Words by Miles Masterson in association with One Ocean Hub.
Extracting and processing Heavy Mineral Sands (HMS) on the West Coast of South Africa. Image by Xavier Briel.
One Ocean Hub (OOH) researchers at the Environmental and Geographical Science Department at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have developed a much-needed integrated project to monitor, document and map all applications for prospecting and mining, including oil and gas exploration, on the West Coast of South Africa.
,OOH is an international programme of research for ocean sustainable development, conducted in partnership with universities and other research institutions around the world, including several in South Africa, such as UCT.
Over the past two years, this work has highlighted the rapid increase in applications for prospecting and mining for heavy mineral sands and diamonds in the region, as well as applications for oil and gas exploration and production. These activities have raised significant concerns amongst coastal communities and their social partners.
Intended as an invaluable resource to NGOs such as Protect The West Coast (PTWC), researchers and affected communities, the map and data is freely available in a ,Google spreadsheet on OOH’s website. A table provides a list of each recent application and its status, as well as a map of current and recently approved applications. A few on the northern Cape coast will be added shortly.
The project was motivated by what OOH, UCT and other colleagues saw as a dire lack of easy-to-access information around the deluge of prospecting and mining and oil and gas projects applications being submitted and approved in the region in recent years.
They realised that there was no central resource, and that communities, researchers and NGOs were becoming confused and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of these applications and their ever-changing statuses – and all were struggling to keep abreast of the many calls for public input to these environmental assessment and management processes.
With no government database on mining applications, the public and ocean research community in South Africa were largely unaware of the increasing pressures on our coastal and marine environment. Overall there is no understanding of the many different applications and operations, their locality, minerals targeted, affected environments and communities, as well as their status at any given time, which is all information that should be available to the public.
This information is critical to ensure that people understand the nature and severity of environmental and social impacts, and how these may undermine their human rights, including their rights to a clean, healthy environment and food, and to participate in decision-making processes in their immediate domain.
Of particular concern was that each application was being assessed by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and other relevant government entities on a one-off, ad hoc basis with no consideration of the cumulative impacts associated with these applications.
To date no government department has been taking into account the combined impacts on water resources, critical biodiversity, marine resources and road infrastructure, nor how the many prospecting and mining operations would affect access to the coast, access to fishing grounds, with the inevitable impacts on local livelihoods, cultural heritage and sense of place.
Consequently, Professor Merle Sowman, together with researchers Dr Jackie Sunde and Michael Lambrecht and a GIS specialist, Rio Button, initiated the ‘Mapping for Justice’ project as part of the OOH programme.
Information for the applications and other details can be found in the Google sheet. Links to the environmental assessment reports and maps with coordinates of individual applications will be provided (where available) in an updated table that is in the works. The map will be updated every three months by the team.
The most recent map available. 13 May 2023. It’s scary how many operations there are. Map by Rio Button.
PTWC MD Mike Schlebach said: “The ‘Mapping for Justice’ resource will go a long way to provide organisations such as PTWC with vital, up-to-date information regarding the onslaught of mining and oil and gas projects on the west coast. It will also serve as an invaluable tool in our goal to put pressure on the government for an Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to be executed and implemented along the entire coastline, to ensure holistic and informed decisions are made about future developments.”
This data is now being used by government departments, committees, and task teams to inform planning and decision-making and has featured in several newspaper articles and consultant reports. By creating and maintaining this comprehensive database, OOH at UCT are working to support transparent and accountable decision-making for the future benefit of all concerned.
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