By Pratch Rujivanarom
LIMESTONE MINING for the cement industry endangers many distinct endemic species found amid Saraburi’s karst ecosystem and poses a threat of extinction, environmental experts caution.
With an imminent threat to flora and fauna from the mining of Saraburi’s limestone mountains, top biodiversity expert Nonn Panitvong is urging cement companies and related agencies to ensure the limestone rock reserves are used in a sustainable manner and moves are made to conserve the biodiversity of the region.
On March 5, the Cabinet granted the Siam Cement Group (SCG) a concession to mine rock in 3,223 rai of protected forestland on a limestone mountain in Saraburi’s Muak Lek and Kaeng Khoi districts. Other cement companies have also received permission to mine limestone in nearby mountains.
When the Cabinet decision went public, Nonn voiced concern that a new round of limestone exploitation would threaten the survival of many endangered species, some of which are only found in the region’s karst ecosystem or even only on a specific mountain.
“I agree that we need cement to drive our country’s development, and even my own home is made with cement. But I have doubts about how sustainable the mining will be and whether they will leave alone parts of the mountains under their concession for biodiversity conservation,” he said.
“So far, neither SCG or any other cement company has said how they will manage their mining plots to ensure a sustainable use of the non-renewable limestone resource, or how they will mitigate the threats to the unique flora and fauna that live in the forest they are exploiting.”
The forested limestone mountains that dot the plain of Saraburi at first look appear inhospitable for rare animals and plant species. But in fact the karst ecosystem is home to many unique species not found anywhere else in the world.
“Each limestone mountain harbours lives that can only survive and thrive in a particular ecosystem in that mountain only,” Nonn explained.
“While the mountains in Saraburi are mostly isolated and scattered across a plain covered in farms, factories and urban areas, these mountains are like islands in the sea. Many species on these mountain have evolved in the same way that animals and plants on isolated islands do,” he said.
“From my observations in the small mountain ranges and isolated mountains in Saraburi, each mountain range is alone in having different varieties of curve-toed geckos [Cyrtodactylus]. Some species can only be found on a single mountain, so it can be concluded that Saraburi’s karst ecosystems are very rich with very diverse biology.”
The unique species are not limited to small mammals, he says. The goat-like serow has survived in this difficult to navigate area, along with rare birds such as the limestone wren babbler.
Nonn is urging the cement companies and related agencies to prioritise the conservation of these rare species. As each species goes extinct, the impact may not at first be dire, but the continuous irresponsible exploitation of nature will eventually lead to the collapse of ecosystems, which will in turn harm humanity.
Meanwhile, SCG vice president Chana Phumi said the Cabinet had merely renewed a previous concession that the company already had.
“We would like to assure that SCG has followed strict procedures to ensure environmental protection standard according to law,” Chana said.
SCG backs the principle of environmentally friendly mining management, he said, and applies the semi-open cut technique in its limestone mines to lower air and noise pollution in nearby communities.
Once the mines are closed, SCG |also restores the old mining areas in an effort to recreate healthy ecosystems and the forest’s biodiversity, he added.