Gamsberg: operating in a uniquely fragile biome

Preserve, protect, restore and rehabilitate are the pillars which should guide the environmental planning of any mining project – none more so than in the environmentally sensitive and fragile Northern Cape.

The Succulent Karoo Biome is unique, even for a country such as South Africa which is renowned for its floral diversity. The biome is home to at least 6,000 species of plants that have evolved over millennia to survive the desert’s aridity, many of them rare and, until our environmentalists started on the area, some of which had been previously unrecorded.

The Bushmanland Centre of Endemism is smaller but nevertheless hosts 397 unique succulents, among them 16 that are endemic and four that are restricted to a small space. VZI was faced with a major challenge of how to develop the Gamsberg Project both without damaging the fragile site and in a way that would ensure the area can be restored when mining ends.

VZI’s environmental specialists worked closely with a wide range of experts to design and implement a process to ensure the necessary protection, preservation and ultimate restoration. VZI enlisted advice from a range of environmental organisations, local and international, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature – one of the world’s oldest and most respected environmental groups.

Some 80,000 plants and 360,000 seeds have been collected and moved to the specialised facilities of the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden. The objective is that, once mining has ended and the area’s surface is restored, it can be replanted with the endemic species that were removed from the site, saved and protected. Areas that are particularly sensitive have been fenced off, while operations have been designed to limit and minimise any direct effects on the entire region.

Collecting plant samples