Marine phosphate mining can be a game changer

Ogone Tlhage
Environmentalist Chris Brown has startlingly stated that a fully established marine phosphate sector in Namibia would generate more jobs than the current fishing sector.

Brown said Namibia can benefit from its marine phosphate resources without putting other marine resources at risk, and make a significant contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

He made the comments during an Evening Review interview in which he explained his pro-marine phosphate mining position, despite wide-ranging opposition to the method.

Marine phosphate mining is suitable to be used in Namibia with no significant impact to be expected, he said.

The mining method, which has received widespread backlash, has been banned in Australia and New Zealand, while it is credited for causing environmental catastrophe on the island of Nauru.

Locally, the Economic and Social Justice Trust called on government to ban the mining method, saying it will present a severe threat to the fragile Benguela marine ecosystem.

Stark contrast

“In some parts of the world, marine phosphate mining is not a good idea. If you take a situation like New Zealand where the phosphate mining occurs in rocky modules like rocks on the sea floor - if you had to mine that, you’d be taking those rocky modules and removing them from the marine ecosystem,” he said.

Mining in that area would destroy a very rich ecosystem, Brown added.

He said the rocky modules provided substrate for the marine life in those waters, a stark contrast from the Namibian situation.

“Most of our seabed here, for 200 nautical miles out to sea in our economic exclusive zone, is sandy sea floor and we are talking about a small part here. It’s a tiny, little area, so with all of these things taken into account, [in] my view... All the independent studies have found nothing significant to be concerned about in terms of the ecosystem or fishing sector.”

Economic spin-offs

According to Brown, once developed, the marine phosphate sector could contribute 9% to GDP. This in comparison to the fishing sector’s 6%.

“If you compare the phosphate sector when it is further developed to the fishing sector, the jobs that are created are about something in the order of 50 000. At the moment, there are fewer than 60 000 jobs in the fishing sector,” he said.

Brown added that the fishing sector and marine phosphate mining can coexist, with neither threatening the existence of the other.

“There is no significant concern for the fishing sector or that it [marine phosphate mining] will have any negative impacts on the fishing sector. The two are not competing, they can go side by side. Namibia can have both without a conflict of interest. This project is a project where Namibia can have its cake and eat it,” Brown said.