12 October 2016 at 8:30 am
The Safeguard our Seabed Coalition (SoS) has launched a unique, new website to provide access to essential information on seabed mining. The first of its kind in SA, the site is a comprehensive resource on, among others, the socio-economic and environmental impacts of marine mining. Its launch coincides with SA National Marine Week from 10-14 October 2016, and visitors to the Safeguard our Seabed website will find its pages easy to navigate via four main categories:
- Safeguard our Seabed, which describes the Coalition’s objectives and progress in pursuit of a moratorium on marine phosphate mining, and presents three new studies to help inform decision-makers and guide policy-making.
- Marine Phosphate Mining, which provides in-depth details of the three marine phosphate prospecting rights granted by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). These rights cover approximately 10% of SA’s exclusive economic zone and overlap with South Africa’s largest fishing grounds and critically endangered ecosystems. This section also outlines the environmental and socio-economic impacts of seabed mining, and the associated legal and governance challenges. Three handy fact sheets explain the risks posed by bulk marine sediment mining and why a cautious approach is critical.
- Mineral and Petroleum Extraction, which reveals that approximately 98% of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone is already subject to a right or lease for offshore oil and gas exploration or production. In addition, an increasing number of prospecting and mining rights have been granted for offshore heavy mineral sand mining and unconventional oil and gas activities.
- Seabed mining around the world, which addresses seabed mining in the High Seas as regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and international Mining Code. The ISA is a relatively small organisation, yet it has already issued exploratory licenses for seabed mining across 1.2 million square kilometres of ocean floor, causing the SoS to pose the question: “Should the fate of 45% of the planet’s surface be decided by 24 people?” Additionally, this section sets out comparative cases of seabed prospecting or mining applications in other countries, focusing on New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Namibia; all of which have opted for a cautious approach to seabed mining.
The SoS was formed in 2015 by a group of 11 organisations that represent the interests of commercial and small scale fishing, organised labour, and the environmental sector in SA – all of which share a common interest in pursuing a cautious approach towards seabed mining.
Saul Roux, legal campaigner at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) – a member of the SoS – says: “Since prospecting rights are being granted, there is every indication that seabed mining will become a reality in SA, yet there is limited knowledge of its impacts and of the ecological importance of seabed ecosystems. What we do know is that seabed mining would have irreversible impacts on our marine ecosystems; and there are currently no standards or protocols that could reduce its destructive effect. The technology employed, Trailing Suction Hopper-Dredge (TSHD), has not been tested anywhere else in the world – and for good reason. It is comparable to strip mining the sea floor at an alarming rate and creates a giant plume of toxic sediment that smothers marine ecosystems well beyond the mining block.”
The Coalition is equally concerned about the potential socio-economic impacts of seabed mining. Roux explains: “Our fishing industry provides significant socio-economic benefits, which range from job creation to food security. SA’s commercial fishing industry employs approximately 27 000 people directly and 100 000 people indirectly, while the latest estimates suggest that the there are approximately 8 078 small-scale fishers in the country who depend on healthy marine ecosystems for their livelihood.”
At present, South Africa’s legal and governance framework is inadequate for dealing with seabed mining. The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MPRDA), does not address offshore mining and many provisions in the MPRDA would be difficult to translate to offshore mining. The DMR also has significant capacity constraints for compliance monitoring and enforcement. Roux says: “Without effective compliance monitoring and enforcement for offshore mining, we would see an offshore mining industry that is unregulated and not subject to state monitoring or enforcement of its compliance with licences and environmental laws. This would result in severe and irreversible damage to our marine environments and fisheries resources and, for these reasons, the SoS is pursuing a moratorium on bulk marine sediment mining.”
There are two legal mechanisms for establishing such a moratorium. The Minister of Mineral Resources may prohibit a specific mining activity, or the Minister of Environmental Affairs may prohibit the granting of environmental authorisations for a specific mining activity. The SoS is pursuing both channels in its efforts to achieve a moratorium. Support them by visiting the new Safeguard our Seabed website, liking them on https://www.facebook.com/SafeguardourSeabedCoalition, or following them on @SOS_Coalition.