The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) and the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), which are National Research Facilities managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF), signed a three-year Memorandum of Agreement to implement the Integrated Environmental Management Plan (IEMP) for the SKA project in South Africa.
The IEMP is the result of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the SKA project conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs. The SKA project in South Africa, being built in the Karoo, is managed by SARAO. Dr Rob Adam, Managing Director of SARAO, says: “This agreement will enable our site for radio astronomy research to become a site for earth observation research too.”
The IEMP provides recommendations on the way in which the SKA radio telescope will be constructed and operated within the environment and the measures that will be taken to mitigate its environmental impact and enhance its environmental benefit. The IEMP is a living document adapted every five years according to changing requirements of the region itself and its users. The IEMP includes a monitoring and auditing programme that will be reassessed periodically to allow for an adaptive and dynamic environmental monitoring framework.
The 2007, 2009 and 2011 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports and respective Environmental Management Plans can be accessed at www.ska.ac.za/about/strategic-environmental-assessment.
The Internal Memorandum of Agreement includes several undertakings and deliverables agreed upon by SARAO and SAEON. The agreement affects approximately 130,000 hectares of land in the Karoo area and the process of buying up land to accommodate the core area of the SKA has been concluded. Negotiations are underway to enter servitude agreements with landowners along the 3 spiral arms that stretches out from this core area.
The services to be provided by SAEON to SKA SA in terms of the agreement will include, among others:
Undertaking an ecology, biodiversity and surface water (aquatic) site walk-through for SKA1_MID; developing an Ecological and Aquatic Management Plan for the SKA site based on the ecological and aquatic walk-through-findings; developing a Revegetation and Rehabilitation Plan and a Plant Rescue and Protection Plan for SKA1_MID; conducting an Environmental Baseline Study on the SKA site and the three spiral arms; provide advice to the Land Management Authority on preparing a motivation for the establishment of the SKA site as a Protected area; advising on the Land Management Plan to be developed by the Land Management Authority; and generating and distributing reports on the Land-Use Change Impacts on the SKA site.
The recently appointed Deputy CEO of the National Research Foundation, Dr Clifford Nxomani, who is responsible for the National Research Facilities says: “It is strategic alignments like this one that create new opportunities for integrative science and provide new platforms for the training of the next generation of scientists.”
Notes to Editors
About Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA)
The SKA is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope – one hundred times more sensitive than any current radio telescope. The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering, and research and development towards building and delivering a unique instrument. As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition. SKA will be built in two phases – SKA1 and SKA2 – starting in 2018. SKA1 will include two components – SKA1 MID (to be built in South Africa) and SKA1 LOW (to be built in Australia); they will observe the Universe at different radio frequencies.
The MeerKAT and SKA projects in South Africa are part of the Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) programme under the National Development Plan (2012). The National Development Plan is intended to transform the economic landscape in the country, create a significant number of new jobs, strengthen the delivery of basic services and support the integration of African economies.
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has committed to contribute to the implementation of the National Development Plan by undertaking Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) to integrate the regulatory environmental requirements for the SIPs while safeguarding the environment. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was appointed to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the SKA Phase 1 in South Africa.
The mission statement of the SEA is:
“to provide a platform to coordinate research and data collection within the SKA Phase 1 study area and integrate the environmental authorisation process ensuring that environmental factors are adequately considered and environmental principles implemented at the strategic planning stage“.
About the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) is a National Facility managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and incorporates all national radio astronomy telescopes and programmes. SARAO spearheads South Africa’s activities in the Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope, commonly known as the SKA, in engineering, science and construction. The national radio astronomy telescopes and programmes incorporated under SARAO includes the MeerKAT and KAT-7 telescopes in the Karoo, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in Gauteng, the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) in nine African countries as well as the associated human capital development and commercialization endeavours.
About the Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)
SAEON is a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and serves as a national platform for detecting, translating and predicting environmental change through scientifically designed observation systems and research. SAEON also captures and makes long-term datasets freely accessible, and runs an education outreach programme. SAEON has six nodes dispersed geographically across the country.
What is an SEA?
As defined by Sadler and Verheem (1996), the SEA is “a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of proposed policy, plan or programme initiatives in order to ensure they are fully included and appropriately addressed at the earliest appropriate stage of decision making on par with economic and social considerations.”
In South Africa, SEAs are undertaken to evaluate the opportunities and constraints of large scale strategic developments at the regional and national scales. To date, three SEAs have been commissioned in support of the SIPs: the Renewable Energy Development Zones (REDZs) SEA in support of SIP 8, the Electricity Grid Infrastructure (EGI) SEA in support of SIP 10 and the SKA Phase 1 South Africa SEA in support of SIP 16.
The ultimate goal of a strategic environmental assessment is to define a sustainable development process which will meet the necessary human development goals while maintaining the ability of natural systems to continue to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depend.