Search for uranium could disturb lichen fields

WALVIS BAY

09 March 2018 | Business

Otis Finck





If not conducted properly, uranium exploration activities could harm Namibia’s renowned and diverse lichen fields, warns Theo Wassenaar, an ecologist stationed at Gobabeb research centre.

“Contrary to its appearance, the Namib desert is an extremely fragile environment. Tracks from vehicles do not only wipe out populations of lichen and compact the soil, but remain on gravel plains for many decades. Lichens grow extremely slowly. It stabilises the surface and prevents soil erosion,” Wassenaar said during a public consultative meeting called by Reptile Uranium Namibia (RUN).

RUN intends to conduct mineral exploration with an exclusive prospecting licence (EPL 6820) in an area situated in the Namib Naukluft Park and bordering the Dorob National Park in the Erongo region. The targeted area is located next to the Walvis Bay airport and Rooikop army base, and in the vicinity of the quarry.

According to RUN visual appraisal of available information including aerial photographs and geological maps indicates that mineralisation potential for the commodities covered exists within the area.

Wassenaar emphasised that lichen vegetation is very vulnerable to pollution and mechanical damage and said in the Namib in particular it is at risk from off-road driving, cycling and mining.

“We are busy conducting an experiment to determine the impact of tracks which is regarded as one of the most evident threats to lichen fields,” he told environmental practitioner Philip Hooks who is facilitating the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EPM) on behalf of RUN.

The desert hosts 120 lichen species of which many are endemic to the Erongo region. The plants however die if they are disturbed, and once damaged require decades to grow back.

Martin Hirsch, the exploration manager for Reptile Mineral Resources and Exploration, added that the areas earmarked for drilling are in the channels.

“The EPL has not been granted yet. We applied for it and is pending notification form the MME. There are no lichens. We have good relationship with the park authorities and the MET for over a decade now. Since Reptile commenced exploring we always kept our promises and rehabilitated to the full satisfaction of the authorities. The newly applied EPL will be no exception. We play according to the rules.”

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