White Beaches and Dead Fishes: The Beautification of Manila Bay

by: Nathaniel Dela Torre || Photo Credit: George Calvelo/ABS-CBN News

The Rehabilitation of Manila Bay started three years ago, along with ongoing reclamation projects. Beyond the white beach and dead fish stands an ecosystem endangered by these reclamation projects. The rehabilitation of the bay cost a whopping PHP 389 million, with PHP 28 million spent on the crushed dolomite alone. 

Recently, the topic of Manila Bay being incapable of hosting marine ecosystems started to rise, as reports say that local government units have declared the bay dead. Fisherfolk, who rely on the bay for a living, deny the claims but emphasize that the ecosystem is at risk due to the several reclamation projects slated for the bay. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) likewise denies the statement by citing studies showing the bay’s diverse life, such as fish, corals, and mangroves.

Let us look back to when the supposed rehabilitation project was in its early phase. The reconstruction plan was spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in 2019 after the supreme court ordered agencies to restore the water quality of Manila Bay. 

The project’s first phase started with desilting and dredging operations. The rehabilitation report of DENR recorded more than 3,810 tons of garbage, water hyacinth, and silt were removed from the coastlines and drainage systems leading to the bay. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) then started the project’s second phase by relocating informal settler families. Then, on September 3, 2020, the Manila Baywalk was dumped with ‘white sand’ or crushed dolomite boulders.

From the start, the decision to make a white beach was already questionable. In an economic sense, the funds allocated for this project phase could have been used for more critical projects, especially as this was done during the height of the pandemic. The funds could have been used to pay the healthcare workers’ salaries, fund hospitals, and buy equipment – all pivotal in fighting the pandemic. 

Echoing environmentalists’ concern, the decision to dump hazardous dolomite sediments on top of polluted waters will not help DENR reach its goal of restoring the water quality of Manila Bay. The crushed dolomite can cause adverse effects on health and cause damage to the ecosystems around the bay.

When the dolomite sand was overlaid along the Manila Bay coastline, the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) emphasized, “There are no shortcuts to a cleaner environment. The use of crushed Dolomite sand will not help solve the environmental problems in Manila Bay.” 

“At most, it is a beautification effort that is costly and temporary,” they added.

According to their statement, the dolomite sand will erode and will be washed away, given the coastline conditions during storms. This would mean that the sand needs to be replaced every time it is washed out, making it prohibitively expensive and not cost-efficient simply for a rehabilitation project. Above all, the dolomite sand will also not solve the potential acidification of the ocean, and inhaling its particles may even be detrimental to humans. Since the first layer of dolomite sand was applied in 2020, it has been reapplied constantly in the past two years due to typhoons and tides washing it away. This is not to mention the hazard of dolomite sediments being washed up into other parts of the sea. 

The UP Institute of Biology has also released a statement against the dumping of dolomite sand. The institution emphasized the project’s effects on the area’s biodiversity and ecology. In their statement, an alternative for the project was also suggested—mangroves, more specifically, rehabilitating mangroves, as it is one of the more effective nature-based solutions. According to the statement, it can significantly contribute to biodiversity and reduce heavy metal contamination, both relevant to the bay in the discussion. This goes to show that there are more effective solutions, both economically and environmentally, for the rehabilitation of the bay. The government just has its mind set on the ongoing detrimental project.

Rehabilitating and restoring the water conditions of Manila Bay is definitely crucial for our country; however, it should not have been the priority during the peak of the pandemic. Additionally, the dolomite beach phase of the rehabilitation program is more detrimental than beneficial. As environmentalists and scientists have suggested, there are more beneficial projects that the government can implement, such as mangrove forests and the like, instead of the controversial white beach. What was supposed to be a rehabilitation of the bay turned into a beautification project. At this point, the bay’s future relies on the government’s decisions. It is only when the government trusts in science and pushes back their reclamation dreams will the bay thrive.

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