Everything You Need to Know About the 'White Sand' in Manila Bay

It’s not that simple.
IMAGE Jerome Ascano / Summit Media

It didn’t take long before citizens on social media reacted to the news about “white sand” being dumped on Manila’s baywalk area. Workers contracted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were seen bringing the sand to a stretch of the baywalk on top of the blackish-gray sand in the area.

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The big question most people are asking is: why? What is it for? And is it really a wise move to cover what’s there with a more visually appealing substitute?

1| It’s not sand

The first thing we need to clarify is that’s actually not sand you see on the baywalk. According to an official ffrom the DENR, it’s actually crushed dolomite boulders from Cebu. 

“Bawal i-biyahe ang sand galing sa mga coastal area (Transporting sand from our coastal areas is not allowed),” DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda was quoted as saying to reporters on Thursday.

And he’s right. According to the Operational Plan for the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy by the Manila Bay Environmental Management Project (MBEMP) from 2005, there is a “moratorium on mining and quarrying of sand from rivers” and existing laws on mining and quarrying sand from beaches and PAs (protected areas) is being strictly enforced.

2| It’s not purely aesthetic

Environmental and militant groups have been up in arms about the news. Greenpeace Philippines called it “unnecessary,” advocacy group Oceana Philippines said it’s “a waste of money,” and fisherfolk group Pamalakaya said the DENR should address the actual “environmental concerns” Manila Bay is facing.

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But the DENR said the move serves more than just making the surrounding landscape prettier to look at. 

“This is an awareness project telling the people to do their responsibility to take care of the environment,” Antiporda told ABS-CBN News. “Kailangan kumilos na tayo na magtulong-tulong na tayo.”

The idea, Antiporda explained, is to remind people not to litter and keep their surroundings clean.

“Dahil naniniwala po ang ating Kalihim Roy Cimatu na konektado ang pandemic na ito sa atin pong pagiging pabaya sa ating kalikasan at sa atin pong kapaligiran (Because our Secretary Roy Cimatu believes that the pandemic is connected to our carelessness and disregard for our environment)," CNN Philippines quoted him as saying.

3| The ‘white sand’ will not erode (hopefully)

Some people also expressed concern that the “white sand” would, in time, simply erode or be washed away by the tide. 

The DENR said steps are being taken to ensure the sustainability of the project. 

"Meron po tayong mga engineering interventions na gagawin diyan para ho sigurong ma-preserve ito at masustain natin yung ating tinatawag na napakagandang Manila Bay," he said.

4| Other steps are being taken to rehabilitate Manila Bay

Manila Bay has long been a sore point in the campaign to clean up the city. What was once envisioned to be a grand boulevard has degenerated over the years and become an eyesore and cesspool of the city’s filth. 

But we’re still holding out hope that efforts to bring Manila Bay back to life will bear fruit. And the DENR says it is taking major steps to make this happen. 

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Fecal coliform levels in the bay have gone down from 330 million mpn/100ml, its level in 2018 when the Manila Bay rehabilitation project was started in earnest.

The target is to reduce the coliform level in Manila Bay to less than 270 most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters (ml) and in all esteros or waterways leading to the bay to 100 mpn/100ml, according to the Manila Bulletin. When that happens, the public will be allowed to swim in the bay. 

Cleaning and dredging activities in the waterways that flow into Manila Bay are also being undertaken. 

In July, the DENR also inaugurated a solar power sewage treatment plant capable of treating up to 500,000 liters of wastewater discharged into Manila Bay per day.

Of course, all of this would be for nothing if people continue to dump garbage and waste into the Bay, so here’s hoping we all pitch in and help.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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