The oysters of Saldanha Bay

Oct 20, 2003
Author: P&S

An oyster farm right next to an iron ore stockpile slap in the middle of a busy port? Sounds incongruous, considering how fickle oysters and other crustaceans are to water quality, but that’s what’s happening at the Western Cape port of Saldanha Bay.

According to SA Port Operations (SAPO), who operate Saldanha’s iron ore and multi purpose terminals, the oyster farm, which is situated on the other side of a single quay wall making up the working part of Saldanha Bay port, now has better quality water than ever before.

This follows an ongoing upgrade of the iron ore terminal, which this year will handle about 25 million tonnes of iron ore exports and is gearing up to increase this to 38mt by the end of 2006.

The upgrade sees SAPO achieving three milestones that puts them well on the path to making Saldanha cleaner and ensuring international environmental standards equal to the best. This policy will shortly be extended to the rest of SAPO’s 13 terminals in the other South African ports.

The three steps include upgrading the Saldanha Bulk Terminal from an ISO 14001 environmental system to an OHSAS 18011 integrated environmental and health system. The other two steps are the implementation of ISO 14001 at Saldanha’s developing Multi Purpose Terminal, and the launch of its integrated Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) policy which aims at encouraging an ethic of continuous improvement.

“These are the first two of our 13 terminals to implement these systems,” said Raymond van Rooyen, SAPO’s Durban-based SHEQ systems manager.

The ISO 14001 system is running in conjunction with a R1.1 billion expansion and equipment upgrade at the Saldanha Bulk Terminal which, once completed, could increase the region’s economic growth prospects from 12 % to 15 % a year.

The refurbishment of the terminal involves replacing aging shiploading equipment, consisting of two stackers and two ship-loaders and the addition of a third stacker/reclaimer machine. Then there’s additional conveyor capacity going hand in hand with the expansion of the terminal’s stockpile area situated within the port close to the two deepwater iron ore berths.

“We are committed to taking all our terminals to the international environmental ISO14001 standard over the next five years and have earmarked several millions of rand for this process,” said van Rooyen.

He said the Durban Multi Purpose Terminals were next in line for ISO 14001 implementation.

A visit to Saldanha shows just how great the environmental challenge is as a result of dust from the tonnes of iron being delivered daily from the mines near Sishen and Hotazel in the Northern Cape. A red film coats just about everything in the area, giving concrete and steel buildings the appearance of an old mining town, while the roads and even grass and plants have taken on a reddish hue. One might nickname this the Red Port.

But now new scrubbing and damping methods are tackling and succeeding in reducing the problem, says SAPO, which brings one back to the that oyster farm right in the middle of operations. It says that the farmer, who at one stage thought he might have to pack up and move on, now reports cleaner water than ever, with happy oysters breeding and making him money in the cold waters of this huge bay.

They say the proof of the pudding lies in its eating – that may well apply to oysters as well.

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