Why do we need phosphate?
Phosphate is a popular fertilizer used in agriculture and gardening. It is an essential nutrient for plant growth and is commonly applied to improve soil fertility and enhance crop productivity. Phosphate fertilizers are widely used around the world. Without phosphate fertilizers, agriculture would face significant challenges, and crop productivity could be severely affected. Phostphate fertilizers have led to higher crop yields, which is necessary to provide food security.
Where does most of our phosphate come from?
Phosphate is primarily obtained from phosphate rock, a naturally occurring mineral. The World's biggest phosphate mines are located in Marocco, the US, China, Russia, and Jordan. Phosphate mining is controversial due to several environmental, social, and economic concerns associated with its extraction and impact. Phosphate mining destroys existing ecosystems and leaves behind a trail of desctruction, which will have to be cleaned up by future generations.
What is Marine Phosphate Mining?
Marine Phosphate Mining is the newly proposed and fully unexplored process of extracting phosphate from the seabed. As of 2023, only landbased phosphate mining is taking place, but several companies have applied for licenses to exploit marine phosphate reserves, including in Namibia. No government has given out licenses for marine phosphate mining yet, but there is a realistic possibility that Namibia will be the first one. Compared to land-based phosphate mining, marine phosphate mining poses unique environmental challenges due to potential impacts on marine ecosystems and coastal habitats.
Why is Marine Phosphate Mining controversial?
Marine Phosphate Mining has many potentially catastrophic side effects. The seabed is a sensitive and fragile ecosystem with unique biodiversity. The oceans are already under streat by rising water temperatures and overfishing. Mining operations can cause even more physical destruction of the seabed and habitats, leading to the loss of critical marine species and disruption of the food chain. The extraction process involves dredging the seabed, creating sediment plumes that can spread over large areas and affect water quality. These plumes can smother marine life, block sunlight, and disrupt the functioning of ecosystems. Runoffs can lead to ocean acidification and other long term consequences. Like any extractive industry, marine phosphate mining comes with the risk of spills, leaks, and accidents that can have severe consequences for marine environments and coastal communities.
What is the Sandpiper Project in Namibia?
Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) Pty Ltd is the company heading the Sandpiper Project which seeks to explore marine phosphate mining in Namibia. The company holds a current valid Mining License ML170 that was issued in 2011 for a period of 20 years. Commencement of commercial dredging operations is conditional on the granting of an environmental licence for both the land and marine components of the project. NMP is at an advanced stage in the gaining of such clearances for the full development of the Sandpiper phosphate project. The Sandpiper project was stopped in 2012, but it is back on the table as of 2021 with Environmental Impact Assessments in progress. Namibia's fishing industry is heavily opposing Marine Phosphate Mining. It fears the release of heavy metals during the mining process, which would make Namibia's fish no longer safe for consumption.
Is Marine Phosphate Mining necessary?
In short: no. There is enough phosphate in circulation globally, and there have been promising projects for recycling of already mined phosphate. Instead of spending millions of dollars to undergo an untested project on our seabed, we should secure future levels of phosphate in renewable methods. There is growing concern among scientists, environmentalists, and local communities about the consequences of marine phosphate mining. Namibia lacks the infrastructure and skills to become the world's marine phosphate mining guineapig. While a handful of executives will make lots of money, the Namibian people will have to cover environmental cost and potentially irreversible damages to the ocean.
More info about Marine Phosphate Mining:
Should we mine the deep-sea floor?
Marine Phosphate Mining Cannot Be Sustained By Namibia
Fishing Industry Raises Concerns About Marine Phosphate Mining
ESIA for the proposed Sandpiper Marine Phosphate Project within ML 170, offshore, Namibia
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