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Save Elephant Coast - A deepwater harbour development has been announced in the Techobanine region, in the Matutuíne district of Mozambique’s Maputo province. The governments of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana initialed memorandums of understanding on the implementation of this tripartite project in April 2011. Mozambican Transport Minister Paulo Zucula said that the private sector has already guaranteed access to the necessary finance. Zucula pointed out that the feasibility study has been completed and stated that he was certain that work would begin next year. The minister said that the Techobanine project comes at a time when there is a regional boom in the extractive industries, with large discoveries being prepared for exploitation. The Botswanan Minister of Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden, said that developing an efficient transport system was central to secure rapid economic growth : "we need economic freedom, not just political freedom". The port will also include offshore deepwater oil stations for large petro chemical vessels or VLCC's.

This area has been the focus of concerted conservation achievement and development for a considerable time. It borders on both the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park (formerly Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) and the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area (LTFCA). Isimangaliso was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1999 and the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area was created by agreement between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique in June 2000. The LTFCA includes the Maputo Elephant reserve where there large numbers of elephant and rhino roamed, however at the end of the war only 200 elephant and no rhino remained. The Planned harbour will bisect the TFCA from east to west. 

The project will develop a 30 000ha site as an industrial zone, the population influx is estimated to be in the region of 250 000 once the development is more advanced and supporting infrastructure and industries are more established.

In July 2009 a Partial Marine Protected Area (PMPA) was declared, extending between Ponta Do Ouro on the South African border and up to the tip of Delagoa Bay to the North. It has been a stated goal of Peace Parks Foundation to extend the Marine Protectorate of the LTFCA northwards to include the area covered by this PMPA. The planned deepwater harbour development is to be placed in the middle of this globally valuable and ecologically diverse area within the most ecologically sensitive zone.

On the 14th June 2011 the Futi Corridor was officially established which extended the LTFCA. On that occasion Mr Fernando Sumbana, Minister of Tourism of Mozambique pointed out: “One of the main reasons for establishing the Lubombo TFCA has always been to reunite the last naturally occurring coastal elephant population in Southern Africa, which historically moved freely along the Futi River and Rio Maputo floodplains. Today, with the approval of Futi Corridor as a protected area, reuniting these elephants, creating a tourism product and benefiting communities, is set to become a reality.” At the edge of the corridor the Mozambique government has undertaken to construct a 6 000 ha wildlife sanctuary, which will be used to relocate different wildlife species from Tembe Elephant Park. The wildlife sanctuary is planned to provide the basis from where Maputo Special Reserve’s wildlife population will be rebuilt. This extension of Maputo Special Reserve adds 24 000 ha to Mozambique’s protected areas.

Parallel with this conservation effort the planned harbour will require blasting out of several kilometers of pristine coral reef to construct a breakwater to allow large ships to enter. The intent is to create a port link to ship coal and other commodities from Botswana and Zimbabwe - despite the close proximity of large ports to the north ( Maputo – merely across the Delagoa Bay ) and south ( Richards Bay – some 150km away ). The concern is too that Asian fishing fleets will use this port as a base from which to exploit the Southern African coastal fishing assets - something which is already a concern. Dolphin and whale populations along these coastal areas will inevitably be harmed, particularly by the noise, pollution and traffic this development will create. These are particularly important breeding grounds for resident bottlenose and migrating humpback populations. The area is also the southern most range of the endangered West Indian Ocean Dugong and the highly threatened leatherback turtle which uses the unprotected beaches as a primary nesting ground. Alongside this aquatic destruction mining out of the dune forest and dredging a lagoon will destroy the Maputo Elephant special reserve, which will soon be connected via . These parallel and contradictory developments make no sense. No Environmental Impact Study has been promulgated and no consultation process allowed for, and construction of a cement factory and labour camp has already been completed. Despite numerous attempts to contact the Mozambican transport ministry to confirm port details and request copies of any studies there has been no official statement.

In addition to this The Mozambique government’s commitment to environmental protection has recently appeared to become even more focussed. On 18th July 2011 Mozambique’s Ministry for the Coordination of Environmental Action (MICOA) on Thursday in Maputo launched a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the country’s coastal areas. This, he said, is a process designed to ensure that environmental considerations are fully integrated into the preparation of development plans prior to their adoption and are a response to the shortcomings identified in the utilisation of Environmental Impact Studies to date.

We need to act swiftly because this development is proceeding at a pace and once lost the wilderness will be gone.

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