The LNG projects in Mozambique will have devastating and irreversibly harmful impacts on the environment of the surrounding region, both onshore and offshore, including on the critically endangered species and unique ecosystems of the Quirimbas Archipelago, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Fish and marine food sources will decrease as drilling takes place, and this pool of resources has already shrunk with offshore construction of gas vessels.

The sheer area of the project is massive; the subsea gas fields of one portion of the gas fields alone – known as Area 1 – is approximately 350 km squared (not to mention the corresponding infrastructure and pipelines), while the footprint of another portion – known as Area 4 – is 10,207 km squared. The Quirimbas National Park, which is encompassed within the Biosphere Reserve, lies almost immediately south of Area 1 of the gas development – only eight kilometers from Area 1’s southern boundary. The extraction, processing, and transportation of gas will require dredging, disposal of waste materials offshore and onshore, and the construction of subsea, near-shore, and on-shore structures and infrastructure that will have harmful effects on the nearby communities and ecosystems, including Quirimbas.

The LNG development will cause habitat degradation, noise, and ship strikes and will force species, such as humpback and sei whales, to leave the area. The traffic to and from the extraction wells and the floating LNG processing plant will put the wildlife that surrounds and inhabits Quirimbas at risk. Moreover, if spills or gas accidents, which have become prevalent at energy extraction sites, occur, the impacts will be even more catastrophic. Proponents of the project frankly acknowledge substantial short- and long-term impacts, including noise disturbance, habitat destruction, vessel strikes, and lighting impacts from the various aspects of the project, including offshore drilling, cutting trenches for pipelines and shipping channels, construction of the LNG facility and associated shipping terminal, and operation of the facility.

Biodiversity of Quirimbas Biosphere Reserve

The coastline of eastern Africa, particularly the northern coast of Mozambique, is home to incredible biodiversity. Roughly 60 % of eastern Africa’s remaining mangrove forests are in Mozambique, providing excellent habitat and tremendous ecosystem services. Northern Mozambique’s coral reefs are also largely intact and are some of the most species-diverse coral reefs in the region, particularly in the Quirimbas Archipelago of Cabo Delgado Province where the natural gas development will occur. Quirimbas was recently added by the Man and the Biosphere Programme International Co-ordinating Council (MAB-ICC) to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
The area’s particularly productive seagrass beds also provide nursery grounds and foraging habitat for fish and turtles. Recognizing these ecological attributes, as well as the area’s cultural history, Mozambique proposed Quirimbas Archipelago for World Heritage designation.

The Quirimbas National Park and surrounding area have a wide diversity of animals including whales, dolphins, turtles, sea birds, and fish, as the ICC recognized in designating the area as a Biosphere Reserve. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers a number of these species as imperiled, including sei whales; Indian yellow nosed albatross; and loggerhead, green, leatherback, and hawksbill turtles. A number of fish and other species observed in the area are quite possibly new to science and, therefore, have not yet been taxonomically classified. The endangered green and hawksbill sea turtles have been documented nesting on Vamizi, Rongui, and Macaloe islands, within and immediately south of gas development. In addition, endangered humpback whales calve in the area and have been sighted within Palma Bay. The project will destroy areas of pristine coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grass beds, as well as endangered plant species unique to this part of the world. Fewer and fewer places in the world contain these ecosystems, so protecting Quirimbas National Park and its surroundings is more important than ever.

Environmental Impacts on Local Communities

The gas projects will have a devastating impact on the surrounding local communities. Contaminated water and soil will lead to illnesses, which the companies have themselves admitted in their environmental impact assessments. The increase in invasive species and the decrease in local marine life means that fishing, the major means of livelihood for some of the surrounding villages, will no longer be possible. Several communities are already and more will be relocated to areas that are far from farmland and the sea, and will lose the land they have cultivated for centuries.

LNG Spill Hazards

A spill of LNG can result in a fire or an explosion since natural gas is highly flammable. The thermal radiation, i.e., heat, from a LNG pool fire can be felt a far distance from the pool itself, presenting a danger to the marine species in Quirimbas National Park. The temperatures of these fires could reach 1300 to 1600 degrees Celsius. This intense heat can harm animals and ecosystems even when they are a considerable distance from the fire itself. Compared to oil and gasoline fires, LNG fires reach higher temperatures, have a higher burn rate, and produce taller flames with less smoke. Smoke would normally act as a thermal shield, absorbing a significant portion of the radiant heat emissions. For all of these reasons, the heat from LNG pool fires is felt further away than oil and gasoline fires. No method exists to put out these fires; the only way for them to stop burning is for all of the LNG to be consumed.

Even if an LNG pool fire does not form, the creation of flammable vapor clouds can result in other harms. LNG vapor clouds can reduce the concentration of oxygen in the surrounding air, which can asphyxiate species near or inside of them. These vapor clouds can drift “some distance” from the source of the LNG pool, which would most likely intrude upon the buffer and transition zones, if not Quirimbas National Park itself. In addition, since LNG has to be kept at very cold temperatures, the cold LNG vapors can frost or freeze the lung tissues when animals breathe them.

Exacerbating the impact of climate change on plant and animal life

Oil and gas production results in significant greenhouse gas emissions, which increase the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on species and ecosystems. Coral reefs are at risk of disappearing entirely due to increasing ocean temperatures and ocean acidification from increased levels of dissolved carbon dioxide. In order to avoid truly catastrophic consequences of climate change, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by, among other things, not extracting more fossil fuels, such as the LNG in northern Mozambique. The 0.7°C surface temperature rise that has occurred since the pre-industrial era has been linked to the increased frequency and severity of mass coral bleaching events.

As the world’s oceans absorb unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, ocean surface waters have become 30 % more acidic relative to preindustrial levels. Scientists predict that if carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated, seawater acidity wil increase 100 to 150 % by the end of the century. One of the main impacts of ocean acidification is that it impairs the ability of many marine organisms to build protective calcium carbonate shells and skeletons because carbonate minerals become less available.48 Nearly all calcifying organisms studied, including species from the major marine calcifying groups and plankton at the base of the marine food web, have shown reduced calcification in response to elevated carbon dioxide in laboratory experiments. In field studies, slower growth rates have already been observed in some corals, and many corals could be lost within a few decades due to global warming and acidification.

Ocean acidification also disrupts metabolism and other biological functions in marine life. Changes in the ocean’s carbon dioxide concentration result in accumulation of carbon dioxide in the tissues and fluids of fish and other marine animals and increased acidity in body fluids. These impacts can cause a variety of problems for marine animals, including difficulty with acid-base regulation, metabolic activity, respiration, and ion exchange, leading to impairment of growth and higher mortality rates. In fish, high concentrations of carbon dioxide in seawater can lead to cardiac failure and mortality. At lower concentrations, sublethal effects can seriously compromise the fitness of fish. Juvenile and larval stages of fish were found to be even more vulnerable. Some studies show that juvenile marine organisms are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification. In conditions simulating future seawater with elevated carbon dioxide, larval clownfish lost their detection and homing abilities to find suitable habitat. Moreover, ocean acidification decreases the sound absorption of seawater, causing sounds to travel further with potential impacts on marine life that may be sensitive to noise from vessel traffic, seismic surveys, and other sources of noise pollution.

Global Impacts of all Oil and Gas Exploration and Development

Routine activities from oil and gas development cause negative impacts to wildlife, including vessel strikes, marine debris, water quality impacts, and destruction of habitat. The resulting significant increase in vessel traffic contributes to collisions with endangered whales, dugongs, and other transitory species, causing major wounds, which can be fatal. Additionally, marine debris from discarded plastic used during offshore drilling and production harms listed whales and sea turtles by entangling them, causing injury or impaired mobility that can interfere with feeding and reproduction.

Oil and gas exploration and development activities that produce anthropogenic noise under water include seismic surveying, drilling and the discharge of toxic drilling sludge, offshore structure emplacement, offshore structure removal, and production-related activities, including ship and helicopter activity for providing supplies to the drilling rigs and platforms. Although all of these activities impact marine life, seismic surveys used to detect oil and gas deposits underneath the ocean floor are particularly harmful. For offshore exploration, the oil and gas industry typically rely on arrays of airguns that are towed behind ships and release intense impulses of compressed air into the water about once every 10-12 seconds. Although airguns are vertically oriented within the water column, horizontal propagation is so significant as to make them one of the leading contributors to low-frequency ambient noise, reaching thousands of miles from any given survey. A large seismic airgun array can produce effective peak pressures of sound higher than those of virtually any other human-made source save explosives. Noise from a single seismic survey can affect a region of about 300,000 km2 and raise noise levels two orders of magnitude higher than normal continuously for days. The highest energy levels produced by seismic airguns fall within the frequency range from 10 to 200 Hz and can extend up into the 1- 10 kHz band.

It is well established that the high intensity pulses produced by seismic airguns can cause a range of impacts on marine mammals, fish, and other marine life, including abandonment of important habitat, masking of important natural sounds, disruption of vital behaviors essential to foraging and breeding, increased stress, temporary or permanent hearing loss, loss of biological diversity, and injuries and mortalities. For cetaceans, which are particularly reliant on sound, lethal and sublethal impacts are well-documented. Strandings and mortalities, especially of beaked whales, have been linked to seismic surveys and are thought to have caused prolonged and serious population impacts in at least one case.
Impacts from seismic surveys include cessation of singing by 250 male fin whales for months; displacement of western gray whales off Sakhalin Island, Russia, from their primary feeding area, returning only days after seismic activity ceased; avoidance of active arrays by odontocetes, killer whales, and mysticetes in United Kingdom waters (including reduced feeding, faster swimming by smaller odontocetes, and increased surface activity by mysticetes); and avoidance of seismic airgun noise by bowheads, humpbacks, and harbor porpoises.
Studies indicate that seismic surveys can alter behavior and cause injury to fish and invertebrate species. Seismic airguns damaged fish ears at distances of 500 meters to several kilometers from seismic surveys, with no recovery apparent 58 days after exposure. Even under moderate levels of noise exposure, some fish experience temporary hearing loss, with fish occasionally requiring weeks to recover their hearing.29 Noise has been shown to produce a stress response and behavioral reactions in some fish, including loss of coherence, dropping to deeper depths, milling in compact schools, ‘‘freezing,’’ and becoming more active. For example, fish have been reported to flee from seismic shooting areas, as inferred from decreased catch rates for both long lines and trawler fisheries. Reduced catch rates of 40 to 80 % and decreased abundance have been reported near seismic surveys in many fish species. In addition, invertebrates – giant squid, snow crabs, and brown shrimp – were observed to have damage to organs and reproductive development when exposed to seismic and other noises.