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Exploration in Vulnerable Ecosystems

As expected, after the Total discovery, this year will be filled with seismic and exploration applications in the “shop till you drop” for gas. But at what cost? Please see the summation below of what and whom will be affected by this “desktop study”. Please remember that after the innocuous paper study may come drilling for wells :

Precariously close to MPAs, fish spawning grounds and vulnerable ecosystems.
Precariously close to MPAs, fish spawning grounds and vulnerable ecosystems.

Ricocure (Pty) Ltd (“Ricocure”) intends to undertake an exploration programme for Inshore Block 3B/4B (the Block) located 90 – 130 km offshore of the West Coast of South Africa. Ricocure does not intend undertaking any physical exploration activities, and will only conduct desktop analyses of existing data available for the Block. SRK Consulting (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd (“SRK”) has been appointed to undertake the Scoping and Environmental Impact Reporting (S&EIR, also referred to as an Environmental Impact Assessment process).

The Block falls in the Namaqua Bioregion. Benthic ecosystems in the Block are rated as ‘vulnerable’ by the National Biodiversity Assessment (2011), with ‘critically endangered’ ecosystems occurring on the south western extent of the Block. The majority of the offshore pelagic habitat types that characterise depths beyond ~500 m, are rated as ‘least threatened’ with a narrow band along the shelf break of the West Coast being rated as ‘vulnerable’, primarily due to its importance as a migration pathway for various species (e.g. whales, tuna, billfish, turtles). The Block may encroach on these ‘vulnerable’ pelagic ecosystems and falls within the potential spawning areas of various fish species, but north of the intensive spawning areas for anchovy, pilchard and round herring.

The fish species likely to be encountered in the Block comprise primarily the large pelagic species (e.g. snoek, chub mackerel, tuna, billfish and pelagic sharks), which migrate throughout the southern oceans, between surface and deep waters (>300 m). Migrating leatherback turtles are also likely to occur in the Block, as are a variety of pelagic seabirds. 

Marine mammals occurring off the southern African coast includes several species of whales and dolphins and one resident seal species. As the Exploration Area is located on the continental shelf, cetacean diversity can be expected to be relatively high. 

A number of conservation areas and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been identified off the West Coast. The location of the Block partially coincides with the location of the proposed Benguela Bank MPA, identified as one of the priority areas for the protection of marine habitats. 

Approximately 14 commercial fishery sectors operate within South African waters. Primary fisheries in terms of economic value and overall tonnage of landings are the demersal (bottom) trawl and long-line fisheries targeting the Cape hakes (Merluccius paradoxus and M. capensis) and the pelagic-directed purse-seine fishery. Highly migratory tuna and tuna-like species are caught on the high seas and seasonally within the South African waters by the pelagic long-line and pole fisheries. 

The Scoping Report is available for review and comment from 19 February until 22 March 2019. An electronic version of the report can be accessed on SRK’s website:


Sharon Jones 
SRK Consulting ( Environmental Consultants to Ricosure (Pty) Ltd)
Postnet Suite #206, Private Bag X18, Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa
Tel: + 27 21 659 3060; Fax: +27 86 530 7003

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