Monthly Archives: February 2011

Trudinger’s evidence under fire

Statements made by geologist John Trudinger about the toxicity of the waste from the Ramu nickel mine in Papua New Guinea have been rubbished by scientists discussing his evidence on the internet.

Last week Trudinger appeared as a witness for mining companies MCC and Highlands Pacific, in a court battle where they are defending a claim by local landowners that the marine dumping of waste from the Ramu mine should be banned, as it will cause inevitable environmental harm.

Trudinger told the court that the heavy metals in the mine waste will be benign and that nickel and chromium do not bio-accumulate.

“Nonsense!” has been the reaction of other scientists reading about Trudinger’s evidence. “This is SO important, Trudinger has no basis for his claims” says another. “Uninformed drivel”.

The scientists say the United States Environmental Protection Agency backs their case and its Water Quality Criteria-2009 and 1986 provide clear evidence that bioaccumulation of nickel and chromium does occur in numerous species and both are toxic.


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Coral reefs facing a triple threat


This reef off the coast of Madang in Papua New Guinea is threatened by waste from the Ramu mine

An alarming new report published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) highlights the risks facing coral reefs.

The short version: coral reefs are in big trouble. That’s not exactly surprising—coral reefs around the planet have already been badly damaged by bleaching events and destructive fishing practices. But the WRI report shows that reefs face an existential threat from climate change, pollution and overfishing over the next several decades—and there’s a significant chance that we could see massive extinctions. 75% of coral reefs are already threatened, but if we continue down business as usual, nearly all of the world’s coral reefs will be at risk by mid-century.

In a speech given at the launching of the WRI report, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) head Jane Lubchenco laid out just how important reefs are for ocean ecosystems:

Preserving coral reefs is about protecting coastal communities:

  • Coastlines protected by reefs are more stable, more resistant to erosion, than those without. Up to 90 percent of the energy from wind-generated waves is absorbed by reef ecosystems.  In Belize alone, coastal protection afforded by reefs and mangroves provides an estimated $231 to $347 million dollars in avoided damages per year.

Preserving coral reefs is about preserving cultures:

  • As an example, the most linguistically diverse place on earth, Papua New Guinea, is home to approximately 820 different languages and to many people who are dependent on coral reefs. If we lose these reefs, we risk losing the communities and cultures that gave rise to such diversity.

Preserving coral reefs is about food security:

  • We need to expand the way we think about food security far beyond just grains and livestock on land to include fisheries, given that vast numbers of people in developing countries rely on their coastal waters for essential protein.
  • 500 million people worldwide depend daily upon coral reefs for their food and livelihoods. That’s 200 million more people than live in the U.S. alone.

Preserving coral reefs is about ensuring thriving economies:

  • It is difficult to put a precise dollar value on many of the benefits provided by coral reef ecosystems, but by any estimate they are globally and locally valuable.  Tourism, reef fisheries and shoreline protection are particularly noteworthy.

But most of all, preserving coral reefs is about our collective commitment to one another, to the rest of life on the planet and to our future.

Right now the most threatened reefs are found in heavily populated and poorly protected areas of southeast Asia, where once pristine reefs like Raja Ampat off eastern Indonesia have been badly used. The coral reefs of the Caribbean—once the blue jewels—have been heavily stressed by tourism, waste and overfishing. And even areas like Australia—where coral reefs receive some of the best protection on the planet—or the still-untouched coral reefs of the remote south Pacific could still be damaged by climate change, as carbon levels build up in the ocean, turning the waters more acidic and making it impossible for corals to create calcereous skeletons. “Make no mistake,” said Lubchenco. “This is a critical time for ocean ecosystems in general, but especially for coral reefs.”

The good news is that coral reefs are surprisingly resilient, and given enough protection, they can bounce back from most threats. But marine protection—as I wrote in a story for TIME last year—is a joke in most parts of the world, even around the U.S. There’s some hope that could change—visionary conservationists like Sylvia Earle are having some success in encouraging governments to ban together to beef up marine protection, especially in the open seas, which are a virtual free for all. If we keep adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—which eventually finds its way into the ocean—even the best legal protection might not be enough to save a changing ocean, and the coral reefs that depend on it.

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World Bank extractive review warned against marine dumping

The World Bank’s Extractive Industries Review in 2003 recommended the practice of marine dumping of mine waste should NEVER be supported in areas of coral reefs and coastal waters used by indigenous peoples – exactly the areas the Ramu nickel mine in Papua New Guinea will be using for its dumping..

This is what the review said about the practice of marine dumping.

Submarine tailings disposal (STD) is currently the waste disposal procedure preferred by many mining companies planning large-scale operations in mountainous areas of active seismicity, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. If major projects proposed for the region receive permission to use STD, there could be a significant increase in its use in the next 10 years for already approved and proposed large-scale mining operations. This is also a critical region of maximum marine biodiversity and thus of global marine conservation significance.

The effects of STD (if any) on tropical marine life, marine resource use, and ecosystem function are not well understood, and there is an urgent need to address the major gap in biological data on the possible effects of STD on tropical marine ecosystems, particularly in the Indo-Pacific deep sea.

On the basis of the precautionary principle, since marine biodiversity has global conservation significance and since the possible effects of STD on the tropical marine ecosystem are not well understood, STD should be avoided especially in island regions where this method of disposal may not assure people’s sustainable livelihoods.

Almost all STD operations worldwide, whether disposing at shallow depths or in the deep sea, have had problems, including pipe breaks, wider than expected dispersal of tailings in the sea, smothering of the benthic organism (although this is predicted) and loss of biodiversity, increased turbidity, introduction to the sea and marine biota of metals and milling agents (chemicals, such as cyanide, detergents, and frothing agents), and loss of potentially re-mine-able metals from tailings in the deep sea.

The EIR heard numerous other concerns about current as well as anticipated environmental and socioeconomic impacts of submarine tailings disposal in Southeast Asia.

STD presents an inherent economic risk to local and export fisheries, for example, because of real or perceived contamination of marine resources.  It may affect large and often endangered marine life, including whales, dolphins, and marine turtles, and it may raise the risks to human health through direct or indirect exposure to mining wastes. Mining procedures such as STD may have a negative impact on numerous other important socioeconomic and environmental factors, ranging from reduced marine tourism potential to additional, often illegal small-scale mining activities by opportunistic individuals.

Environmental impact assessments of mining operations with STD as their main mechanism for waste management do not adequately assess any adverse effects in the deep sea and marine food web, and such potential impacts should be included in the scope and terms of reference for such studies.

In conclusion the World Bank review said:

The WBG should apply the precautionary principle and not fund projects that would require submarine tailings disposal until balanced and unbiased research, accountable to balanced stakeholder management, demonstrates the safety of such technology. Future decisions should be based on the outcome of such research and be guided by it.

The EIR further recommends that, irrespective of the final outcome of the research, STD and tailings disposal in rivers not be used in areas such as coral reefs that have important ecological functions or cultural significance or in coastal waters used by indigenous peoples and local communities for subsistence purposes.*

* Emphasis added

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Peter Jolly of Highlands Pacific threatens local photographer

From a Special Correspondent

It was  a shameful display of foreign corporate arrogance and intimidation.

Peter Jolly threatened 'big trouble' if the photos appeared in the media

Highlands Pacific’s General Manager, Peter Jolly, glaring down from his 1.80-something-meter frame and demanding that a young Papua New Guinean woman stop taking photographs of Chinese and Australian mining executives outside the national court house in Madang.

In an almost comical scene, Jolly closed in on the young lady photographer – and in a futile attempt  to use his otherwise intimidating height – told her she was not allowed to take pictures and she would be in “big trouble” if the photos appeared in the media.

But on that day Jolly wasn’t the intended subject of attention. In fact the photographers and journalists present didn’t even care  that Peter Jolly, the Highlands Pacific top shot was in attendance. The camera lenses was in fact seeking out Dr. James Wang,  Ramu NiCo’s Chief technical adviser who was cross examined  in court that day. It makes one wonder whether Peter Jolly felt he was being left out and needed to draw some attention to himself.

Well, he got the attention he wanted. The photographer didn’t back down. Armed with the camera, she pursued Jolly who fled into a waiting van which took him to the safety of his hotel room.

The next day (Wednesday, February 23), Peter Jolly was at it again. This time with a bit more creativity. In hushed tones and careful not to draw attention, he tried to convince the court sheriff  that is was “illegal” for the same young lady photographer to take pictures outside the courtroom. He seemed to have forgotten that Papua New Guinea’s court rules were adopted from the Australian Justice system. Those who were there, made sure Peter Jolly was reminded of that.

Just a word of advice Pete… live up to your name, for goodness sake. Be JOLLY!


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World Bank backs marine dumping of mine waste in Papua New Guinea

The World Bank has stepped in to support the dumping of toxic waste from the Ramu nickel mine into the seas off Papua New Guinea. The World Bank’s intervention came after the European Union decided to pull its funding.

A World Bank review in 2003 said categorically that marine dumping should not be used in areas such as coral reefs that have important ecological functions or cultural significance or in coastal waters used for subsistence purposes, but that does not appear to be troubling the World Bank today.

The World Bank is funding the efforts of the chief scientist supporting the Ramu nickel mine’s waste dumping plans, Tracy Schimmield, and her employer, the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) to develop site-specific guidelines for the the marine dumping.

This funding from the World Bank is despite the fact indigenous landowners are challenging the Ramu nickel mine’s waste dumping plans, which they say will cause inevitable harm to their seas, coral reefs and subsistence lifestyles. The landowners application for a permanent injunction to stop the waste dumping is part-heard in the National court but this has not dissuaded the World Bank from intervening in support of the waste dumping.

The bank is also funding Schimmield and SAMS to draft site specific guidelines for the marine dumping at the Lihir gold mine.

Schimmield’s work for the PNG government assessing the impacts of marine waste dumping at the Misima and Lihir mines in 2009/10 was funded by the European Union, but they have decided not to fund any on-going work specific to the Ramu nickel mine and its marine waste dumping.

Schimmield gave evidence in court this week, where she appeared as a witness for the mine owners, that while the impacts of the waste dumping could not be accurately predicted she supported the mine being allowed to dump its waste into the sea as that was the best way of seeing what the impacts would be. Shimmield said that if there were widespread negative impacts then the dumping could always be stopped.

The World Bank has not offered any assistance to the indigenous landowners challenging the waste dumping plans, a fact reflected in the weight of lawyers in the courtroom for the waste dumping trial. While the mine owners and regulators had six lawyers at one end of the bench, including a Queens Council from Australia, another lawyer from Brisbane and four lawyers from Port Moresby, the landowners were represented by a single lawyer based in a Provincial town.


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Trial adjourned

The Ramu mine waste dumping trial in Madang, Papua New Guinea, has been adjourned to next Wednesday (March 2). The  judge and the lawyers will on that date go on a site visit to the processing plant and view the waste disposal pipeline.

The court has been sitting over the past three weeks to hear an application by local landowners for a permanent injunction to stop 100 million tons of mine waste being dumped into their seas from the Ramu nickel mine.

The mine is owned by Chinese State enterprise, MCC, and, Australian based, Highlands Pacific.

After the site visit the court will sit again some time in March to hear closing submissions.

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Ramu mine waste dumping trial – Update #16

Today the court has been hearing from three landowners giving evidence on behalf of the mining companies, MCC and Highlands Pacific.

The first landowner to give evidence said the Department of Environment and Conservation and the mine company conducted a lot of awareness in the communities and they had told everyone nothing in the sea would die as a result of the dumping – not one single organism.

The second landowner said he didn’t know where he signed his affidavit and didn’t know his lawyers name, but he did manage to recognise him when he was pointed out in the courtroom during re-examination.

The third landowner to give evidence on behalf of MCC said he was from an inland area and doesn’t know about the sea, but was sure the marine waste dumping would be safe.

All the witnesses for the plaintiff’s and the defendant mining companies have now given their evidence. There is one outstanding witness for the State still to go into the witness box.

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Ramu mine waste dumping trial – Update #15

Today the court will hear from Michael Wau, Deputy Secretary for the Department of Environment and Conservation, who is giving evidence on behalf of the mine owners, MCC and Highlands Pacific.

James Wang outside the court house yesterday

There are also three landowners who are due to give evidence today. They will say on behalf of MCC and Highlands Pacific that they do not support the court case against the waste dumping.

Yesterday afternoon Dr Tracy Shimmield from the Scottish Association of Marine Science gave evidence.

She said she thought it would be a good idea to allow the proposed dumping to go ahead so she can monitor whether it does any harm or not, and if it is found to do any harm she would tell the miners to stop the dumping!

Outside the courtroom, Highlands Pacific General Manager, Peter Jolly seemed to be a little stressed. He was seen and heard threatening a local journalist who was trying to take a photograph of Dr Wang of MCC.


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Ramu mine waste dumping trial – Update #14

This afternoon Ramu mine operations manager, Dr Wang, has told the court:

  • 5,000 cubic metres of slurry was dumped into the sea through the marine waste pipeline in January
  • equipment to monitor the discharge from the pipeline has not yet arrived in PNG
  • awareness done in 1999 showed the marine dumping was a major concern for local people
  • when MCC did its own awareness along the Rai coast in 2007 to 2009 the brochure they used contained false information about the environmental impacts and sea currents below 150m
  • he has no knowledge about laws in China that ban mercury compounds from being dumped in the sea

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Ramu mine waste dumping trial – Update

Dr Tracy Shimmield from the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) is giving evidence in court.

SAMS was employed by the Papua New Guinea government, under a contract paid for by the European Union, to look at the impacts from the marine dumping of mine waste at the Lihir and Misima mines and review the plans for the Ramu mine.

In evidence, Dr Shimmield has said the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) needs to up-skill its staff as they do not have the ability to do data collection and analysis on marine dumping. No monitoring was done by DEC or any government agencies at the Misima and Lihir mines.

Dr Shimmield has also told the court that for her study she did not look at earlier CSIRO or NSR reports on the Ramu mine waste dumping plans as she was “not contracted to do so”.

Dr Shimmield says the Ramu mine’s Operations Environment Management Plan will be extremely important in ensuring environmental safety [that plan is yet to be approved by DEC]. Dr Shimmield has been contracted by the PNG government to review the OEMP based on her expertise.


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