the public welfare is concerned.
Amidst the pandemic, the masses deserve projects and interventions that go beyond pageantries and deceit.