Marine phosphate mining, offshore diamond mining, fishing and Kudu
A battle is emerging over control and strategic influence in the Atlantic Ocean between competing sectors in Namibia ranging from fisheries, diamond, phosphate and energy sectors. Currently, the fisheries sector is the main user of the Namibian ocean territory, followed by marine diamond mining. With Government planning to setup the Kudu Power Plant in the coming years, there needs to be proper consultations to ensure minimal environmental damages, says a local geologist. The Kudu gas field is an offshore gas field in Namibia approximately 170 kilometres northwest from Oranjemund. It is located in the Orange Sub-basin in 170 metres (560 ft) of water. World leader in marine diamond exploration and mining technology, Debmarine, is currently mining diamonds at sea as well.
With the Ministry of Environment and Tourism having recently issued an Environmental Clearance Certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphate, additional competition for space in the Namibian waters could fragment the nation when it comes to extracting marine resources without one crippling the other. Ministries of Fisheries and Marine Resources and Environment and Tourism are currently at war, with the fisheries ministry fuming at the environment ministry for allowing marine phosphate mining to take place in the Atlantic Ocean. Local industrial geologist, Siyambango Mulife, says there is room for coexistence when it comes to utilising marine resources. “There is no need for the sectors to compete when it comes to making use of the ocean because each can operate in demarcated zones,” he says. Mulife: “It is important that Government prioritises multi-sectoral planning to avoid clashes. Government must allow the extraction of different resources at sea, as long as it is done sustainably and it must be accompanied by a comprehensive management plan because every mining activity has its possible benefits for the country.”
According to Mulife, an independent consultant, all marine resource extraction processes are harmful but “the important thing is how you manage the risks”. “The Kudu project and diamond mining are more dangerous to the fishing sector but no one is saying anything,” he says. Economists have in the past warned that Namibia’s economic woes could increasingly worsen if the country does not diversify revenue derived from its natural resources. “The fisheries ministry has demonstrated a lack of technical know-how because it feels only fisheries’ activities must take place in the ocean. But that should not be allowed because we cannot have a situation whereby one resource is not developed because of the other, we must find ways to ensure that they coexist. In order for us to industrialise this country, we need to industrialise all our resources,” he says, adding that the fisheries ministry should not be allowed to act as a referee and player at the same time. “There has been overfishing over the years and deep-sea trawlers have been catching fish on the seafloor without any environmental clearance certificates but now the ministry wants to stop others from also making use of the ocean…that should not be allowed,” Mulife charges. His remarks come days after the Ministry of Environment and Tourism revealed that plans are underway to subject all companies fishing in Namibian waters to apply for an environmental clearance certificate before they can be allowed to fish.
Scientific findings have discovered that bottom trawling, an industrial fishing method that drags large, heavy nets across the seafloor stirs up huge, billowing plumes of sediment on shallow seafloors that can be seen from space. As a result of scientific studies showing that bottom trawling kills vast numbers of corals, sponges, fishes and other aquatic animals, bottom trawling has been banned in a growing number of places in recent years. But despite these findings, environmental commissioner Teofelus Nghitila has said little attention is being paid to the damage caused by the trawlers. “Fishing trawlers are equally damaging [referring to marine phosphate and deep sea diamond mining] to the marine ecosystem but nobody is saying anything, we will subject them to acquire clearance certificates in the future,” Nghitila said at the time.
He said: “This is not coming from us but from the public. We are still amending the legislation, however. We will discuss the matter with the fisheries ministry, because as much as they want others to do the right things they ignore these things within their sector. Fishermen do not want to do EIA, but if people want that to be done then there is no choice because the whole process is also damaging the environment. But the whole process is still at an early stage.”
In 2005, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean banned trawling in the Mediterranean Sea below depths of 1 000 metres, and the United States closed vast deep-sea areas off Alaska to bottom trawling. In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly began deliberations on a trawling moratorium on the high seas, which covers 45% of the Earth’s surface, and South Pacific nations effectively put an end to trawling in an area amounting to 14% of the Earth’s surface.