Mining – particularly surface mining and mountain removal mining – frequently causes long-term and sometimes irreversible impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. Erosion and destruction of coral reefs and mango swamps are common. Surface mining also destroys large areas of land. When mines are decommissioned, large holes in the ground remain, and spills involving heavy metals, acids, and toxic chemicals can continue for many years after mining operations have ceased.
Jazmin Romero on the bank of the river Arroyo in Colombia. Villagers protested against the mining company Cerrejón’s plans to re-route the river. Photo: Javier De la Cuadra
The Philippines’ worst mining disaster
Twenty years after a mining accident in which a dam burst on the island of Marinduque in the Philippines, the affected area is still yet to recover. Three to four million tonnes of toxic mine waste from copper extraction was released into a river system causing fish and shellfish in the Boac river to die, as did livestock that drank the water. Marine ecosystems disappeared, as mangroves, seaweed and coral were destroyed and trees along the river died. Following the disaster, villagers were forced to travel many kilometres to collect water.
In the wake of the accident, the government ordered the closure of the mine. Mining company Marcopper was accused of simply stopping operations and abandoning the mine. The company has failed to take responsibility for compensating those affected by the disaster or for rehabilitating the areas that have been destroyed.
“The damage caused by the mining disaster at Marcopper were enormous,” Imelda Diaz, regional environment and natural resources official on Marinduque tells Business Mirror. “It wasn’t just the trees that were destroyed – it was the entire ecosystem. Even the coast and the marine ecosystem was destroyed. The damage caused by the spill are well documented.”