The quality of EIA alternatives assessment in protected areas : a case study of the Kruger National Park
Mdungazi, Nsovo Octavia
MetadataShow full item record
The Kruger National Park is South Africa's largest protected area, spanning two million hectares and is home to over a thousand different bird, mammal, reptile, fish, amphibian, and tree species. National parks attract thousands of visitors each year, making them vulnerable to tourism-related developments. Since protected areas protect huge swaths of biodiversity, as well as social and cultural heritage areas, it is critical that infrastructure and facility developments in these areas extensively consider multiple alternatives. This will ensure that developments are undertaken in a sustainable manner and that they align with the mandate of protected areas. Six (6) Basic Assessment Reports undertaken between 2015 and 2018, for various developments in the Kruger National Park were selected as case studies for this research. Each Basic Assessment Report included specialist studies and all relevant public participation engagement records. The first two research questions evaluated the extent and quality of alternatives assessment in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) undertaken for developments in the Kruger National Park, using the South African National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) EIA regulations, as a tool and to provide criteria. The third research question sought to identify the factors that influence EIA alternatives assessment. The extent of alternatives assessment in EIA in the Kruger National Park was found to be adequate and the categories of alternatives were generally well assessed in each report. Alternatives categories such as design/layout, the no-go alternative and technology alternatives were well assessed. Alternatives categories such as property/location, operational and activity alternatives were poorly assessed, and this was attributed to these alternatives being evaluated and decided upon, on a strategic level. EIA was therefore unable to inform these alternatives categories. The quality of the alternatives assessed in these EIA reports was satisfactory with predominantly A grades and B grades. From the findings of these first two research questions, it can be concluded that the quality of EIA alternatives assessment in protected areas is generally satisfactory. However, some alternatives categories, such as operational and activity alternatives, are generally excluded from EIA because these decisions are made at a strategic level prior to EIA. Due to the small sample size of the EAPs that completed the questionnaire, no conclusive conclusions could be drawn between the EAPs’ education and experience and relevant influence on EIA alternatives assessment. A substantial majority of the responses mentioned project proponents commissioning EIA studies after substantial investment had already been made into their preferred alternative, restricting detailed alternatives assessments to the proponents’ preferred alternative. Specialist assessments recommendations were found to be a factor that positively influenced alternatives assessment and ensured the adoption of layout alternatives with low ecological sensitivities. Public participation was believed to have a minimal influence on major alternatives or to contribute to the development of new ones. The lack of influence of public participation on alternatives assessment is related to the strategic level at which critical project decisions are made and alternatives are assessed, as well as the timing of EIA in the project process, which is frequently too late in the project design. Future research is needed to determine the quality of SANParks' strategic alternatives assessment when deciding on the types of developments to be undertaken in the park. The results, coupled with the findings of this research, will provide a thorough evaluation of the quality of alternatives assessment for developments in Protected Areas, on both the strategic and EIA levels.