Industrial park dangerous for marine ecosystem
The Gecko Vision Industrial Park will have a negative impact on Namibia’s marine ecosystem, an environment expert has reiterated. Bronwen Currie, a marine biologist, says contamination of the ocean is difficult to monitor due to its fluid nature, with pollution only recognised when it is too late to do anything about it.
Currie further says the possible impacts on the Benguela upwelling system are “frightening”.
The most productive area of the northern Benguela, which stretches from Conception Bay in the south to Toscanini in the north, could be the worst affected. The area is known for its high primary production and is a favourite fishing and recreational area. Most importantly, it is a nursery area for fish larvae of commercial stocks, and supports well-established industries–commercial fisheries and aquaculture, recreational and sport-fishing; and nature-based tourism.
“Looking at the marine food chain, especially at the base, it is obvious that any imbalance in chemical substances can impact the whole ecosystem –initially affecting the growth and composition of the phytoplankton. Uptake of the wrong ratios of chemical building blocks could not only pass to the next food level but there could be increase in blooms and toxic species. Even very slightly contaminated seawater can affect small zooplankton – including larvae of fish and other animals such as oysters, to either kill them or result in abnormal or weak development”, Currie said at a public lecture in Swakopmund recently.
As one goes further up the food chain, the bioaccumulation of unwanted substances occurs and this could affect humans as consumers –we are well aware that food-safety levels are imposed for
human health reasons, she added.
If wastes from the envisaged park should be pumped into the sea, the pollutants would spread quickly over large distances.
“The danger of the situation is complicated by the fact that, when it happens, it is too late to do anything about it. There will be a vast waste effluent non-stop, 24 hours, 7 days for over 20 years. Concentrated slurry of 2, 65 pools and 5 tipper trucks will be disposed in the ocean per hour. So in a 12 hour cycle, 34 pools and 60 trucks will be disposed. Sure, the concentrated slurry will disperse and dissolve but it will not disappear,” Currie emphasised.
She said that once the park is in full operation, the ammonium in sea water will become 2 000 to 8 000 times higher than in normal sea water.
The renowned marine biologist, added that a high level of phosphogypsum will form in the water. “Phosphogypsum consists mainly of calcium sulphate, which is harmless. But add to that high concentrations of fluorides, trace metals such as arsenic, copper and lead and radionuclides and you are left with something that is very, very acidic. Another factor to consider is the fact that the intake of the sea water will be treated with biocides, which kills marine animals and plants,” Currie said.
She said although it is difficult to find synergies between waste disposal and functioning marine ecosystems, a thorough and detailed investigation of a toxicity testing needs to be made before this park is developed.
Phillip Ellis, managing director of Gecko Namibia, has maintained that whether the park will affect either the tourism or the fishing industries, will depend on whether the development is done responsibly.
In view of public criticism of the project, Ellis said that if it is found that the development will cause huge damage to the environment, the company will not go forward with it.
Gecko Namibia’s proposed Vision Industrial Park (VIP) development will be constructed at a cost of N$12 billion. The industrial park was planned to be constructed north of Swakopmund. The park will include plants for sulphuric acid, soda ash, leaching agents and phosphoric acid, a desalination plant and a port for importing and exporting large commodities in bulk.
According to the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management project (NACOMA) the biggest threats to the coastal environment currently are activities such as mining, tourism and off-road driving in protected areas; marine pollution through mining and prospecting activities, oil and gas exploration and harbour activities; as well as overfishing and over-harvesting.