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DENR: Mindoro oil spill may affect over 2k hectares of coral reefs, mangroves

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Friday said more than 2,000 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass can be potentially affected after a motor tanker carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil sank off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.

Based on the initial findings, the DENR said approximately 591 hectares of coral reefs, 1,626 hectares of mangroves and 362 hectares of seagrass or seaweeds can be potentially affected.

The DENR said there are 21 locally managed marine protected areas located in Oriental Mindoro.

Also at risk is the Verde Island Passage—the globally recognized center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity—according to DENR's potential impact map based on the last known location of MT Princess Empress. 

So far, the most affected area is the town of Pola, which already declared a state of calamity as the seawater and shoreline there have turned black while various species of fish have reportedly died.

Meanwhile, the University of the Philippines- Diliman College of Science Marine Science Institute (UPD-CS MSI) released a statement saying the oil spill may eventually affect 24,000 hectares of coral reef —one and a half times the area of Quezon City.

"The oil has reportedly reached the shores of the coastal towns of Naujan, Pola, and Pinamalayan. With the direction of the wind and the waves, the oil might reach the southern tip of Mindoro in a matter of days," said UPD-CS MSI in a statement released Friday.

"At risk is over 24,000 hectares of coral reef area in Mindoro alone—from Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, all the way to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro." 

Along with the UPD-CS MSI, other representatives from different agencies and institutions such as UP-Visayas (UPV), Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been deployed onsite to assess and assist the situation on the ground.

MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil when it sank due to strong waves on February 28.

Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor on Friday said he suspended fishing in areas affected due to possible water toxification.

The DENR has recommended deploying health workers to monitor and address possible health impacts on the community in coordination with the Department of Health.

It also suggested creating a cash-for-work program for the coastal cleanup, as a short-term intervention to provide temporary employment.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), meanwhile, has placed an oil spill bloom to contain the spill and deployed divers and marine experts to help in the containment effort.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the sinking. —VAL, GMA Integrated News