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Business chamber throws weight behind Wild Coast protests

Open letter to ministers, president demands halt to planned seismic blasting

Old ballies Glen Holland and Dieter Maehr prepare for the ‘Save the Wild Coast’ Cape town protest (Muizenberg to Kalk Bay) on Sunday.
Old ballies Glen Holland and Dieter Maehr prepare for the ‘Save the Wild Coast’ Cape town protest (Muizenberg to Kalk Bay) on Sunday.
Image: SUPPLIED

The Border Kei Chamber of Business (BKCOB), representing over 500 businesses, has demanded that Shell and its cohorts stop meddling on the Wild Coast.

The appeal came in an open letter to minister Gwede Mantashe, with copies to minister Barbara Creecy and President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

There has been a groundswell of discontent since the Dispatch reported on Shell’s planned seismic blasting of the Wild Coast and off Gqeberha, with protests breaking out in Cape Town and parts of the Eastern Cape. On Sunday, a group of locals took to the beach in Morgan Bay in protest against Shell. 

The chamber has now added its voice to those opposing the blasting, which experts warned would have a devastating impact on marine life, among them up to 38 species of cetaceans — whales and dolphins.

BKCOB members range from multinationals to family-owned businesses and SMMEs. With 62,000 employees, investment of R182bn, annual turnovers of R172bn and R19bn per annum in wages and salaries, it wields a big stick.  

Lizelle Maurice, BKCOB’s executive director, questions how and why the department of mineral resources & energy and energy (DMRE) granted Shearwater Geoservices Norway AS a permit to the Transkei coastline for gas and oil reserves.

BKCOB raised concerns over the environmental impact process, which was potentially flawed during the stakeholder engagement process.  

Concerns from an environmental and economic standpoint include:

• The planned seismic survey creates acoustic pollution in the ocean and the impacts are not fully understood. They are banned in some countries due to the negative impact on whales, other marine species and commercial fisheries. The noise is said to disrupt behavioural patterns of whales, including breeding. It inhibits communication to find food and to hear mating calls.

• Acoustic testing can reduce commercial fishing catches, which is a concern for the people of the region, where poverty levels are some of the highest in the country. Tourism would also be impacted because the area is renowned for whale and dolphin activities during certain times of the year. Norway has noted that negatively impacted individuals have actually requested compensation from the state for resultant losses in income.  

• An international report noted that at least 55 marine species are affected, including several endangered species of whales and 20 commercially valuable species of fish.

• Air gun surveys damage marine life body tissue and can cause temporary to permanent hearing loss.

• Testing will take place during the loggerhead turtle’s (another endangered species) migration period. Non-migratory whales may also be affected. These include the deep-diving beaked whales (Cuvier’s and True’s) and semi-migratory Bryde’s whale.

Another concern is the paucity of engagement with the residents in the area that will be directly affected by the activity.

Maurice said when reviewing the list of  parties who were contacted, they seemed to be based outside the region.

“It begs the question why members of our region, including the BKCOB itself, were marginalised in this process? BKCOB requests an immediate halt to the survey until it is proven to be totally safe for marine life and the livelihoods of people in the fishing and tourism industries.

“We urge the department of forestry, fisheries & the environment [DFFE] to exercise its mandate to give effect to the right of citizens to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing, and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

“We further request the DFFE to intervene in this matter and to apply the precautionary principle as reflected in the  National Environmental Management Act [NEMA Principles] and to insist that the survey company considers alternative non-invasive technologies. Australia and the USA have banned air gun exploration in the past because of the negative impact, so our question is: why did SA allow this process to be approved?”

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