File picture: Plans for a major sand mining operation on the doorstep of a nature reserve should be put on hold, says expert. Photo: Cara Viereckl

KwaZulu-Natal - Plan for a major sand mining operation on the doorstep of Mtunzini and the Umlalazi nature reserve should be put on hold because the degree of environmental damage had been underrated and understated.

This is the submission made yesterday by the Wildlife and Environment Society (Wessa) in an appeal against a mining application by the New Tronox/Exxaro KZN Sands group to strip-mine almost 4 000 hectares of land next to Mtunzini.

A separate appeal has also been lodged by a support group which fears that mining will force the closure of the nearby Twinstreams Environmental Education Centre, one of the country’s oldest environmental education classrooms.

In a letter to provincial Environment MEC Meshack Radebe, Wessa conservation manager Bianca Morgan said New Tronox and Exxaro had failed to prove that their sand-mining venture would be “environmentally benign”.


She said that a basic environmental assessment report drawn up by consultants was flawed in several ways and did not provide enough information to allow for proper decision-making.

For example, the report had underestimated the scale of ecological damage likely from opencast mining, leading to an incomplete understanding of the overall impacts of the plan.

The consultants had also provided “superficial information” about the consequences of major mud-slides if the slimes dam storage area were to collapse at some point in the future. “There are a number of instances [in the report] where the significance of the potential impacts… appear to be understated, which results in an impression of downgrading of impacts.”

A separate appeal document prepared by the Friends of Twinstreams Trust argued that if mining went ahead, the 60-year-old environmental education centre would be surrounded by dust, mud, noise and artificial light for several years. The centre, established by conservationist Ian Garland and run by Wessa and Mondi, had hosted thousands of children and adults in a unique outdoor education environment. - The Mercury