Skip to Content

Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

Support Us Subscribe Search


Environmental justice by advocating for better environmental laws and improved implementation of laws.

Safeguard our Seabed Project

The Safeguard our Seabed project came about due to concerns over seabed mining after the Department of Mineral Resources granted three rights – to prospect for marine phosphate – to private companies in 2012 and 2014. These rights cover more than 150 000 km2 and constitute approximately 10% of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone.

The prospecting areas overlap with critically endangered ecosystems and habitats that have been earmarked for protection. The areas also directly coincide with South Africa’s largest fishing grounds. Notably, they overlap with South Africa’s only Marine Stewardship Council accredited fishery, which employs 12 000 people and generates approximately R4 billion in revenue annually. Since prospecting rights are being granted there is every indication that marine mining will become a reality. This is of concern for a number of reasons:

  1. There is a complete lack of information on the impact of seabed mining on marine ecosystems;
  2. The technology that may potentially be used if seabed mining were to be permitted, Trailing Suction Hopper Dredge, is experimental, untested and potentially highly destructive;
  3. The socio-economic implications of seabed mining have not been properly assessed and our fishing industry contributes significantly to South Africa’s economy;
  4. Seabed mining would negatively impact on small-scale fishers and communities that directly depend on healthy marine ecosystems for livelihood and survival;
  5. South Africa does not have the legal and governance framework to appropriately and responsibly regulate and manage seabed mining;
  6. No other country has permitted seabed mining in its exclusive economic zone.

As a result the Centre, with its partner WWF-SA, began working on a Nedbank-WWF funded project: Safeguarding our Seabed. The three key objectives are:

  1. Securing a moratorium on bulk marine sediment mining (short-term);
  2. Supporting the creation of a representative network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (medium term);
  3. Supporting the development of an effective Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) Framework (longer-term).

In 2015, the Centre supported the establishment of the Safeguard our Seabed Coalition. The Coalition is made up of organisations that represent commercial and small-scale fishing, the environmental sector, and organised labour. Its main objective is to pursue a moratorium on marine phosphate mining in South Africa.

Find out more about the Safeguarding our Seabed Project and the Safeguard our Seabed Coalition via: