Marine phosphate mining can derail fishing sector recovery

NAMIBIA MARINE Phosphates (NMP) continued legal challenge to proceed with mining seabed phosphate in a part of the Atlantic Ocean, about 120 kilometres south-west of Walvis Bay, not only threatens the welfare of the marine ecosystem but further raises concerns about possible negative impacts on the fishing sector.

Reeling from the devastating losses of the fishrot scandal, it is imperative that government, in view of fishing sector recovery, effectively stops marine phosphate mining and protect the country’s coastal waters from becoming a testing ground for this ‘risky’ mining activity that has never been done anywhere else in the world.

We are of the view that if allowed to proceed, phosphate mining could plunge the livelihoods supported by Namibia’s fishing industries into disarray as the maintenance and rebuilding of Namibia’s fish stocks would precede hindered, and with the constant fear that irreparable harm will be done during mining activities.

It is true that the Namibia Marine Phosphate mining concession contains 1.8 billion tonnes of phosphate and is a loosely unconsolidated sandy material on the seafloor. It may well also be true that the country may aim at a 10 percent market share of the traded phosphate market of 30-million tonnes a year and the first phase of the 30-year life-of-mine in Walvis Bay will create 150 direct jobs and other 200 indirect jobs from a turnover of US$300m a year.

However, the risks associated with attempting to harness these benefits stretch wide and without development of a good scientific baseline, potential effects on the Benguela marine ecosystem cannot be undermined.

Under this pretext, we need to be cognisant of the fact that the Namibia fishing industry employs around 16 000 people of which 96 percent are Namibians. Supplier of good and services to the industry create numerous more jobs.

Essentially more so, the sustainable management of the Namibian fishing industry, leading to the growth of the biomass and increased value addition in certain sectors of the industry, have the potential to substantially increase the number of people making a living from sustainable jobs in the fishing industry as purported by the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations.

We should from a national level remain committed to the notion that we are the custodians of our natural resources and no one should force us to make money out of our resources. We have duties to keep and maintain our sea from becoming Dead Sea.

The current proposed mining is restricted to a relatively small area of the sea bed. Professional opinion as expressed in the EIA report for this project suggests that impacts will be very low. But most important, we simply will not know for sure the exact impacts until mining starts – and that is why the conditions attached to the Environmental Clearance Certificate become vitally important and more importantly this is why a decision to grant it, will always going to feel like an own goal.