On October 29 2019, the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Mines and Energy, with immediate effect, banned all dredges being used in Liberian waters by both Liberians and foreign nationals. Minister Gesler E. Murray directly quoted, “With immediate effect, the use of dredges on all water bodies within our borders for mining of gold and diamond is hereby banned.” The ministry claims to developed a road map which will require the collective efforts of local government, law enforcement authorities and to enforce this mandate.
Minister Murray claims to detail a training program for mining agents and mineral inspectors has been approved and is now being enrolled out, while the ministry has also instituted a training in smart mining techniques for local miners which has commenced around the national park and protected areas, and is to be replicated across Liberia for the purpose of land reclamation.
The Minister also mentioned that a moratorium on the issuance of new class C mining license will be instituted, noting that a ban on the use of mercury to recover gold will be robustly reinforced and violators will be severely prosecuted in keeping with the law.
Surprisingly, this is not the case in the south east of Liberia. Along the Droh River in Grand Kru County, a group of Chinese and Ghanaian miners are illegally mining, despite the Government’s ban on the use of dredges. The community monitors in a town called Sloyen reported to SESDev about the constant use of these heavy dredges on the river. According to the monitors, before the ban was instituted by the Government, the miners did so little in paying the community for renting their land. After the ministry of mines ban the use of dredges, the community engaged the miners, but they refused to leave the water on grounds that they obtained license from the Government of Liberia.
Early July of this year, SESDev visited the scene and obtained that the miners are still using the dredges to mine on the Droh River. The miners have occupied the north and south of the river, using not only dredges, but excavators to mine, which is a direct violation to the Government’s ban on the use of dredges on community rivers. Dredging activities potentially affect not only the site itself, but also surrounding areas, through a large number of impact factors, such as turbidity, sedimentation, re-suspension and release of contaminants. Effects can be immediate or develop over a longer time frame and they may be temporary or permanent.
The impacts of river dredging on the aquatic ecosystem and the life it supports have been relatively well-studied. The impacts are generally two-fold – firstly as a result of the dredging process itself and secondly as a result of the disposal of the dredged material. During the dredging process effects may arise due to the excavation of sediments at the bed, loss of material during transport to the surface, overflow from the dredger while loading and loss of material from the dredger and/or pipelines during transport.
Dredging will affect a river’s composition, diversity and resiliency in a variety of ways. After a river is dredged, its banks will become prone to erosion. Eroded banks will stimulate further build-up of silt, exacerbating rather than improving problems with navigation. Moreover, disturbance of bank vegetation caused by erosion will remove cover and shade. This will increase light penetration and hence water temperature, which will cause fish to migrate. Besides, loss of soils will disturb the habitat of the river bank.
River dredging can have a number of impacts on local fish populations. Many fish species depend on structured habitats for refuge from the current. The loss of natural habitat can render new dredged habitats unsuitable for shallow-water fish. Furthermore, deeper habitats may make a river more vulnerable to exploitation by invasive non-native species.