SA fishing communities fear floating powerships will scare fish away

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Some small fishing communities along SA's coast fear the impact of floating powerships on fish stocks.
Some small fishing communities along SA's coast fear the impact of floating powerships on fish stocks.
  • Members of some small fishing communities along SA's coast say they are fearful of the impact of floating powerships on fish stocks. 
  • Last week the environmental assessors for Karpowership SA found that a project to moor five floating power stations at three SA harbours should be given the go-ahead. 
  • The reports, which are now being studied by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, argued that the impact on marine ecology would likely be 'low'.

Representatives of some small-scale fishing communities say they are worried about the impact that floating powerships will have on scarce fish stocks along SA's coast. 

This comes after the environmental assessors for Karpowership SA found that a project to produce electricity on gas-fuelled powerships moored at the ports of Saldanha Bay, Richards Bay, and Ngqura could go ahead.

Separate impact reports were produced for each of the three sites. The reports ran to well over 1 000 pages.

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment now has about eight weeks to study the impact assessments and grant or refuse authorisation for the multi-billion-rand project.

While environmental groups have criticised the project, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has said the project will help cut down on load shedding. 

Fear for fish stocks 

"The presence of these ships, off our coast, will have a real impact in scaring off the fish in the area, and we fishers will be the ones going hungry," said Carmelita Mostert of Saldanha Coastal Links, in a statement. 

Khalid Mather, an environmental activist from KwaZulu-Natal, said few of the fishing communities along the province's coastline had been consulted. 

"They are the ones who will suffer from the effects of the added pollution and other negative environmental impacts these vessels pose," he said.

Karpowership SA's bid

Karpowership SA's proposal is part of a department of energy initiative to fast-track new, independent power production.

The group, which is part of Turkey's Karadeniz Energy Group, has been named a preferred bidder in the department's Risk Mitigation IPP Procurement Programme.

It has bid to moor a total of five powerships and three gas support vessels, known as floating storage re-gasification units, at the ports of Saldanha Bay, Richards Bay, and Ngqura.

The vessels will produce a total of 1 220 MW of power from liquefied natural gas.

'Low' impact

The environmental reports set out three major possible impacts on marine ecology surrounding the ships. These include the effects of the construction of gas pipelines, the uptake of cooling water and the discharge of cooling water.

The final reports for all three harbours found that the projected impact on marine ecology would be "low".

The report for the port of Ngqura, for example, states that marine ecological damage surrounding the ships is predicted to be "negligible", while the uptake and discharge of cooling water will have a "low impact" on organisms in the surrounding water. The construction of a gas pipeline is projected to have a "very low" impact. 

Findings for the ports of Saldanha and Richards Bay are broadly similar. 

Underwater noise

The reports have, however, called from more research to be done on the impact of underwater noise in the marine environment. 

"The effects of increased noise and vibration levels on the surrounding marine ecology could not be assessed due to the lack of underwater noise and vibration levels data pertaining to floating power plant ships", states the report for Saldanha.

While the reports provide a specialist's opinion that noise will "probably be below source levels from large vessels," the impact assessments nevertheless call for a baseline study of the underwater noise to be carried out. 

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