Preserving the Last Untouched Stretch of Western Cape’s Coastlin

Harris Marley
Harris Marley

Global Courant
Main Image:    Xtinct Magazine

The pristine beauty of the Western Cape coastline, a valuable ecological treasure that has withstood the test of time between the Olifants River and the Northern Cape border, is now under serious threat as a result of two recent mining-related applications that have shocked environmentalists and local residents alike. These applications, filed with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), seek prospecting rights for an area that could hold the key to unlocking vast mineral potential, but at a high cost to the fragile coastal ecosystem.

The fate of the Karoetjies Kop 150 farm, a parcel of land six kilometres inland and 15 kilometres along the pristine coastal region north of the Soutriver, is at the heart of this contentious issue. SRK Mining (Pty) Ltd, a determined mining industry player, has its sights set on this land, with plans to extract diamonds from locations previously explored by industry titan De Beers in the 1970s. Nekwana Trading Enterprise (Pty) Ltd, on the other hand, is looking for inland prospecting rights in order to unearth heavy minerals, kaolin, and gemstones.

The overarching concern expressed by environmentalists and local residents, however, revolves around the concept of a “tyranny of small decisions.” This refers to the practice of the government approving individual prospecting, mining, and development applications without adequately assessing the cumulative impact on the environment. As the flurry of approvals continues, there is growing concern that the bigger picture of the environment is being obscured.

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The lack of a requirement for a combined impact assessment of the two operations has alarmed experts such as Professor Merle Sowman, former head of the University of Cape Town’s Department of Environmental and Geographical Science. Sowman advocates for a comprehensive strategic environmental assessment that considers the long-term consequences of expanding mining operations along the entire West Coast. She emphasises the importance of comprehending the broader implications of these activities and aligning them with the Marine Spatial Planning Act of 2021, which requires long-term, strategic decision-making to ensure the sustainable use of South Africa’s ocean areas.

Despite this legal framework, the current trend of multiple approvals for mining, prospecting, and coastal development projects threatens to undermine the very foundation of sustainable development. Mining’s economic allure frequently takes precedence, overshadowing the critical need to protect vulnerable coastal ecosystems for future generations.

The application of Nekwana Trading Enterprise highlights the complexities of these issues. The company intends to investigate the extraction of sillimanite, monazite, manganese ore, leucoxene, kaolin (clay), and garnets. Its proposed drilling operations, which are limited to a depth of 20 metres, aim to test target areas to determine extraction feasibility. The company anticipates a positive impact on local economies, job creation, and social cohesion. They have promised a one-kilometre buffer zone to protect the river estuary and coastline.

Meanwhile, SRK Mining (Pty) Ltd is prospecting for “general” and “alluvial” diamonds on a specific plot of land. The application was accepted in April, following the expiration of De Beers/West Coast Resources’ diamond prospecting rights. SRK intends to use their authorised presence to reduce illegal activities in the area, specifically unauthorised digging, poaching, littering, and habitat destruction.

The concern expressed by organisations such as “Protect the West Coast” echoes a broader concern that the region is on the verge of becoming an extensive mining zone, erasing natural heritage and devastating ecosystems along its 500-kilometre stretch from Lambert’s Bay to the Namibian border.

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Miles Masterson, a communications specialist, highlights the consequences of prospecting activities, which can disrupt coastal ecosystems and habitats before culminating in large-scale mining projects that irreparably damage this untouched coastal zone.

The serious consequences of such mining projects go beyond the immediate environmental impact. Retired geologist Allen Lyons, echoing many others, compares the situation to a feeding frenzy with little room for successful opposition. The financial burden, combined with the timing of the appeals, frequently renders these efforts ineffective.

The fate of this pristine coastal stretch is at stake in the tug-of-war between economic gain and environmental preservation. A strategic environmental assessment that captures the overall impact of various projects is critical to steering the region towards a more sustainable future. As decisions about the Western Cape’s coastline continue to be made, it is critical that both short-term economic interests and long-term ecological sustainability find a harmonious balance. Only then will the last unspoiled frontier of this remarkable coastal treasure be preserved for future generations.

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Preserving the Last Untouched Stretch of Western Cape’s Coastlin

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