Michael Morrah | Newshub | 1 April 2019
Residents living near a UN world heritage site in the Solomon Islands say mining is destroying their island’s environment and heritage, but they feel powerless to prevent it.
Oil from a grounded mining ship has spoiled beaches and reefs on Rennell Island, and some residents say their children have suffered fevers and skin irritations.
Resolve Salvage Master Stewart Miller says the daily journey by salvage experts to the stricken Solomon Trader includes “people from the United States, UK, Spain and Portugal” all helping to vacuum up oil that’s still on the vessel.
They’re also training locals to help them clean up the blackened beaches.
It’s easy to see why the damage to this marine environment will be so significant.
Old sheets of plastic covered in thick, tacky heavy fuel oil from the Solomon Trader, show how the oil attaches to the reef below.
At low tide the evidence of that is clear, rocks and coral smothered by oil.
But not all impacts are quite so noticeable; rainwater tanks, even those high on the cliffs above the vessel, are not safe.
This causes some of the most vulnerable, like Abatai resident Ileen Tonga’s children becoming ill with “fever, red eye, diarrhoea and headache.”
Further up the road from the grounding is Lake Tegano, where families bathe and catch fish, and children play.
It’s a world heritage site and UNESCO says oil hasn’t reached here, but it’s yet to send anyone to do actual testing.
Chinese firm Bintan Mining got approval to mine the area in 2014.
Local teacher Sina Zeal says the firm offered landowners 20,000 Solomon Island Dollars, or $3,600 New Zealand dollars to dig up their family gardens, which many accepted and now regret.
“They are taking out our soil, land, our heritage, everything. That $20,000 (Solomon Island dollars) is nothing compared to the soil they take.”
She says attempts at taking legal action have failed.
“We’re fighting against the government. They won’t do anything.”
Incredibly, amid the current crisis, the Government has given Bintan two more prospecting licences on different islands.
The Minister in charge refused to talk about it saying he was busy with the elections.
The Government’s said it’s getting “virtually no economic return from the mining, describing that as “immoral and unacceptable”, but it’s done nothing yet to halt operations.