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Tungsten mining threatens RAMSAR site, South Africa's Verlorenvlei

Media Release from Birdlife South Africa:



Important wetland may be lost

Cape Town, 22 June 2009. One of the very few coastal fresh water lakes in South Africa, Verlorenvlei, near Elands Bay on South Africa’s west coast, is being threatened by a proposed tungsten open cast mine.

Contact: Neil Smith, Conservation Division, e-mail, cell: 082-8593788, fax: 086-6572891; Carolyn Ah Shene – Verdoorn, Policy and Advocacy Division, e-mail, tel. (011) 789-1122, fax: (011)-789-5188.

Verlorenvlei website:

“Verlorenvlei” © Felicity Strange

BirdLife South Africa, the leading bird conservation organisation in South Africa, is extremely concerned that a mining licence may be issued to Bongani Minerals by the
Department of Mining (previously the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs). This would give Bongani Minerals the right to develop an open cast mine on 500 hectares of land adjacent to the area which is the main source of water for Verlorenvlei. Conservationists believe that this will have a major impact on Verlornvlei, one of the few coastal fresh water wetlands in South Africa.

Verlorenvlei, on the west coast, is a wetland system mainly fed by the Krom Antonies River. It is believed that mining will impact on water flow into this river and thus ultimately into the Verlorenvlei wetland. Some of these devastating effects would be the pollution of groundwater, de-watering in the mining area resulting in reduced flows into the wetland, and siltation of the Verlorenvlei.

Verlorenvlei is home to up to 20,000 individual birds in the summer months, and to three globally near-threatened and eight nationally threatened bird species. It also supports over a quarter of the Western Cape population’s of Great White Pelicans (up to 400 individuals). The diversity of birds found in the wetland is significant, with 189 species being recorded, 75 of which are waterbirds. It is also a critically important moulting ground and summer refuge for many species of ducks, some of which occur at the wetland in large numbers. These include Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler and South African Shelduck.

BirdLife South Africa believes that this important wetland cannot be destroyed, particularly because of its significance for the well being of many birds in the Western Cape.

Neil Smith, Manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Division says “This is an inappropriate mining proposal which may affect one of South Africa`s most important and scarce coastal fresh water wetlands. More significantly and of important concern is the cumulative loss of wetlands in South Africa. We cannot continue to destroy our national water resources in this way”.

Initial indications are that the mine will also have long-term negative social and economic implications, so both the area’s people and its natural environment will be affected. It would appear that jobs will be lost because of the effect the mine will have on agriculture in the area, but the number of jobs created by the mine will be less than current levels.

At this stage, BirdLife South Africa has, as part of the Verlorenvlei Coalition, submitted concerns to the environmental consultants and will monitor the environmental impact assessment process very closely.

The Verlorenvlei Coalition has also made its position clear, stating that ”Such a mine - with an expected life of 20 years - is a short-term opportunity for a big company to make huge profits, at the expense of long-term livelihoods and the natural heritage of the people of Verlorenvallei”

A meeting was called by officials from the Department of Mining on 12 June 2009, where both the applicants and “objectors” were allowed to present their cases prior to the possible granting of mining rights. Depending on the Department’s decision, BirdLife South Africa will consider further steps to ensure that the Verorenvlei wetland is not destroyed.

About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders.  We combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Our guides' knowledge of African birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the birding community and had a fun time exploring our home continent.  We've even written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle, and we are dedicated to making professional, best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit.

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