Fishing industry raises concerns about marine phosphate mining
By Matti Amukwa
Chairperson, Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations.
The Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations (CNFA) has registered serious concerns about the intended renewed plans of Namibia Marine Phosphates (NMP) to mine the seabed off the coast of Walvis Bay.
The CNFA has expressed several concerns with the scoping study on which NMP bases its claim for environmental clearance.
Attached to the NMP’s scoping study is a 782-page verification document annexure, dating from 2014, which has not been revealed to the public. It contains NMP’s at-sea plans, which local and international scientists have criticised for numerous gaps in required knowledge of mining impacts on the environment.
Impacts of seabed mining are likely to be significant – but NMP has presented no surveys to investigate the potential impact of noise, toxins and sediment plume on fish, mammal health and survival, and no ecosystem impact surveys.
The area NMP wants for mining at sea is right on the edge of the breeding grounds of hake, monkfish and horse-mackerel.
The Confederation is further concerned that NMP intends to rush through environmental clearance for an at-sea mining operation while neglecting consideration for on-land environmental concerns. NMP intends to use an on-land area in Walvis Bay, known as Area 37, for processing sludge containing phosphate, heavy metals and radioactive materials at a mine dump.
Wastewater used for rinsing the 5-million tonnes of sludge will run back into the ocean or might be leaked into underground freshwater aquafers supplying Walvis Bay.
The CNFA is further concerned that NMP promotes its Sandpiper Project as simply a dredging operation, whereas it already holds a deep-sea mining license.
Worldwide, heavy metals and radio-active elements from phosphate rock mines have left serious pollution issues behind. It is known that radioactive materials uranium and thorium, are typically particularly concentrated in marine phosphate.
NMP released an environmental assessment scoping study on Friday 22 April 2022, giving interested and affected parties two weeks until Friday 6th May 2022, to register their concerns with its intention to seek renewed environmental clearance.
The Namibian public, including tens of thousands of school-going youth, tourists and SADC representatives came out in strong protest in 2018, petitioning the Namibian government not to allow Namibia Marine Phosphates to mine about 5-million tonnes of bottom substrate per year for twenty years.
Despite the outcry, the Namibian High Court in June 2021 ruled that NMP could initiate the process again since its initial EIA process was not procedurally done.