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Can mined-out areas be green again?

Yes, mined-out areas can still be rehabilitated through the government’s Greening mined-out areas in the Philippines (GMAP) program that adopted Bioremediation, the use of live microbes and plants as biological solutions to clean up and rehabilitate stressed environments such as mined-out or mine tailing areas.

The GMAP program, led by Dr. Nelly Aggangan, from the University of the Philippines, Los Banos, successfully developed a microbial-based protocol that can effectively rehabilitate unproductive mine tailing areas in the Philippines, converting barren lands into mini forests.

Mined-out areas are devoid of plants due to many biotic and abiotic factors and one of them is the presence of residual heavy metals in the mining wastes.

“Bioremediation is the cleaning of contaminated soil with microbes, enhancing carbon capture and reducing heavy metals contamination to surrounding communities” Aggangan explained.

The first phase of the GMAP program was done in 2015-2018 in a copper-gold mined-out and mine tailing dumpsite in Marinduque, of which the protocol developed in Marinduque is now being adopted by the local government units and being replicated in Surigao, which is the second phase of the program.

Photo grabbed from the PowerPoint presentation of the GMAP.

The GMAP in Surigao del Norte which is expected to end this year aims to test the effectiveness of Marinduque bioremediation protocol by assessing Marinduque isolates potency in rehabbing gold and nickel areas, and it also looked for microbes in Surigao that can help in bioremediation.

“We are expecting that these Marinduque isolates will work also in Surigao. If that is the case, we can also introduce the Marinduque isolates in all mined-out areas in the Philippines,” Aggangan explained what could happen if the beneficial effects of the isolates from Marinduque are applied to the plants of Surigao.

The researchers developed microbial-based fertilizers MYKOVAM® which is a soil-based mycorrhizal inoculant and MYKORICH®, a sand-based mycorrhizal inoculant.

These developed inoculants give way to symbiosis, meaning, there is a give-and-take relationship between plants and the fungus. With symbiosis, fungi derive nutrients from the soil, while plants give out carbohydrates, increasing the population of microbes.

Aggangan clarified the difference between traditional fertilizers and inoculants. The former is quite expensive, easily runs out, and can even end up polluting the ecosystem, while the latter can only be applied once and lasts for a longer period.

“Pag palagi kang naglalagay ng abono, nagiging acidic yung lupa. Samantalang sa microbyo, yung acidic ginagawa nyang maging neutral para maging mas malago ang halaman. Pag acidic, posibleng mamatay or maging bansot yung halaman,” Aggangan pointed out the advantages of inoculants when applied in the soil of mined-out areas.

Inoculants cause plants to grow bigger, taller, and more developed roots. Inoculated plants take out more nickel contaminants in the soil. As contaminants are drawn in by plants, the soil is cleaned of toxic materials.

Despite the success of the first phase of the program and the initial success of the second phase, Aggangan appeals to the mining companies to cooperate and allow them to conduct their research in their mining sites because their previous experience was quite a challenge.

“Hindi ko kaya ito mag-isa. Tulungan nyo po ako at lalong-lalo na sa mga andoon sa mga mining areas, please help us para naman lalong maganda ang aming maituturo sa inyo,” Aggangan said.

GMAP program is under the “SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES,” the top priority program of the National Integrated Basic Research Agenda (NIBRA) of the Harmonized National Research Agenda (HNRDA) 2017 – 2022 of the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP).

by Geraldine Bulaon-Ducusin, S&T Media Service

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