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Okefenokee Protection Talking Points

Okefenokee Protection Talking Points

(Adapted from the Okefenokee Protection Alliance.)

Okefenokee Protection

  • The Okefenokee Swamp holds significant economic, ecological, cultural, and historical value to local communities and all Georgians—and this globally treasured resource should be protected from any mining activity.
  • It is critical that elected officials and state regulators step in and play an important role to protect the Okefenokee Swamp from mining.

Ecological health

  • The Okefenokee Swamp is home to the headwaters of two recreationally and ecologically significant rivers, the Suwannee and the St. Marys. Due to its proximity to the proposed mining operation, the 120-mile long St. Marys River and its blackwater stream ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to toxic contaminants and changes to water level.
  • Trail Ridge, the site of Twin Pines’ proposed mining operation, is not only ecologically important in and of itself, but also serves to protect the integrity of the Okefenokee Swamp.
  • By disturbing the sediments on Trail Ridge, the mining process is likely to release toxic contaminants, including radionuclides and heavy metals, into the swamp and nearby surface waters like the St. Marys River.
  • The Okefenokee is home to a stunning array of biodiversity. The Swamp is home to bald eagles, bobcats, black bears, and 13,000 alligators. Several endangered and threatened species reside in and rely on the Okefenokee, including gopher tortoises, wood storks, indigo snakes, and red-cockaded woodpeckers.
  • Over 850 plant species are found in the Okefenokee, from giant 400-year-old cypress trees to carnivorous pitcher plants and water lilies. The Okefenokee is one of Georgia’s largest and most important carbon sinks, storing the equivalent of 145 million tons of carbon dioxide in forests, aquatic plants, soils, and peat. Peatlands account for 65% of the carbon stored in the Okefenokee. When peatlands are dewatered, they release vast quantities of carbon-rich greenhouse gasses, exacerbating climate change.

Clean Water Act and federal water protections

  • The drastic reduction in federal wetlands protections due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 Sackett decision makes it more important than ever that the Georgia EPD step up and fulfill its obligations under state law and for Governor Kemp and the Georgia legislature to pass comprehensive state protections for Georgia’s wetlands.

Project Opposition

  • Twin Pines’ proposed mining project has drawn an unprecedented level of opposition—there have been nearly 200,000 comments submitted in opposition to the mining proposal and in support of the Okefenokee Swamp.
  • Local communities, federal and state officials, legislators from both sides of the aisle, independent experts and scientists, and faith leaders have spoken out in favor of protecting the iconic Okefenokee Swamp.

Titanium dioxide mining

  • The key mineral that Twin Pines’ hopes to mine is titanium dioxide, a commonly occurring mineral. Ninety-five percent of titanium dioxide is refined into pigments that are primarily added to paint, paper, and plastic. Only a fraction of the remaining 5 percent is turned into titanium metal.
  • In 2022, more than half of the titanium dioxide mined in the United States was exported.

Recreational/economic importance

  • At more than 400,000 acres, the Okefenokee Swamp is a National Wilderness Area, a Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park, and a National Natural Landmark.
  • Local residents depend heavily on the Okefenokee Swamp for stable jobs and quality of life — visitors from across the world visit the refuge for boating, birding, fishing, photography, adventure, hunting, camping, and solace.
  • The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge attracts nearly 725,000 visits a year, supports more than 750 jobs, and generates an estimated $64.7 million in economic activity in the four counties surrounding the Refuge.
  • The Department of Interior has nominated the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge to become the first refuge to receive UNESCO World Heritage Site Status–a non-regulatory designation reserved for international sites of universal value and exceptional natural beauty. Its nomination received support through 13,000 comments from across the country. Only a handful of sites in the United States, like the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and Yosemite, have been awarded UNESCO status. Should the Refuge be designated, the swamp would earn its rightful place beside these iconic natural wonders, further catalyzing tourism in the area.