Glint of underwater gold excites Pacific

Tamara McLean, AAP 

The glint of gold under the ocean floor has many poor Pacific nations lining up to grant the world’s first deep sea mining licences to dredge the depths of their waters.

But protest groups in the region have warned the industry is experimental, economically risky and potentially disastrous for delicate marine eco-systems.

A two-day meeting on the future of deep sea mineral mining wrapped up in Fiji this week, leaving representatives from 15 Pacific nations excited at the potential for this lucrative but as yet unexplored industry.

Papua New Guinea’s government granted the world’s first commercial lease for deep sea mining in January to Canadian-based Nautilus Minerals, which will extract gold and copper from the sea floor 50 kilometres off PNG’s north coast.

At least eight other Pacific nations have also granted exploration licences for the new industry, despite there being few policy and regulation guidelines to manage it.

The Deep Sea Minerals Project, funded by the European Union and administered by the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission, held the meeting to start mapping out the future of the field.

Representatives from tiny nations left the meeting excited at the prospect of big contracts that could help boost their country’s debt-heavy balance sheets.

East Timor government representative Vincent da Costa Pinto said his nation, independent since 2002, had no exports beyond coffee beans and coconut oil, and no mining activity on land or sea.

“To come here and hear the huge untapped potential for gold, copper and manganese in our oceans is exciting,” Mr da Costa Pinto told AAP.

“We’re just a developing nation without a lot of industry so the benefits of projects of this scale that brings in money and economic activity are really huge.”

The meeting was East Timor’s first step towards developing mining laws, he said.

Lameko Talia, from Samoa’s Ministry for Natural Resourcesand Environment, was similarly impressed by the industry’s potential.

“Surveys have been carried out in our waters showing we have both copper and manganese inside our exclusive economic zone,” Mr Talia siad.

“Now it’s about getting on, and working how we do this and taking it to our people.”

Both men acknowledged the need to examine the environmental impacts and accepted that little was understood about scale of the economic rewards.

“There are certainly a lot of unknowns,” Mr Talia said.

Nations are looking to PNG, where the world-first Nautilus project has been signed off and is due to begin in 2013.

Lyndah Brown-Kola, a senior technical assessment engineer with the country’s Mineral Resources Authority, said PNG was well placed to advise its neighbours on how to regulate and legislate deep sea mining nationally.

She acknowledged the government had made mistakes in the past with land-based mining projects but said the deep sea industry promised greater returns “with considerably less negative impact”.

Projected earnings of $US142 million ($A133.46 million) and mining company grants would provide significant economic gains for the country, she said.

“I’m very proud. This is very exciting for us, and for the whole region,” Ms Brown-Kola said.

Environmental groups are more cautious, however, especially PNG-based Act Now, which fought unsuccessfully to stop the Nautilus project.

“As far as we can see, there was little consultation and it was essentially forced on us, even though we have no idea what it will bring, both good and bad,” said the organisation’s program manager, Effrey Dademo.

“We are a guinea pig for the rest of the world to watch.”

Both the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace have warned of the potentially dangerous effects trawling the ocean floor will have on sensitive marine eco-systems.

Duncan Williams, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, warned against rushing the process, saying countries needed to ensure that marine reserves and strict regulations were in place before signing off any deals.

“There is a lot of room here for mismanagement of resources and environmental degradation,” he told AAP from Suva.

“Our concern is that these countries will see the money and jump for quick gains without thinking it through.”

Maureen Penjueli, co-ordinator of Fiji-based Pacific Network on Globalisation, said she was “deeply concerned” by the economic model being used to promote the industry.

“Putting aside the considerable environmental concerns for a moment, economically this may not be smart either,” Ms Penjueli said.

“For instance, mining the ocean could severely compromise our fisheries industries, so we need to think very, very carefully about what is intrinsically good for our nations.

“Do we even want this?”

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13 Comments

Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

13 responses to “Glint of underwater gold excites Pacific

  1. J Edgar Hoover

    Yes….its easy for the first world agitatorts to support the war against deep sea mining when they are not living in poverty, do not suffer from endemic diseases such as Typhoid, Maleria, Cholera, and HIV aids, were the life expectancy of most is less than 54 years.
    Its so easy to forget that PNG has no health services to speak of, no functional police force, a totally corrupt and/or incompetant administration, and is a near totally failed Nation State that has only gone backards in the last 35 years.
    Deep Sea mining is likely to be far less injurious to the environment than any other form of mining, its only those people who know nothing about it who make the loadest noises.
    As for an allegation of lack of consultation with land owner, the project is at over a 1000 meters below the surface of the sea and miles away from land, so, who are the owners of the sea bed in the region.
    The whole controversy is just infantile and silly .

  2. j kross

    Quite right J Edgar. At last some common sense remarks seen around here in a loong time.

  3. Double Doubting Thomas

    Have you ever seen the result of placer mining for gold? Imagine an ocean mountain treated in the same way. Our oceans are not the limitless dumpground people (don’t) think it is. I sure hope there are some regulators and observers that know the environmental impact a gold rush precipitates. You also get a great deal of slick “investment schemes” that bilk people of their savings through sweet deal insider info. Investment advisors are claiming 28 million ounces of gold in this find along with 528 million ounces of silver. At a mile down the technology to mine it will be incredibly expensive. Welcome to Deep Horizon part deux.

  4. Wesley Lokotoiya

    DDT by name, DDT by logic.

  5. Wesley Lokotoiya

    DDT (from its trivial name, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is one of the most well-known synthetic pesticides. It is a chemical with a long, unique, and controversial history.

    First synthesized in 1874, DDT’s insecticidal properties were not discovered until 1939, and it was used with great success in the second half of World War II to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops. The Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods.”[2] After the war, DDT was made available for use as an agricultural insecticide, and soon its production and use skyrocketed.[3]

    In 1962, Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book catalogued the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on ecology or human health. The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds. Its publication was one of the signature events in the birth of the environmental movement, and resulted in a large public outcry that eventually led to DDT being banned in the US in 1972.[4] DDT was subsequently banned for agricultural use worldwide under the Stockholm Convention, but its limited use in disease vector control continues to this day and remains controversial.[5][6]

    Along with the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the US ban on DDT is cited by scientists as a major factor in the comeback of the bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, from near-extinction in the contiguous US.[7]

  6. Wesley Lokotoiya

    DDT, what you have quoted (if it relates to Solwara) is not a JORC authorized statement, was not made by Nautilus, and is, frankly, rubbish.
    Take my comments above lightheartedly

  7. peter litchfield

    we take down trees to build houses,we build them on the sea shore, we have great boats traveling the seas, our land is washes into rivers that go into the seas, we polute the air worldwide continually and rain cleans the air into the seas, our garbage polutes the ground water ,and why would you worry about minning gold ???

  8. wesely

    Peter, the whole so called ‘debate” is a load of steaming horseshit until all of the complainants bother to read what the company has actually done in terms of their management systems.
    Just horseshit, eh Ramunickle?

  9. Sparks

    PNG has enough mining already booming on land already. The stupid govt who awarded this solwara mining project has it’s arms already stretched or incapable of monitoring and regulating the boom in mining sector (MRA & DEC…etc). Yet it went ahead to alward this untested solwara 1 project without a 2nd thought to first enact proper regulatory and monitoring measures in place first hand. That just shows how easily a stupid (& selfish) government will bow down to sweetheard deals with their brains switched off.

  10. wesely

    Ther was no sweet-heart deal here.
    The company really did not want the Government to exercise its option to take up the equity.
    All projects have their own issues, the Solwara ISO 4000 management plan is both complete and effecttive in the first instance.

  11. Sparks

    It may be true there were no sweetheart deals here. Perhaps it was a “Yes Masta” bull-dyke drivel…inferiority complex undertone playing all along behind the scenes & the govt just endorsed the solwara 1 project without equity…

  12. wesely

    Sparks, it was wierd.
    Think it was really driven by former minister pundari who thought this would make him famous…or some thing.
    Treasury and other govt departments strongly advised pundari against png taking up equity for very transparent reasons.
    True!
    Absolutely no “Yes Masa bull dyke drivel” involved.
    Just arrogance and stupidity from minister, ego and stupidity, being advised by fools like Shatrach Himarta (sounds japanese to me) who by all accounts has been promoted well beyond any capacities he has.
    Himata advised Pundari to take the equity up so if anyone is to BLAME! its Shardrach Himata within the Department of Mineral Policy.

  13. Sparks

    Apparently Pundari is from the Highlands regions, no wonder he doesn’t know people and life in the sea. Someone mentioned he still hasn’t mastered his swimming skills yet…maybe he already has…!

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