According to the group, they have received information that a feasibility assessment for the transportation of iron ore is being undertaken on the behalf of Cavalla Resources. The options being evaluated include transporting the ore by road to Buchanan port, constructing a railway to transport the ore to Buchanan port or building a conveyor through the wetlands and stockpiling the ore on 500 acres of land at Bassa Point. It is understood that previous developers flagged Marshall as a no-go-area and considered a long conveyor or dedicated haul road to Buchanan port as the only viable options.
“As conservation organizations in Liberia and strategic partners to the Government of Liberia, we call on your office to rescind all decisions or deny any/all applications to construct the conveyor system in the Marshall Wetlands by Cavalla Resources or any other private firm as this action endangers the already immensely threatened Marshall Wetlands, its rich biodiversity, and the unique ecosystem services it provides,” the group said in the communication dated September 29, 2022, and addressed to Mines and Energy Minister Murray.
Rich but threatened Biodiversity.
Liberia is recognized globally as a top conservation priority in the West African region. It accounts for 42% of West Africa‘s remaining Upper Guinean Forest, a humid coastal rainforest belt, and a global biodiversity hotspot that stretches across the West African countries of Liberia, Cote d‘Ivoire, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Some of its plant and animal species, both land and water, are only found in Liberia.
However, in the last three decades, more than any other time in Liberia‘s history, poorly regulated human activities have significantly degraded these ecosystems, resulting in an unprecedented loss of biodiversity.
The Government, in line with the Ramsar Convention to protect water resources, avoid biodiversity collapse and improve ecosystem services for mankind, designated the Marshall Wetlands as a Ramsar Site in August 2006.
This decision, the group noted, is of international importance given that the Marshall Wetlands predominately contains mangroves with mature trees reaching up to 30m. The Marshall Wetlands is also one of the 14 Proposed Protected Areas (PPA) identified by the GoL in 2008 as part of Liberia’s Protected Area Network.
In their letter, conservation organizations state that the action undermines the Government’s commitment to the Ramsar Convention, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, multilateral agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the numerous investments by international partners in protecting and maintaining this biodiversity hotspot.
The group stresses that the wetlands are an important habitat for threatened species such as the African dwarf crocodile, live Ridley turtle, leatherback turtle, green turtle, West African slender-snouted crocodile, and resident and migratory birds with a number of species listed by the Convention on Migratory Species recorded in the area, such as the Glossy Ibis, Lesser Kestrel, and Common Pratincole.
In addition, the site provides control against flooding and underground water recharge and is a sediment trap. Fish populations and wildlife are valuable resources for inhabitants of the area.
The group states that further to its decision in 2006, recognizing the need to enhance the protection of this biodiversity hotspot and secure the many benefits it provides to local people, the Government of Liberia, through the Forestry Development Authority and Environmental Protection Agency, in collaboration with Conservation International, local communities and other government institutions such as the Liberia Land Authority, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Liberia Maritime Authority and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority has commenced activities to formally gazette the Marshall Wetlands Proposed Protected Area as a Protected Area. This, they noted, is due to the intense and increasing destruction of the mangroves, pollution of the wetland, impact from sand mining and dredging, as well as other human interferences.
The group states “While we recognize the need to promote economic prosperity from the extractive sector, such as mining, all intents, and purposes of the conveyor system across the Marshall Wetlands are unquestionably dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, and will have a significant negative impact on this very important wetland, which has received huge investments from development partners.”
They continued that “notably, these partners have, over the years, invested and significantly supported natural resource conservation including the United States Government, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Global Environment Facility, and the Green Climate Fund, to name a few. As conservation organizations in Liberia and strategic partners to the Government of Liberia, we call on your office to rescind all decisions or deny any/all applications to construct the conveyor system in the Marshall Wetlands by Cavalla Resources or any other private firm as this action endangers the already immensely threatened Marshall Wetlands, its rich biodiversity, and the unique ecosystem services it provides.”
The ecotourism potential of this area is just starting to be realized through several initiatives such as the Marshall Tourism Facility due to be launched in October by the Liberia National Tourism Association, a new ecolodge at Bassa Point and Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection’s Sanctuary and Conservation Center (currently under development). These projects are examples of sustainable development that “foster economic growth and development whilst protecting the environment and ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which human well-being relies” (OECD, 2022).
The group signing this important letter include Conservation International Liberia, Fauna & Flora International Liberia, Libassa Ecolodge, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection, Liberia National Tourism Association, Liberian Youth for Climate Action, Environmental Justice Foundation, Partners in Development, Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia, Sustainable Development Institute, Universal Outreach Foundation, and Wild Chimpanzee Foundation.