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Position of the Central Asian Programme WWF-Russia on geological exploration in the Ili River Delta

17 november 2020

Message for media

Preamble

On June 20, 2020, a number of Kazakh media outlets published the news that Kazakhstan Fortescue LLP (100% subsidiary of the Australian Fortescue Metals Group) with the assistance of Kazakh Invest and jointly with partner JSC Tau-Ken Samruk starts exploration work on a total area of ​​18,000 sq. km in Kazakhstan.

During its first year of operation, Kazakhstan Fortescue will collect and analyze available geological data, as well as conduct large-scale airborne geophysical surveys to collect magnetic and gravity data.

As it became known in November 2020, five areas for geological exploration with a total area of ​​more than 1000 sq. km are determined by the licenses of the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the Balkhash district of the Almaty region, namely on the territory of the complex Pribalkhash reserve and part of the Ile-Balkhash state natural reserve.

After receiving information about the preparation of the “Kazakhstan Fortescue” project together with JSC “Tau-Ken Samruk ” in the Ili River Delta, WWF-Russia (Central Asian Programme) expressed concern about this issue and sent a letter to the Minister of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Mr. Mirzagaliyev M.M.

The letter says that carrying out such work will pose a threat to the preservation of natural complexes, which directly contradicts Art. 69 of the Law on Specially Protected Natural Territories of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

In addition, carrying out such works in the delta is contrary to the Water Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This area is also one of the 10 wetlands included by the Republic of Kazakhstan in the list of the International Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) - Key Bird Area of ​​Kazakhstan (No. KZ 092), with an area of ​​574 300 hectares, which has international status since 2008. It is one of the most significant nesting grounds for globally threatened species, in particular the Dalmatian and Pink-backed Pelicans and other valuable birds of the wetland complex.

This area is defined by the Republic of Kazakhstan as the territory for the implementation of the Tiger Reintroduction Program, implemented in accordance with the Memorandum (2017) together with WWF-Russia. Possible violations of the hydrological regime of the delta as a result of geological exploration work may cause significant damage to this Program.

The delta of the Ili River is also a natural counter-regulator for Lake Balkhash; violation of the hydrological regime can also lead to catastrophic consequences comparable to the Aral Sea disaster. Therefore, any work in the Ili River delta that may disrupt the hydrological regime requires deep and serious preliminary studies that can guarantee safety both for the delta itself and for Lake Balkhash.

WWF statement:

WWF considers it unacceptable to start exploration and airborne geophysical studies in the Ili delta.

WWF supports the position of the Balkash-Alakol Basin Council, the Almaty Regional Territorial Inspectorate for Forestry and Wildlife, as well as the Ile-Balkhash State Nature Reserve that any exploration or mining in the delta may disrupt the ecosystem of the Ili River delta and Lake Balkhash.

In this regard, we consider it necessary:

To preserve the integrity of the unique ecosystem of the Ili River Delta and Lake Balkhash by excluding the start of any geological exploration and airborne geophysical research.

Send a letter to the General Director of Kazakhstan Fortescue LLP, Anthony John Thornton, with a request to refuse to carry out the specified works in the Ili delta in order to preserve the unique biodiversity of the Ile-Balkhash and Pribalkhash reserve, namely:

fish fauna - 32 species, of which 6 endemic species;

- 3 species of amphibians;

- at least 19 species of reptiles;

 - avifauna - 298 species of birds;

- mammals - 40 species, 4 of which are included in the Red Book of Kazakhstan (Pale pygmy jerboa, Goitered gazelle, Vormela peregusna and Bukhara deer;

 - flora - 432 species. 7 species are in the Red List of Kazakhstan, including the Poplar (Turanga), the Indian lotus, and the Ili barberry. Of the other rare species that need special protection and are of scientific interest, 7 relict species and 18 endemics of Kazakhstan are noted in this area.

Links:

Ramsar Convention - Kazakhstan https://ramsar.org/wetland/kazakhstan

Tau-Ken Samruk and Kazakhstan Fortescue http://tks.kz/en/investments-in-geologic-exploration/

Fortescue Metals Group https://www.fmgl.com.au/

Tiger reintroduction program in Kazakhstan https://wwf.ru/en/regions/central-asia/vosstanovlenie-turanskogo-tigra/

For additional information please contact
Director of the Central Asian Program of WWF-Russia