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Paradise Lost

For years now, Southern Mozambique has been a favourite destination for South African spearfi shermen. It has all the appeal of the ultimate spearfi shing (or holiday) spot – wild, untouched and relatively easy traveling; not to mention the quality of diving to be found along this stretch of pristine coastline.

All of this, however, is under severe threat due to a proposed harbor at Techobanine approx 20km north of Ponta Do Ouro. The Mozambiquan government are forging ahead with plans to create a deep water harbor. It appears that all EIA studies etc have been ignored, swept under the table and even in some cases manufactured. There is huge pressure from neighboring countries such as Botswana to move ahead with the project and the Mozambiquan are looking at the bottom line, how much money can be made, and turning a blind eye to almost certain environmental devastation for the area.

Imagine planting Richards Bay a few kilometres up from Ponta… this is essentially what the effect of the proposed harbour would be. From a spearfi shing and diving point of view it would be a disaster. The tidal fl ow would ruin the vis, and this currently relatively untouched and uninhabited area would be accessible to every small fi shing craft, who would fish the reefs without apology or abandon.

This simply touches the surface however. The development of a harbour at Techobanine will have a knock on effect that will impact our whole coastline – both Mozambiquan and South African. The ‘Aqua Terra Movement Mozambique’ is an environmental organisation that has taken upon itself to create awareness of the situation and if possible prevent this terrible catastrophe from happening. The following excerpt outlines the harbour plans and potential environmental impact in more detail:

A PRISTINE LOCATION NOW ENDANGERED

The Ponta do Ouro Protected Marine Area is considered one of eight key biodiversity sites (seascapes) of global importance within the Eastern African Marine Ecoregion (EAME), according to the submission to Unesco by the Mozambican National Directorate for Culture. The site is a candidate for World Heritage status of universal signifi cance. Despite this, in April 2011, the governments of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana initialed memorandums of understanding on the development of the largest deepwater port in Africa on the site: a 200 million ton capacity facility for the handling of coal and oil cargoes, and a related industrial zone within one of the most sensitive regions of the potential Unesco site.

The Unesco submission describes the Ponto do Oura Protected Marine Area’s coral reefs as among the highest latitude coral reefs in the world, with characteristics that make them unique.

‘The reef complex, located in the central area (Ponta Dobela to Ponta Techobanine), is considered the best in southern Mozambique and (is) of unique value in the country.’

Considered a recruitment source of coral larvae for the iSimangaliso coral reefs to the south, fi sh associated with these reefs are also highly diverse, with about 400 recorded species.

(Source: Peaceparks Foundation).

The terrestrial section of the proposed port area (30 000ha in size) is known internationally as a biodiversity hotspot with many endemic species. It is in close proximity to the Maputo Elephant Reserve, and recently declared Futi Corridor, which includes important wetlands, coastal sand forest and grasslands. iSimangaliso Park, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1999, is directly to the south (in South Africa) and has a more compromised ecosystem than the planned new port site. The Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area (LTFCA), a collection of protected areas in the region managed by the Peaceparks Foundation, was created by agreement between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique in June 2000.

On the 14th of June 2011 the Futi Corridor was officially established, extending the LTFCA. On that occasion Mr Fernando Sumbana, Minister of Tourism of Mozambique, pointed out: ‘One of the main reasons for establishing the Lubombo TFCA has always been to reunite the last naturally occurring coastal elephant population in Southern Africa, which historically moved freely along the Futi River and Rio Maputo floodplains. Today, with the approval of the Futi Corridor as a protected area, reuniting these elephants, creating a tourism product and benefi ting communities, is set to become a reality.’

THE IMPACT OF THE PORT AT TECHOBANINE

One of the factors frustrating the World Heritage application for this area is the threat of the planned port. The port will bisect the TFCA from east to west and develop a large industrial complex in very near proximity to the highly sensitive region. In 1999, a proposed deepwater harbour development several kilometres north of the current proposed site and within the Maputo Special Reserve was rejected on similar environmental concerns.

The planned port site is not a natural harbor and will therefore require blasting out of several kilometres of pristine coral reef. This is necessary in order to construct a breakwater and channel that will facilitate the entry of large ships into what is now a coastal lake and wetlands system.

The resulting beach erosion due to changes in the long shore drift will signifi cantly impact the coastal regions to the north and south, eroding and widening important protected beaches and endangered turtle breeding grounds, including those located within South Africa.

In addition, the effects of the creation of a harbor within the wetlands system are highly complex due to the hydrological impacts. Respected international hydrologist Dr Ken Tinley suggests a port development could severely impact water tables and salt levels across a very wide area, even potentially ‘pulling the plug’ on the entire wetlands system and negatively impacting on the World Heritage site (iSimangaliso Park) in South Africa.

There is limited research available on the expected impacts the development will have on the large and diverse marine mammal populations. These impacts will be created by the increased acoustic activity, general industrial pollution as well as additional ship traffic with potential for boat strikes.

In addition to its status an important recruitment site for coral larvae, the proposed development area is within an internationally important breeding ground for resident Bottlenose and migrating Humpback populations. It is also the southernmost range of the endangered West Indian Ocean Dugong and the highly threatened Leatherback Turtles that use these unprotected beaches as a primary nesting ground.

The proposed port is also reported to include both onshore oil refineries and offshore deepwater oil stations for large petro chemical vessels or VLCC’s (very large crude carriers). These extend the marine environmental impact further offshore and impact a wider ecosystem through the potential threat of pollution due to spillage and earth drainage into the wetlands system.

According to the planners, the human population infl ux is estimated to be in the region of 250 000 once the development is more advanced and supporting infrastructure, and industries are established. Today the region is largely uninhabited and there is little evidence of any studies into the effects of large-scale human migration on the surrounding natural habitat.

THERE ARE OTHER ALTERNATIVES

Richards Bay and Maputo ports, both in close proximity operate well below capacity while other potential sites for a new deep-water port with a lesser environmental impact are available. Should Techobanine remain as the primary choice, an internationally accredited environmental impact study should be conducted before any further steps are taken.

Find out more about the proposed port at Techobanine and how you can help create awareness of the problem by visiting: http://www.aquaterramovement.org/Projects.html

WHAT THE MOZAMBIQUAN GOVERNMENT SAYS

Mozambiquan Transport Minister Paulo Zucula said that private funders, who he did not identify, guaranteed access to the necessary finance for the proposed port (Bloomberg, 11 May 2011). Zucula pointed out that the feasibility study has been completed and stated that he was certain that work would begin in 2012. 

The minister said that the Techobanine project comes at a time when there is a regional boom in the extractive industries, with large discoveries being prepared for exploitation.

The Botswana Minister of Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden, said that developing an effi cient transport system was central to secure rapid economic growth: ‘We need economic freedom, not just political freedom’. (allafrica.com)

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