New prospecting application to mine diamonds near Karoetjieskop.

Public comments urged as company Fish by the Sea applies to prospect for diamonds in a sensitive area of the West Coast.

An untouched beach in the Karoetjieskop area © Nick Muzik

The public is urged to comment on an application for environmental authorisation to prospect for alluvial diamonds along the coast on two farms near Vanrhynsdorp.

The company Fish by the Sea (Pty) Ltd has lodged the application with the National Department of Minerals (DMR) to dredge and dig for diamonds between the high-water mark of the sea and the low-water mark of the sea on the farms Rietfontein Extension (No. 151) and Graauw Duinen (No. 152). 

Fish by the Sea, in the application WC 50/1/1/2/10454/PR, wants this permission to prospect for diamonds along a pristine, ecologically sensitive part of the West Coast already threatened by existing mining activities, and many more prospecting and mining applications. 

Should Fish by the Sea be awarded environmental authorisation, they will begin by disrupting the coast and disturbing fauna and flora biodiversity, with the eventual goal of digging up these beaches, and turning them into mining excavations. This will also have a negative impact on local traditional fishers and recreational tourism in the area.

As per the Draft Scoping Report, this application comprises non-invasive and invasive activities, as well as bulk sampling activities in a space of 121 hectares over several years. The latter two are of the most concern from an environmental point of view.

Figure 1 – Locality plan showing the proposed site as a polygon with red perimeter.

Invasive activities in prospecting encompass the digging of up to 20 ‘prospecting pits’, which will potentially disrupt almost 6,000 cubic metres (m3) of beach sand, gravel and coastal topsoil. 

Bulk sampling involves the digging of at least four trenches of 10-15 metres (m) deep, 300m long and 150m wide of at least 450,000 m3 in sand and soil, and includes a ‘sand overburden’ berm of 5m high to keep sea water and waves out of the excavation. 

View of the prospecting area with proposed trenches, access road, equipment parking area and processing plant container. Map sourced from the Draft Scoping Report.

The scoping report limits the company to dig each pit and trench one at a time – and mandates that they be refilled after the alluvial material has been removed to determine its viability for diamond mining.

While of course not as invasive as full-blown mining, there is a strong likelihood of disruption and permanent damage to this delicate stretch of coast. Moreover, if approved and found economically viable, this application is likely to advance to an application to mine, followed by industrial scale beach mining. 

An example of a bern which will be created to protect the excavation area from waves. Image sourced from the Draft Scoping Report.

Combined with the plethora of existing mines in the area – and the continued deluge of prospecting and mining applications in the surrounding region – this stretch of coast may yet be transformed into one giant mining operation, both onshore and offshore. 

The South African National Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) is ostensibly tasked with enabling and balancing the sustainable development of our country’s natural resources, while also protecting the environment, but the quest for profits invariably trumps environmental and community concerns. 

Prospecting and mining applications are also granted ad hoc, with no long-term study in the form of a region-wide Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) into the cumulative effects of all mining, something Protect the West Coast (PTWC) has advocated since we were formed.

PTWC urges anyone opposed to this application to register as an Interested and Affected Party (I&AP) and submit your comments by 16 February 2024.

The public participation process is being handled by Enviro Africa. 

Interested and Affected Parties can access the Draft Scoping Report and associated appendices by clicking on https://we.tl/t-P6z2i9mhj7 as well as by visiting the website of EnviroAfrica at enviroafrica.co.za/projects/for-public-participation/ and clicking on the heading ‘Projects’, and then ‘Public Participation’. Email: admin@enviroafrica.co.zaShould you decide to comment on the Draft Scoping Report, please provide a copy of your letter of comment to EnviroAfrica via maboee@enviroafrica.co.za and include the DMR reference number, WC 50/1/1/2/10454/PR in your correspondence. 

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