New research, published by the University of Washington School of Oceanography, says the proposed Solwara 1 experimental seabed mine could have “a large impact on local fishing” which families rely on for their food and incomes.
Effective monitoring of the environmental impacts will require an underwater vehicle that will cost over K87 million to deploy, a cost, says the research, that should be paid by the mining company, Nautilus Minerals.
Related story: Nautilus Minerals Facing Financial Collapse
The research says the proposed mining will create a tailings plume “and until the mining operations and monitoring begin there will be no way to know for sure how large this mining plume will be or how far downstream it will travel.”
As well as depleting fish stocks, the mining could also contaminate marine life consumed by local people. The research concludes that although the mining will be at a depth of 1500 metres, contaminants from the mining could leach into the water column and increase in concentration as they move upwards:
“Once contaminants reach organisms that are consumed by Papua New Guineans the concentration will be much higher than when it was first leaked into the water and could potentially cause sickness in the consumers”.
Because of the potential environmental impacts of the mining, which include “contaminations in fish, physical damage to the seafloor, destruction of isolated populations, sediment plumes, change in fluid flow, noise pollution, wastewater disposal, and leakage of equipment”, the research says it is “essential” to determine the ecological impacts and “how vulnerable the PNG population and economy is to diminished fishing”.
Proper environmental monitoring will also be important “in order to avoid an extinction/poisoning/degradation of organisms that contribute to the circle of life within the ocean”.
The research says the only way to properly monitor the impacts of the mining will be to deploy an underwater vehicle that can send video and still images back to the shore. Deployment of a suitable vehicle, such as the SAAB Seaeye Sabertooth would cost around K87 million.
“With this type of technology PNG would monitor Nautilus’ activities, and ensure they are in accordance with the previously established agreement.”
The research suggests the costs of the underwater vehicle should be paid by Nautilus but the monitoring should be carried out by PNG authorities.