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Ecosystem Services

Richly endowed with fisheries resources and valuable minerals like diamonds and oil, the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem supports vital industrial activity in Angola, Namibia and South Africa. It also holds promise for new economic activities, like aquaculture (marine fish farming).

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Marine Diamond Mining

The near-shore and shelf environments of the Benguela Current region hold rich reserves of minerals, particularly diamonds.

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Namibia has the richest marine diamond deposits in the world, with an estimated reserve of over 1.5 billion carats. All of these deposits are secondary, with the diamonds originally being sourced from kimberlites in South Africa, transported via the Orange River and deposited along the coastlines of Namibia and South Africa.

In 2005, Namibian production from onshore, beach and marine sources totaled 1.8 million carats, compared with the 1.7 million carats produced in 2003. Of this, marine production reached a record 56 percent of Namibia’s total diamond production.

Offshore diamond mining concessions extend along the full length of the Namibian coastline, from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north. Namdeb Diamond Company, an equal partnership between De Beers and the Namibian government is the country’s main producer.

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The considerable potential of Namibia’s marine deposits has resulted in rapid advances in marine diamond extraction technology. Modern deepwater mining methods involve the use of drill systems or seabed crawlers. Both systems loosen and remove unconsolidated seabed sediments which are then airlifted or pumped to a dynamically moored vessel for processing.

South Africa’s diamond production totaled 15.8 million carats in 2005. A total of 126 mining and prospecting licensees produced diamonds in 2005, of which 18 mined kimberlites, 90 exploited alluvial deposits and only 18 recovered diamonds from the marine environment. The Trans Hex Group and Alexkor dominate the marine mining sector in South Africa.

In 2005, marine diamond production declined sharply to about 56 000 carats from 105 000 carats in 2004. However, De Beers has committed USD118-million to equip a high-tech ship for the South African Sea Areas marine mining project.

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Oil and Gas Exploration and Production

Crude oil production in southern Africa is dominated by Angola, while the region’s refineries are concentrated in South Africa.

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Angola’s crude oil production has quadrupled over the past two decades while the country’s known oil reserves have tripled since 2000. Angola has now consolidated its position as sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest oil producer, after Nigeria.

Angola’s crude oil production averaged 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2007. The majority of this comes from fields offshore of the northern Cabinda province. Angola’s oil and oil derivatives industry accounts for 92 percent of the country’s total exports. Petroleum and petroleum products generated nearly US$9.7 billion in State revenues in 2004.

Namibia has a fledgling oil and gas production industry and it is likely that the country has more gas than oil potential. To date, 14 wells have been drilled offshore, including seven in the productive Kudu gas field. The National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia, NAMCOR, and the electricity utility, NamPower have been jointly mandated by the Namibian government to pursue the development of the Kudu Gas-to-Power project in a bid to meet Namibia’s growing demand for electricity.

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South Africa is the second largest oil consumer in Africa and the continent’s largest net oil importer. Total oil production in South Africa currently accounts for approximately 10 percent of domestic needs. After 30 years of extensive exploration, small oil and gas fields have been discovered offshore, particularly in the Bredasdorp basin (off the southern Cape coast) and off the west coast near the Namibian border.

At Mossel Bay, on the Cape South Coast, PetroSA operates the world’s first gas-to-liquid (GTL) refinery. It remains the third largest GTL refinery among the five now operating worldwide. Gas and condensate from the F-A gas field, situated 90km off Mossel Bay, are piped ashore to the refinery. In 2000, the adjacent E-M gas field, with reserves of about 400 billion cubic feet was linked to the F-A platform. Current average daily production from the F-A, E-M and satellite fields is approximately 195 million standard cubic feet of gas per day and 5 190 barrels of oil per day.

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Marine Fisheries

In Namibia, fisheries have consistently been the second largest sector in the national economy, after mining, in terms of export earnings.

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Although the contribution of income from marine resources to Namibia’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fluctuated over the years, it showed an overall increase from N$288 million (USD41-million) in 1991 to N$2 213 million (USD316-million) in 2003. More than 20 commercially important species are fished and total landings amounted to 549 515 tonnes in 2006.

The government’s policy of encouraging on-shore processing and the “Namibianisation” of the workforce has seen direct employment in the fishing industry grow to approximately 14 500 people.

Namibian seafood products, particularly hake, canned sardines, rock lobsters and tunas are sold and enjoyed worldwide. The country’s processing factories meet the highest international safety standards, making fish processing one of the pillars of the Namibian economy.

In Angola, sardinellas, horse mackerel, sardines and sea breams are important for the domestic market, whereas shrimps, crabs, lobster and tropical bottom species are targeted for the foreign markets. The fishing industry is the third most important sector of the economy, after oil and diamond mining. The total commercial catch in 2006 was 213 948 tonnes.

Although the majority of the Angolan catch is harvested by industrial and semi-industrial fleets, fisheries also sustain at least 25 000 artisanal fishers. A further 80 000 Angolans, most of them women who prepare and sell the catch, depend on artisanal fisheries for their livelihoods.

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 Seafood is a staple source of protein for most of the human population in Angola’s coastal regions. With the decline of agriculture because of the war and its consequences (some of the countryside is still mined) fisheries and aquaculture have become cornerstones of food security for major parts of Angola.

In South Africa, the main targeted species are hake, sardines, anchovy, rock lobsters, squid, tuna and various line fish species. Although the fisheries sector contributes less than two percent to South Africa’s GDP, it is an important industry in the coastal provinces and a vital source of income and employment for coastal people.

The country’s fishing fleet ranges in size from small rock lobster dinghies, to highly sophisticated freezer trawlers. In 2006, South Africa’s total commercial catch amounted to 668 208 tonnes. Subsistence fishers operate along the entire South African coast, harvesting a wide variety of species including linefish, mussels, oysters, ascidians (sea squirts) and periwinkles. Various species of seaweed form the basis of a modest industry which produces alginate products and feed for aquaculture operations.

Sport fishing, particularly recreational hand-lining, is a major attraction for South African and foreign tourists along the South African and Namibian coasts.

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With major international shipping routes passing through the Benguela region, the threat of maritime accidents cannot be ignored.

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The ports of southern Africa play a crucial role in the economy of the region. Five out of the eight commercial ports of South Africa are within the Benguela ecosystem or adjacent to it: Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay, Cape Town, Saldanha and Ngqura (Coega).

Walvis Bay is Namibia’s largest commercial port, receiving approximately 1 000 vessels each year and handling about 2.5 million tonnes of cargo. The port of Lüderitz, in southern Namibia, was primarily developed as a fishingharbour but today it serves as an important logistics base for the marine diamond mining and the petroleum industries.

Angola has three main ports: Luanda, Lobito, and Namibe. Luanda is one of the major commercial ports on the west coast of Africa and in 2006 handled an estimated five million tonnes of cargo, a 33 percent increase over the previous year. 

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The port’s main exports include petroleum, diamonds, iron ore and fish products. Major imports include iron, steel, machinery, flour and coal.

With major international shipping routes passing through the Benguela region, the threat of maritime accidents cannot be ignored as these can have an immediate and destructive impact on the marine environment and devastate coastal ecosystems, beaches and related industries such as fishing and tourism. It is for this reason that the Benguela Current Convention has a strong focus on mitigating, abating and eliminating marine pollution.

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The Benguela ecosystem offers a number of marine species with good market and culture potential, yet the aquaculture industry is largely underdeveloped. 

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The stage has, however, been set to increasing aquaculture production in Angola, Namibia and South Africa. For instance, Angola has formulated a comprehensive aquaculture policy based on accepted international guidelines and protocols and incorporated aquaculture legislation into law. In Namibia, where fish and fisheries play a very important role in the economy, aquaculture is addressed as a development priority, both in Namibia’s Second National Development Plan (NDP-2) and in the VISION 2030 document.

Namibia’s Aquaculture Act was passed in 2003, making it the first of the three BCLME countries to translate aquaculture policy into a comprehensive development strategy. The strategy conservatively estimates that the industry should grow in value from N$20 million (USD2.8-million) to N$250 million (USD35.7-million).

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Oyster farming is the most established aquaculture activity in Namibia. Both Pacific oysters (Crassostreagigas) and European oysters (Ostreaedulis) are grown. Red seaweed, Gracillaria is cultured in a 40 ha plot in Lüderitz lagoon to supplement the collection of beach cast product. Abalone farming has attracted interest in Namibia and one farm is currently operational at Lüderitz Bay. There is also considerable interest in rearing rock lobster (Jasuslalandii), marine finfish (dusky Kob, Argyrosomusinodorus; and Turbot, Psetta maxima) and scallops.

Although South Africa lags behind its regional counterparts in terms of developing aquaculture policy and legislation, its aquaculture industry is the most productive of the three countries. It produces abalone, mussels, oysters, turbot, and prawns. Species on the threshold of commercial production include seaweed and kob (Argyrosomus spp.).

There are 48 aquaculture operations in South Africa producing some 4 000 tons per year, much of this accounted for by abalone farming.

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