Seabed mining threatening the Namibian coast:
The incongruous connection between a comforting bowl of breakfast cereal and marine mining was triggered by reading a public document: one which announces that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) recently lodged with Government by an Australian mining company shows that ‘ …there are presently no identified issues of environmental significance to preclude the dredging of phosphate-enriched sediments (off the Namibian coast) ’
No living thing – including oats – can exist without phosphorus. Fertile soils are rich in the stuff as well as several other elements essential for plant (and human) survival. Feeding a rapidly expanding human population is not easy: it demands massive-scale land clearing for irrigation, eye-bulging rates of water abstraction and – as soils become drained of vital nutrients – the increasing necessity to apply phosphorous-based fertilisers. Thus, mining phosphorus has become synonymous with global food security.
Land-based sources of phosphate-rich rock are running out and it’s estimated that by 2035 demand will have exceeded supply. Clearly, in order to keep hunger at bay, new sources of phosphorus have to be exploited and, whether we like it or not, the seabed’s where it’s at.
The phosphate mining EIA acknowledges that dredging Namibian marine sediments will destroy seabed habitats and that the re-suspension and re-disposition of sediments into the water column will threaten biodiversity within the mined area (a total of 60 km2 over 20 years). These impacts alone undermine the Ministry of Fishery’s policy to embrace an ‘ecosystem approach’ to management: one that is precautionary in nature and recognizes that – due to limited knowledge regarding species composition and marine biogeochemical processes – any habitat or species in each distinct marine zone demands protection. We know very little about the vast and diverse populations of microbes that thrive at the surface of and deep within the sediments of the seabed; we barely understand the roles that many of these organisms play in marine energy flow and nutrient cycling – roles which scientists now believe are essential to the stability of the planet (biologically and climatically). Yet, the EIA does not acknowledge this ignorance. It does not provide this as a valid reason – enshrined within the Precautionary Principle – to pull the plug on sediment mining off our coast.