Titanium Mining would dramatically transform The ecosystem of Gulf Mannar
Mannar area is a very important place from both historical and natural point of view. (―Mannar‖ = Minara — a place of worship. Their sand and mineral deposited area called‖ Adams bridge‖ and it is starting from Mannar and its stretch to India’s Pamaban island ( Rameshwaram). This chain of the island has identified as ―Adam’s Bridge‖ by a British map maker. The Indian name Rama Sethu refers to the Indian legend Ramayanaya: the bridge is supposed to have been built for the Indian Prince Rama to cross from India to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka. This is a historical story that has been adapted with this land area of manner.
Gulf Mannar including Manar island is an ecological valuable place for both Sri Lanka and India. Because of this, the Indian Government declared sea and some island areas as a protected area.
The protected area is specifically a Biosphere Reserve, extending over 10,500 km2 within this area there are 21 islands. Within this reserve is the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park extending over 560 km2. Apart that their buffer zone and ecological value zone close to Mannar Island in Sri Lanka.
The National Centre for Coastal Research, an institute under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, in India, has a field research station in the Gulf of Mannar region and identified different habitats, including coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses. (See below for an explanation). Visiting the 21 islands are 168 kinds of birds that migrate from afar, 5 kinds of marine turtles, 450 different kinds of fish, 79 kinds of shellfish, 100 different kinds of sponges, 260 kinds of molluscs (relatives of snails) and 100 kinds of echinoderms (sea stars, sand dollars, sea cucumbers and their relatives).
Australian Perth –based mining company, Titanium Sands Ltd, plans to carry out extensive limonite sand mining on fragile Mannar Island in Gulf Mannar region. This mining project will create great damage to all the area of Mannar island, Mannar Marine national park and its rich biodiversity.
The Mannar Island is 26km long by 8km wide and has rich deposits of the mineral limonite in its sand. This is the main source of titanium dioxide, titanium (IV) oxide or titanium, chemical formula TiO
Titanium dioxide has a wide range of applications, including paint, sunscreen, and food colouring. It has been estimated that in 2018 titanium dioxide is used in two-thirds of all pigments. This is a big profit business for multinational companies and that is the reason why Australian titanium Sands Companies are much focused on Mannar titanium mining project.
The company is looking to mine an area of the island that is 2 km wide and about 8 km long. Companies that Titanium Sands acquired had started preliminary assessment with small-scale drilling on the island in 2015. Throughout the totality of their study, which included a scoping study completed this year, the company drilled more than 4.000 exploratory holes without the
permission of the private land’s owners. The deepest holes going down for 12 meters. The average of holes was between 1 and 3 meters.
This mining project will create great damage to groundwater table in the land area of Mannar Island. There’s the risk to contaminate the drinking water with the saltwater during the mining works, creating disruption for the lives of tens of thousands residents who depend on fishing and other primary industries for their livelihoods.
Mannar Island is a low-lying coastal area prone to natural hazards such as flash floods, cyclones and sea-level rise. In spite of NO environmental approvals and mining licenses being issued, TSL is aggressively seeking investors for their sand mining operation, claiming that the operation is a simple, low impact mining process.
However, the social, ecological and economic consequences are many: the destruction of traditional fishing grounds and livelihoods, increasing salinity of wells and groundwater, destruction of old-growth palmyrah forests, habitat damage of Mannar’s significant migratory bird population, the devastation of the tourist industry and the adverse bearing on historical sites.
Exploration licences for Mannar Island were issued by the Geological Survey & Mines Bureau to six local companies, wholly-owned subsidiaries of TSL.
The Sri Lankan Geological Surveys and Mines Bureau (GSMB) is the government body responsible for issuing mining and exploration licences in Sri Lanka. They are not able to issue the license without proper environmental impact assessment according to National Environment act in Sri Lanka. In this case, National environment act has been violated by the companies.
Mining companies made a great damage to the Manner island till now and it will be great thousands of time more than now in the future. A titanium mining company in Mannar island will create mega damage to Mannar island biodiversity, Gulf Mannar region and Mannar Marine National Park. The park is a world heritage. Both, Sri Lankan and Indian Government are responsible to look after and protect this Biosphere Reserve according to the international environmental law. As a world citizen, every human being are responsible to protect Biosphere reserve and no one can make damage on that. It is the same for every government in the world.
If the Sri Lankan Government will decide to allow Titanium mining company to work in the Mannar Island, Titanium dust and sand will be deposit on the coral and marine habitat in Gulf Mannar sea area. The sea waves can transport this sediment on Marine national park and it is a buffer zone. That’s why the government of Sri Lanka has to pay attention to Marine biodiversity more than the Australian money makers.
Raveendra Kariaywasam (Environmentalist)Center for environment and Nature Studies, Sri Lanka.