DE BEERS MINING THREAT
Some background information.
De Beers Consolidated Mines (Pty) Ltd (De Beers) has lodged an application for Prospecting Rights and Environmental Authorisation with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to undertake offshore diamond prospecting activities in Sea Concession 6C. De Beers currently have Environmental Authorisation for a proposed exploration sampling programme. Sea concession 6C is located off the West Coast, between Kleinsee in the north and Hondeklip Bay in the south. See map below.
The inshore boundary is 5km seaward of the coast while the offshore boundary is located 70-100km offshore with a total extent of 345 746 hectares.
De Beers propose to undertake bulk sampling activities using specialized vessels. Either a vessel operated by De Beers Marine (owned by De Beers Consolidated Mines) the mv Coral Sea or a marine diamond vessel operated by Debmarine Namibia (Pty) Ltd will be used.
Two possible methods considered for the bulk sampling are:
The vertical method utilizes a tool mounted on a drill string
The horizontal method used a seabed crawler
The planned bulk sampling operation would have a total footprint of approximately 48 000m2 and would be undertaken in up to 60 days over the 5-year licence period.
According the assessment by consulting company, SLR, the cumulative impact of the bulk sampling process is envisioned to be of very low significance. However, the sampling method will generate sediment plumes which will inhibit phytoplankton’s photosynthetic capability and pelagic visual predators due to poor visibility. Egg and/or larval development impairment and reduction of benthic bivalve filter-feeding efficiencies will also be impacted. Secondly there is risk that sediment with heavy metals or contaminants are remobilised. The fishing industry could also be impacted by bulking sampling in terms of movement and time, which according to SLR is a low impact. The concession is near the designated management areas of the West Coast rock lobster, abalone ranching and netfish sectors that exploit depths of less than 100m but the report suggests these sectors may not be affected. However, sectors that may be impacted are fisheries such as demersal longline, tuna pole and traditional line fishing. The comment period for the electronically distributed draft Environmental Impact Report was 30 days ending on the 8th October 2020. SRL notified all industrial fishing companies working in the area however failed to notify the small-scale cooperatives in Port Nolloth and Hondeklipbaai who are now rights holders in this area. A request from small-scale fishing communities for an extension of the comment period has been granted by the SRL who have undertaken to engage with the Small-scale Fishing cooperatives in the area.
Issues of concerns
One of the main concerns with these various offshore applications is the lack of effective public consultation which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. There seems to be a perception that local communities and other interested and affected parties are not interested in and will not be affected by these developments since they are offshore and basically out of sight. This is a fundamentally incorrect perception since South African citizens, coastal communities and all users of the ocean environment are deeply concerned about what activities are planned for these marine areas. Coastal communities in particular, have relied on food and livelihoods from the sea for generations and have deep spiritual connections to the ocean. They have witnessed the increasing destruction of the coastal environment due to coastal mining along the Northern cape coast for years and are deeply concerned about the rapid increase of prospecting and mining applications further offshore. Of particular concern to the Hondeklipbaai community is the fact that De Beers sold off its land-based mining operations in 2012, including the responsibility to rehabilitate their mining areas, which was part of the sale agreement. West Coast Resources, the subsidiary of TransHex that purchased the concessions was not able to honour this agreement and applied for insolvency in April 2019, leaving much of the rehabilitation obligations remaining. The community feel strongly that De Beers should not be permitted to move from on-shore to off-shore if they have failed to ensure that their commitments on land have been fulfilled. They are also extremely concerned by the authorisation given to West Coast Resources to use Coffer Dams along their coastline.
Both coastal and nearshore habitats have been severely degraded, and communities report that certain fish species are no longer coming into the embayments and their livelihoods which depend on a healthy marine ecosystem have been severely affected. Thus, the people of South Africa and coastal communities in particular, have a right to know about all proposals and plans for the marine environment and be given an opportunity to express their views and concerns. These concerns and inputs are required to be taken into consideration and addressed in the environmental assessment reports prepared by consultants as required by the NEMA: EIA Regulations of 2014. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for a more holistic and integrated approach to ocean planning as there is no overall vision of strategic plan for the west coast including the Offshore marine environment. Of concern is that all these applications are being assessed on an ad hoc basis and the South African public have no idea of what is being planned in their coastal and marine environment. There is an urgent need for a more strategic and systematic approach to ocean planning that involves the public in a transparent and meaningful way. The new Marine Spatial Planning Act 16 of 2018, provides a framework to enable this to take place but it is imperative that the pubic and local communities are involved in these planning processes.