Tag Archives: mining

Underwater Gold Miners in Southern Leyte

I spent a month in Leyte last year while working on a story about independent (illegal) gold miners in the Philippines. When I heard about the magnitude of typhoon Haiyan, and that it had devastated Leyte’s largest city, Tacloban, I immediately thought of these guys.

I recently heard from a friend who used to live on Leyte, and still kept in contact with some of her old friends. Many have lost their families, and I fear the worst for the gold miners I met.

Working along the gold rich coasts of the island, these miners spend up to 10 hours a day dredging the sea floor for ore using only their hands and empty rice bags. They make their own goggles from coconuts and polished glass bottles, and most wear only flip flops as diving shoes. Their air comes through thin plastic tubes which is pumped from a small compressor on shore. Any tangle or kink in the lines would mean drowning.

The gold they find is extracted from the ore at handmade washing stations along the beach, and then sold to small-scale local buyers. From here the gold leaves the island and is taken to larger buyers who smelt the gold into disks or bricks of pure gold before shipping the product to the gold markets of Manila. For their part in the operation the divers will see very little of the profit, and despite finding gold nearly every day, are only just able to support their families on what they make.

As much as I would like to hope, I think it would be naive to imagine none of these people have been affected by the Haiyan disaster. These people had a rough life to begin with, and it has gotten much, much harder. They were extremely welcoming to me, and once things settle down I plan to make a trip to see what their situation is and how I can help.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

An underwater miner prepares to dive. The miners often make their own goggles out of wood and polished glass bottles.

An underwater miner prepares to dive. The miners often make their own goggles out of wood and polished glass bottles.

Two senior miners monitor the diving, watching the air tubes for kinks or signs of trouble. Since the divers are weighted with large boulders any failure in the air system can be fatal.

Two senior miners monitor the diving, watching the air tubes for kinks or signs of trouble. Since the divers are weighted with large boulders any failure in the air system can be fatal.

A miner hauls unprocessed rock from the seabed onto the beach.

A miner hauls unprocessed rock from the seabed onto the beach.

A boy washes crushed rock to separate the sand and mud from the gold dust.

A boy washes crushed rock to separate the sand and mud from the gold dust.

Liquid mercury is used to separate the gold from the sand and mud. Extremely poisonous, the use of mercury for mining is illegal in most countries, including the Philippines.

Liquid mercury is used to separate the gold from the sand and mud. Extremely poisonous, the use of mercury for mining is illegal in most countries, including the Philippines.

The raw gold is melted in ceramic bowls to solidify it into circular disks in a refinery on the neighbouring island of Mindanao.

The raw gold is melted in ceramic bowls to solidify it into circular disks in a refinery on the neighbouring island of Mindanao.

A disk of pure gold, ready to be sold.

A disk of pure gold, ready to be sold.

A low-level buyer weighs the day’s gold. When he has collected enough to make the trip profitable, he will transport the gold to the neighbouring island of Mindanao for refining.

A low-level buyer weighs the day’s gold. When he has collected enough to make the trip profitable, he will transport the gold to the neighbouring island of Mindanao for refining.

A gold market in Chinatown, Manila. Some of the gold from Pinot An makes its way to the nation’s capital, though the vast majority is smuggled out of the country.

A gold market in Chinatown, Manila. Some of the gold from Pinot An makes its way to the nation’s capital, though the vast majority is smuggled out of the country.

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