Category Archives: Pacific region

Call for Cooks’ seabed mining licences to require risk research

Kelvin Passfield of Te Ipukarea Society. Photo: RNZ/ Sally Round

Radio New Zealand | 21 November 2018 

The Cook Islands government must focus as much on the potential environmental risks of seabed mining as it does on the economic benefits, an environmental organisation says.

In recent weeks, the government has been holding public meetings to hear feedback on its plan to open tenders for five-year, deep sea mining exploration licences at the beginning of next year.

Kelvin Passfield of the Te Ipukarea Society said little was known about the biodiversity in the exploration area.

Environmental research should be included in exploration operations, Mr Passmore said.

“We would like to see at least an equal emphasis on the biodiversity and the potential environmental impacts on that biodiversity,” he said.

“So we would like to see any exploration licence having a condition that there must be a partner in that exploration programme of a research institution.”

The Cook Islands News reported that Deputy Pm Mark Brown as saying the government was only concerned with exploration at this point.

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Filed under Cook Islands, Environmental impact, Financial returns, Pacific region

Deep sea mining zone hosts CO2-consuming bacteria, scientists discover

phys.org | November 20, 2018

Scientists have discovered that bacteria in the deepest parts of the seafloor are absorbing carbon dioxide and could be turning themselves into an additional food source for other deep-sea life.

Bacteria living 4000m below the ocean surface in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) are consuming carbon dioxide and turning it into biomass, a new study shows.

Until now, scientists believed the main source of biomass on the seafloor was the organic matter that floated down towards the depths: dead fish, plankton and other detritus.

Prof. Andrew K. Sweetman from the Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh said:

“We have recently made two major findings.

“In contrast to similar studies in the north Atlantic Ocean, we found that bacteria and not seafloor animals were the most important organisms consuming organic detritus that floats down towards the ocean floor.  

“We also discovered that benthic bacteria are taking up large amounts of carbon dioxide and assimilating it into their biomass through an unknown process. This was completely unexpected.

“Their biomass then potentially becomes a food source for other animals in the deep sea, so actually what we’ve discovered is a potential alternative food source in the deepest parts of the ocean, where we thought there was none.  

“If we upscale our results to the global ocean, our findings reveal that 200 million tonnes of CO2  could be fixed into biomass each year by this process.

“This equates to approximately 10% of the CO2 that the oceans remove each year, so it’s possibly an important part of the deep-sea carbon cycle.

“We found the same activity at multiple study sites separated by hundreds of kilometres, so we can reasonably assume this is happening on the seabed in the eastern CCFZ and possibly across the entire CCFZ.”

The CCFZ is a prime area of interest for future seabed (polymetallic nodule) mining. Sixteen contractors from countries like the UK, Germany, France and Korea have claimed exploration rights in this region, and have begun conducting surveys to gather baseline data on biodiversity and genetic connectivity across their claim areas.

Dr Sweetman is calling for the International Seabed Authority to ensure contractors in this area will implement carbon cycling monitoring as well as biodiversity and genetic studies.

Sweetman said:

“If mining proceeds in the CCFZ, it will significantly disturb the seafloor environment.

“Just four experiments similar to ours have been conducted in situ in the abyssal regions of the oceans; we need to know much more about abyssal seafloor biology and ecology before we even consider mining the region.

“The full-scale mining proposed in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone could significantly impact benthic ecosystems for decades, perhaps even longer.

“Now that we have shown that novel carbon cycling processes are happening on the seafloor in this region, which may be very significant in terms of the carbon cycle, authorities should insist that hopeful mining contractors study these  processes in baseline surveys, impact assessments and monitoring, so that mining-related changes in this important ecosystem process can be identified and tracked.”

The findings were published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.

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Deep sea mining: Riches or ruin?

The OK Tedi gold mine, which caused huge environmental problems in New Guinea, is an example of how mining can go horribly wrong, a letter-writer says.

Letter to the Editor | Cook Island News | November 19, 2018

The government is in raptures as they prepare for a bonanza of riches that they hope will flow from deep sea mining in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).fish

Before matters proceed to the point of no return, we the Iti Tangata need to ask whether mining will lead to riches or to our ruin.

Should we allow our Government to jeopardise the main industry of our country that is the backbone of our national economy? Does anyone really think that paying guests will come to a destination that has been polluted from the byproduct of mining, if it were to go ahead?

Word is that government is so keen, that they are in the process of trying to water down the Marae Moana Act in order to take away some of the protections in relation to environment impact assessments. Being so secretive about the proposed changes, which the public are not allowed to view until the Amendments have had a first reading in Parliament, does little to dispel that impression.

Right now, our visitors pay good money to come to our tiny Ipukarea to experience the beauty of the environment on land, lagoon and ocean and to enjoy the holiday of their dreams before heading back to their own homes. They came here for the clean air, the green hills and flowers and immaculate gardens and the beautiful lagoons and friendly people to host them and while doing so, they generate more than $200 million annually to our local economy.

Does anyone really think that paying guests will come to a destination that has been polluted from the byproduct of mining – if it were to go ahead? Of course not, they will go elsewhere.

Actually, I am not necessarily a fan of tourism. That seems to have gone into overdrive in the past couple of years and seems to have created a certain level of environment and infrastructure issues of its own. These include periodic shortages of water supply in parts of the island, an inadequate septic system – and of course, our roads could do with a bit of an upgrade.

However, those issues are being addressed albeit with mixed results thus far, but will fade into the background in comparison to the irreparable damage to our ocean environment and leisure industry that a high-risk industry such as mining would cause.

Honestly, can the advocates of mining point to a place anywhere in the world where mining has not polluted the surrounding environment?

Nope?

But there are plenty of instances about the adverse effects of mining. Papua New Guinea, one of our Pacific neighbours, has had its fair share of horror stories in relation to mining.

There was, for instance, the notorious case of the OK-Tedi gold mine in PNG where the toxic by-product of the process of extracting the gold were released into the OK Tedi and Fly rivers and poisoned the water and killed all the fish. (By the way, the by-product is arsenic for those who are wondering).

After a media campaign in Australia to expose the malpractice of the mining company and a court case against them for their misdeeds, the mining giant negotiated to pay a tiny fraction of the costs to remediate the environmental damage and eventually walked away from the mine. PNG was left to deal with the mess the mining company left behind.

There are other case, but the point is that mining companies have very deep pockets to retain the highest paid legal minds from anywhere in the world to defend their position, while our Government has the services of the Commissioner and Crown Law. In a battle between global giants vs idealistic local lawyers, it is not going to end well for us.

One last point: even if the nodules are worth zillions of dollars – which is uncertain – the Government will only receive a tiny percentage of the value via royalty payments.

It is rather like our tuna fishing industry, where tuna is sold at $20-30 per kilo, but that Marine Resources have signed away for a few cents per kilo. Enough said.

The byproduct from deep sea mining of our nodules will be  the huge amount of “plume” of the muck that constitutes the seafloor.

Apparently the nodules will be either scooped up or vacuumed upward and then the seawater will be released back to the ocean.

How to return vast quantities of dirty water to the ocean without causing an environmental disaster sounds like mission impossible to me.

The upside is that the byproduct will not be arsenic, as with the OK Tedi case.

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China takes baby steps in the bottom of the Mariana Trench

The chubby, fish-like Qianlong-2 submersible is lowered from its mother vessel prior to a dive in the Indian Ocean. Photo- Xinhua.jpg

According to China’s oceanic authority, the next step for the country’s deep-sea technology is developing and testing a drilling facility named Shenlong, plus a mining platform named Kunlong and an information-sharing system called Yunlong.

Asia Times | October 22, 2018

China is getting closer to exploring the bottom of the ocean after a research mission deep in the Mariana Trench, the largest crack in the Earth’s surface that is more than 10 kilometers deep in the Pacific Ocean.

China’s oceanic research vessel Tansuo-1 returned to its home port of Sanya in southern China’s Hainan province last week, wrapping up a 54-day, 7,292-nautical-mile deep-sea research mission.

During the mission a team of 59 researchers remotely piloted and grabbed some close-up looks into the Mariana Trench.

Researchers from the Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering at the Chinese Academy of Sciences tested deep-sea equipment for geophysics, marine geology, geochemistry and marine biology.

Deep sea exploration vessel the Tansuo-1. Photo: Xinhua

During the expedition, two 7,000-meter-class deep-sea gliders operated continuously for 46 days, making it the only abyss-class glider in the world proven to be able to work continuously for an extended period of time under the sea.

A magnesium seawater fuel cell carried out two tests as the world’s first new metal seawater fuel cell tested in the 10,000-meter abyss. In addition, researchers also used a remote-controlled robot to complete high-definition live-streaming 10,000 meters down near the bottom of the trench.

Earlier this year, Chinese media reported the development of underwater platforms to be launched after 2020 to take samples on the bottom of the South China Sea, as well as plans to probe the Mariana Trench.

The People’s Daily has reported that China’s most advanced manned submersible, the Jiaolong, or “flood dragon” in Mandarin, was undergoing a retrofit at the National Deep Sea Center in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao.

Its next dive will be in the deepest part of the South China Sea, a central basin with an average depth of five kilometers. The Jiaolong can dive up to seven kilometers deep.

The launch of the Jiaolong is a landmark in China’s deep-sea exploration as scientists will be able to reach the sea floor for a closer look and complete refined sampling missions.

China is also developing a manned submersible that can dive to 11km and withstand the immense pressure with its sea trial scheduled in 2021, to “scour the bottom of the 11,034-meter-deep Mariana Trench,” according to the People’s Daily.

In April last year, the Jiaolong finished three dives in the South China Sea. It normally carries three people, a pilot and two scientists.

A dive usually starts around 7am and takes 10 hours. The three people inside can only move in a round, cramped space that has a diameter of 1.4 meters, said Gao Xiang, a senior engineer at the center.

According to China’s oceanic authority, the next step for the country’s deep-sea technology is developing and testing a drilling facility named Shenlong, plus a mining platform named Kunlong and an information-sharing system called Yunlong.

This equipment is expected to be finalized in 2020 and put into the South China Sea sometime after that.

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Wallis and Futuna rejection of seabed mining welcomed by Pacific NGOs

Photo: AFP

Radio New Zealand | 24 September 2018

A decision by traditional leaders in Wallis and Futuna to reject work related to seabed mining has been welcomed by a regional body of non-government groups.

Earlier this month the kingdoms on the French Pacific island of Futuna ruled out allowing any further exploration of the seabed in their waters, saying their stance is final.

The Pacific Islands Association of NGOs ,or PIANGO, said it stands with community and church groups around the region who call for a ban on seabed mining.

PIANGO director Emele Duituturaga said there were environmental concerns and also a lack of clarity around the financial benefits that resource owners will directly receive.

She said in the current geo-political environment and age of cheque-diplomacy it is important for the voices of the people to be heard.

“Now is the time for traditional leaders and our indigenous peoples, who are the main owners of our resources, to stand up and be counted.”

Emele Duituturagasaid the lessons and experiences of mining in the Pacific should be heeded when contemplating exploration of the seabed.

She said there should be a ban on seabed mining around the region, and that the same environmental and benefit issues surrounding terrestrial mining, exist around seabed exploration.

“We’ve not really seen any income from terrestrial mining. We’ve also seen the environmental degradation so we doubt very much that seabed mining will be any different.”

French scientists have visited the territory and said the question of underwater mining will remain.

Five years ago, the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council urged the government to secure resources in the seabed off France’s overseas territories.

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Futuna rejects seabed exploration and mining

Photo: AFP

Radio New Zealand | 14 September 2018 

The kingdoms on the French Pacific island of Futuna have ruled out allowing any work related to seabed mining in their waters, saying their stance is final.

The rejection of any further exploration of the seabed was expressed at a meeting in Futuna with French delegates sent to explain the potential of mining rare earths.

The king of Sigave as well as a leader of the kingdom of Alo told local television that any discussion about land matters had to held with the customary leadership and not with the assembly of Wallis and Futuna.

They said they had seen the negative impact of activities in French Polynesia and didn’t want a repeat of them in Wallis and Futuna.

At the beginning of this decade French teams carried out three exploratory missions in the territory’s waters without consulting the local kings who are officially recognised by the French republic and on its payroll.

The traditional leaders’ view of what comprises their domain clashes with the law which grants France the control of its exclusive economic zone.

Five years ago, the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council urged the government to secure resources in the seabed off France’s overseas territories.

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Right-wingers humiliate Australia and hammer the earth

Bill Laurance | Alert | 2 September 2018

Only in an upside-down country like Australia would the term “Liberal” actually mean far-right conservative.

Australia’s “Liberal Party” showed its true colors last week by toppling the country’s conservative but mainstream Prime Minister — in an effort to install their own right-wing hero.  A hero that nobody liked.

Thankfully, the attempt failed, miserably.

And in advancing this ill-fated coup, Australia’s hard-core conservatives haven’t just failed themselves.

They’ve failed and embarrassed all Australians.  And the Earth as well.

Heat-stressed sheep en route from Australia

EMULATING AMERICA?

For right-wingers in Australia, there seems to be only One True God: The god of mining and fossil-fuels — especially coal, the dirtiest of all energy sources, which Australia burns and exports massively.

The god of mining generously feeds and rewards Australia’s right-wingers – with a heady diet of tens of millions of dollars each year – mostly from foreign-owned corporations.

In turn, the right-wingers fall all over themselves telling Australians that coal is good — and how efforts to slow global warming and promote renewable energy are ill-considered and economically bad.

But no matter what else might happen, the far-right conservatives have been looking to help themselves.

The latest political disaster — resulting in Australia’s seventh Prime Minister in just the past decade — shows just how bad things Down Under have become. 

And Australia can thank its far-right extremists.

For this resounding humiliation. 

For the growing comparisons of Australia to unstable, tin-pot dictatorships.

For the election of Australia to the annals of environmental shame.

It almost sounds like Trump’s America.

Donald Trump and Australia’s loudest disciple of Big Coal, Tony Abbott

NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY

Australians have never hesitated to wag their fingers at the environmental sinners of the world.  Don’t destroy Indonesia’s rainforests.  Stop the illegal logging of New Guinea. 

Stop global warming before it kills off our Great Barrier Reef.

But those arguments are ringing hollow now. 

Just a decade ago, things seemed different.  In 2007, Australia named global-warming Icon Tim Flannery as Australian of the Year

It seemed to herald a view that Australians saw the environment — and their role in protecting it — as a major priority.

But since then, good will has flown out the window, along with an unnervingly long list of national leaders. 

The conservatives killed off Australia’s carbon-pricing scheme – making Australia the first developed nation ever to do so.

In Queensland, rapid broad-scale land clearing has roared back.

The iconic Great Barrier Reef is being battered by extreme heat-waves and by pollution from rapid land-clearing and runoff.

Massive heat-caused bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef

Heat-waves and droughts recently caused the largest die off of mangrove forests ever documented in Australia.

And Australia’s higher-altitude species — specialized for cool, cloudy conditions — are increasingly taking it in the neck as the thermometer rises.

The list of eco-calamities keeps growing.  And the politicians from Australia’s hard right — and their all-powerful mining god — can be thanked for much of it.

STOP THE DAMAGE

With their clumsy, bully-boy tactics, the Australian far-right is not just hurting the country’s environment and its booming outdoor-based tourism, lifestyles, and industries.

It’s ravaging Australia’s credibility as an international leader — as a nation with enviable principles and conscience.

It surely isn’t worth it. 

In the land Down Under, it’s time to stop upside-down thinking and give the right-wingers in the Liberal Party a great big boot into political obscurity.

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