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Mineral sands extraction project in Oluvil: Worrisome future for Sri Lanka’s coastal stretches?

3 March 2021 05:28 am - 7     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Pristine coastal stretch from Akkaraipattu to Komari under threat


This Island Nation blessed with an abundance of coastal stretches has attracted many investors, both local and foreign eyeing to extract and make use of the resources it has to offer. Rich with nature’s gifts including ilmenite, rutile, garnet and zircon, these coastal stretches have now been turned into mineral-sand mining sites much to the dismay of village folk and those who thrive on industries such as fisheries. 
Even though developers seem to be following due processes, heavy environment and economic impacts have been anticipated. Last year, the Daily Mirror shed light on a mineral extraction project carried out by an Australian Company in the Mannar Island. Similarly, several other mineral extraction projects too are taking place along the Eastern coastal stretches. 

Impacts from Oluvil Port Development project 

The Oluvil fisheries harbour that began operations back in 2013 has caused severe coastal erosion along the Oluvil coastal stretch. While the sea has advanced into the land area, impacts of coastal erosion has posed a threat to turtle production, reproduction of fish and destruction of mangroves. Upon observing the ongoing erosion the government had at one point put up granite wave barkers along the sea shore which had aggravated erosion. 
Moreover, the mouth of the Kali-odai River too has changed because of severe coastal erosion. According to a research paper done on the impacts of coastal erosion, several other impacts include loss of coastal vegetation-cover, impact on the Oluvil lighthouse, which is considered a monument of archaeological importance, loss of land for people living in the coastal area and coastal pollution among others. 

Oluvil mineral sands project 

A 300-page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report issued by the project developer Damsila Exports (Pvt) Ltd., states that the project intends to extract beach mineral sands within the coastal stretch between Akkaraipattu and Kamari. The proposed project area lies within a three-kilometre coastal stretch from Thrirukkovil to Sangamankanda in the Ampara District. The deposit is divided into three geological sand zones namely, Tidal, Beach and Berm. Main varieties of heavy mineral sand identified include ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet and sillimanite. According to the exploitation, total estimated amount of heavy mineral sand along the stretch is about 5,431,709 metric tonnes. 

The EIA report states that the extraction of heavy minerals from mineral sands differs significantly from sand mining. The developer will only extract approximately 10% by column volume (20% by weight) of heavy mineral sands from the beach and berm zones, with all volume removed being replaced. The backfilling of the mined areas occurs immediately after the heavy mineral sands have been extracted, using clean tailings and sand sourced by dredging the mouth of the Oluvil Fisheries Harbour. 

Sandy berms will be directly affected due to proposed heavy mineral mining. Sandy berms are prevalent along the coastline of the proposed heavy mineral mining stretch and many of them harbour rich biodiversity including some rare plant species. Two of them include Sesamum prostratum and Scaevola plumieri (Heen Takkada) that are recorded on sand dunes in the proposed heavy mineral mining stretch are significant plant species due to its rarity and limited or restricted distribution within the country. Sesamum prostratum is critically endangered according to the 2012 National Red Data Book. Apart from that, five endemic plant species and twelve nationally threatened (vulnerable) plant species were recorded on sand dunes in the area. Mining of such an important habitat will have major impacts on the ecology and biodiversity in the area. Therefore, critical mitigatory measures will have to be adopted to minimize these impacts.

The report observes that lagoons and mangroves will not be directly affected due to the proposed heavy mineral mining as these are found only in the surrounding area and not within the mined area. However, indirect disturbances on wildlife of lagoons and mangrove patches could be anticipated due to proposed sand mining activities.
The developer also intends to develop the Oluvil port area to be utilised as the base of operations, the location of the mineral separation factory and for the export of the final mineral products. 

Specifications depend on the location 

According to the EIA report, the mineral sand deposits lie on a coastal strip varying from 50 meters and 300 meters in width. Responding to a query on specifications required for mining on a coastal stretch, Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager at Marine Environmental Protection Authority said that irrespective of specifications, any project that is being done on a coastal stretch should be approved by the CCD. 
“Specifications depend on the location. Once minerals are extracted sand needs to be pumped back into the beach to restore the beach. We are sitting on a gold mine and there won’t be any use if we don’t use these resources. Therefore these resources should be extracted in an environmentally and economically feasible manner as they would generate more income to the country,” he said.

EIA still open for public comments 

“No approval has been granted so far since the EIA is still open for public comments,” said A. H. Gamini, Director Coastal Resource Management at the Coast Conservation Department. “We have sought the views of fishermen and there will be several technical meetings before we arrive at a conclusion. The area is rich in minerals such as rutile, ilmenite, garnet, silica that have a huge export market,” he said

Exploration license issued

The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) has issued an exploration license to Damsila Exports (Pvt) Ltd. “But we are awaiting the report from CCD to issue a license for mining,” GSMB Chairman Anura Walpola said. “To issue a mining license we need to check the EIA report. Exploration doesn’t have an impact on the environment. Prior to issuing an exploration license we mainly check the economic and technical capacities of the contractor,” he said.


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  Comments - 7

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  • Abhaya Premawardena Wednesday, 03 March 2021 07:18 AM

    As much as I would like the environment to be unharmed this has become the new standard to prevent any economic development in the country. There is always some endemic lizard or a sand plant never found anywhere in the world found by these so called environmentalists.

    Umar Perera Wednesday, 03 March 2021 05:10 PM

    Doomed. Such coastal areas have a delicate balance. Besides, Adani Group companies have an appalling record of environmental destruction and prosecutions overseas, including illegal dealings, bribery, environmental and social devastation and allegations of corruption, fraud and money laundering.

    Iraj D Thursday, 04 March 2021 04:01 PM

    I don't think this has got anything to do with the Adani Group...looks like a legitimate company that wants to do business here in Sri Lanka and follow due process. These resources will just be sand unless they are taken out and made use of...I understand our country is blessed with these natural resources and todate have failed to make use of far the politicians and their goons have left these resources alone and untouched. The relevant govt agencies or the private companies should be allowed to extract these under strict monitoring by our environmental agencies and similar interest groups. I remember similar allegations were brought forward when the kandalama hotel was being it has been working with the local villages and the residents and has been a back bone to the economic growth of the area and have been also successful in restoration and re development of the local environment.

    kapila perera Thursday, 04 March 2021 09:24 AM

    we should encourage this type development projects which will bring employment for the people in the area

    Naturalist Saturday, 06 March 2021 09:11 AM

    Memories are short lived when it comes to unpalatable truth. One of the natural buffers against even the 2004 tsunami was the mangroves along the coast. Natural loss is one thing. Human greed made loss is for posterity.

    Jeeves Sunday, 07 March 2021 12:21 AM

    To Naturalist- You have hit the nail on the head! I will only add that nature capital economics is a concept, which shows that nature is a valuable asset in itself, and should not be squandered at any cost.

    Coastal Engineer Monday, 08 March 2021 02:59 PM

    As per the article, the sand to be extracted from the dune areas as well. Sand dunes play a vital role in the Eastern Coast in protecting the hinterland from coastal flooding, especially during storm conditions (East coast is highly vulnerable for Cyclones, which associate with increased sea levels and extremely severe waves). Just making a sand mound from the remaining sand after extracting the minerals, to the shape of a sand dune on the coast would not serve the function of a sand dune, as it would not be a stable feature like original sand dunes. It is interesting to see what EIA report has to say about this. Also, interesting to know what Environmentalists to say about this. It is always advisable to avoid disturbing the sand dune areas.

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