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Hands off our oceans: Eco lobby hits out 'onslaught' by foreign companies on SA waters

9th June 2023

By: News24Wire

  

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The "onslaught" on South Africa's oceans, with foreign companies seeking to drill for oil and gas, is becoming a major concern, according to The Green Connection.

The eco-justice group sounded the alarm on the harmful impacts of offshore oil and gas exploration – such as potential oil spills and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change - on World Oceans Day. The global event is held every year on 8 June. It seeks to create awareness about the protection and restoration of global oceans that support life.

In a statement, The Green Connection hits out at companies like Total and even government for allowing the exploitation of ocean resources.

"From seismic surveys to drilling and extraction, which comes with the possible threat of major oil spills, these activities all spell disaster for marine life and ecosystems. This, in turn, affects many well-established livelihoods of coastal communities.

"And while these companies continue to show record profits, the state of the ocean continues to deteriorate, increasing the threat on coastal livelihoods," said The Green Connection's Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy.

In recent months, coastal communities have lodged legal challenges against companies seeking to conduct seismic surveys off the South African coast.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and oil and gas company Shell last year were granted leave to appeal a court decision that blocked a proposed seismic survey off the Wild Coast.

UK-based geoscience data company Searcher was also blocked from conducting a seismic survey off the West Coast through a legal challenge.

But this hadn't deterred interest. Searcher was granted environmental authorisation earlier this year for a seismic survey off the West Coast.

"On the West Coast, there are no less than eight different applications for projects in various stages. On the East Coast, there are at least two application processes on the go, with another currently on hold due to ongoing legal action," said Van Rooy.

The risks to oceans increase during the extraction phase, said Van Rooy. "No matter how government or the oil companies try to underplay it, oilwell blowouts and spills are a very real threat. Just ask the people in Mexico, Mauritius, and Nigeria – to name a few – who suffered the massive devastation of an oil spill," said van Rooy.

He implored government to "err on the side of caution" when considering exploration applications.

Rising pressures

"Our country's energy choices should not harm our natural environment and it certainly should not disadvantage any of our fellow South Africans.

Unfortunately, this has not been the official approach up to now," said Kholwani Simelane, the Green Connection's advocacy officer.

Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, on a separate engagement commemorating World Ocean Day aboard the SA Agulhas II Research vessel in Cape Town, noted the competing interests for ocean resources.

"Oceans are under increasing pressure from competing interest groups. There would be those involved in fishing and those involved in mineral exploration and those who would want to see major conservation of oceans, and those interested in oceans as a means of transport between continents and a way to move goods and services across the globe," said Creecy.

In South Africa, the tourism sector is also linked to oceans, she added.

In response to these competing interests, the department has been leading a Marine Spatial Planning exercise – which would determine which parts of the oceans need to be conserved, which would be designated as transport pathways and which parts would be open to other forms of exploration, Creecy explained.

"It is a complex and difficult process," she said.

The minister said that oceans remain a relatively unchartered territory, with humankind only beginning to understand the areas that must be conserved. Work to identify the ocean ecosystems that must be protected is under way, and is based on scientific research, she explained.

"This process of marine spatial planning is very important. If we don't ensure that there are areas of the ocean conserved, and we do not find ways of balancing competing interests in oceans, then we will have serious problems going forward," Creecy said.

She acknowledged the environmental importance of oceans and also that of economic development.

"We are not saying, 'You can't have development, and you can't meet the needs of human beings…' But you have got to do it in a way that not only meets the needs of current human beings but meets the needs of future human beings," said Creecy.

For this reason, appropriate mitigation measures need to be in place to ensure that human activities do not create unsustainable damage to the environment, she explained.

The minister last year committed to researching the impact of seismic surveys on the marine environment. The department has produced an assessment of international best practice around mitigating the impact of these surveys and is determining how these can be used in local ocean areas, Creecy said in a separate statement.

The department is also working with the Petroleum Agency of SA and the Council for Geo Science to map historic records of seismic surveys – to determine if they have had impacts on marine ecosystems.

Edited by News24Wire

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