Category Archives: Pacific region

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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Beaked whales may frequent a seabed spot marked for mining

DEEP DIVER  Beaked whales, such as this Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), may have made the shallow seafloor depressions seen near a region designated for seabed mining.  ANDREA IZZOTTI/SHUTTERSTOCK

A series of seafloor grooves look a lot like those made by the deep-diving marine mammals

Carolyn Gramling | Science News | August 21, 2018

Whales may have made their mark on the seafloor in a part of the Pacific Ocean designated for future deep-sea mining.

Thousands of grooves found carved into the seabed could be the first evidence that large marine mammals visit this little-explored region, researchers report August 22 in Royal Society Open Science. If deep-diving whales are indeed using the region for foraging or other activities, scientists say, authorities must take that into account when planning how to manage future mining activities.

The Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, or CCZ, is a vast plain on the deep seafloor that spans about 4.5 million square kilometers between Hawaii and Mexico. The region is littered with trillions of small but potentially valuable rocky nodules containing manganese, copper, cobalt and rare earth elements.

Little is known of the seafloor ecosystems in this region that might be disturbed by mining of the nodules. So several research cruises have visited the area since 2013 to conduct baseline assessments of what creatures might live on or near the seafloor.

A 2015 cruise led by Daniel Jones of the National Oceanography Centre Southampton in England is the first to find evidence that suggests that live whales may have dived down to visit the seafloor in the region. Using an autonomous underwater vehicle to scan the seafloor at depths from 3,999 meters to 4,258 meters, Jones’ team found 3,539 grooves in all. These depressions tended to be arranged into sequences of as many as 21 grooves, spaced six to 13 meters apart.

It’s difficult to determine exactly when the marks were made, because sediment settles very slowly through the deep water to fill in seafloor depressions. The oldest marks were made within the last 28,000 years, the team estimates. But some newer tracks appear to overlap older tracks.

No known geologic mechanism could produce the grooves, report Jones and his National Oceanography Centre colleagues, deep-sea ecologist Leigh Marsh and marine geoscientist Veerle Huvenne. But living creatures might: Some scientists, including biologist Les Watling of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and marine ecologist Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, previously suggested that certain deep-diving whales, known as beaked whales, can make such markings as they use their beaks to forage for food hiding in the seafloor.

The new research is intriguing, Watling says, but adds that the biggest question mark is whether a beaked whale could really dive so deep. “When we published our paper, we were extending the probable depth of diving of the whale by several hundred meters,” he says. “These authors are doubling the depth that we talked about.” But, he adds, the new paper also points out that some anatomical studies suggest that a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), at least, may be able to survive a 5,000-meter dive.

Auster adds that the researchers were careful to consider other possibilities for what might have made the markings and systematically eliminate those options, leaving only the whales. And that’s definitely a matter that prospective miners will have to pay attention to, he says. Before mining proceeds, he says, future seafloors studies in the region should include efforts to detect whales, using passive acoustic monitoring, for instance.

Groovy pair

A camera mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicle snapped this image of two shallow grooves, estimated to be about 13 centimeters deep, in the seafloor at the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. Metal-rich manganese nodules litter the ground in the region, which is 4,153 meters below the surface. L. MARSH, V. HUVENNE AND D. JONES/ROY. SOC. OPEN SCIENCE 2018

“This is a huge finding,” says Diva Amon, a deep-sea biologist at the Natural History Museum in London. She has previously cataloged a wealth of seafloor life in the CCZ, including new genera of jellyfish, starfish and sponges. That abundance may be attributable to the variety of sediment types in the region, she adds: Soft seafloor sediment and hard rocky nodules offer numerous places for life to get a foothold.

But whales can be a game changer, because large, charismatic marine mammals can garner public attention in a way that smaller seafloor-dwellers don’t, she says. Although the new study can’t pinpoint when the grooves were made, she says, “this is why more work needs to be done.” Even if the observed grooves were made by whales thousands of years ago, the whales’ behavior may not have changed significantly in the ensuing years, given the stability of the deep-sea environment.

“I would expect that if they were [making the depressions] a couple of thousand years ago, they’re probably still doing it now,” she says.

To date, the International Seabed Authority, the organization that oversees both mining licenses in international waters and environmental regulation of those regions, has issued 16 exploration contracts within the CCZ. Contractors working in the area must record marine mammal sightings within surface waters, as well as sightings of migratory birds, Amon says.

But, she adds, “the fact that these whales may be diving about a thousand meters deeper than was previously known” — and using seafloor that could be irreparably altered [by mining] — has the potential to change the way we manage the CCZ.”

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Oceans Face Ultimate Threat from Deep Sea Mining

New Website & Letter Signed By International Scientists & Organizations Urging for a Moratorium on Deep Sea Mining 

MiningWatch Canada | July 24 2018

Our international waters – known as the “common heritage of (human)kind” – are under a new, imminent, and most deadly threat from the deep sea mining industry. 

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN agency which has not received much public scrutiny until now, meets in Kingston, Jamaica this week to discuss how to open up the deep sea bed to mining. Scientists, academics, and non-governmental organizations unite in a joint letter to raise alarm over this ultimate threat to our oceans.

Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF foundation and Alternative Nobel Prize recipient stated:

“Oceans play a critical role in maintaining life on the planet. However, the ISA continues to ignore the profound lack of scientific understanding of the immediate and long-term ecological costs of digging up the sea floor. 

“It is evident that large private and state-owned conglomerates have succeeded in shifting the ISA’s regulatory discussions toward outcomes favourable to corporate-directed industrial development.”

“Our joint letter is a call from civil society globally to protect our common heritage.”

Renowned marine biologists, including Cindy Van Dover and colleagues, have recently pointed out that deep-sea mining would impact both the seabed and the water column, such that biodiversity loss would be both “unavoidable” and “likely to last forever on human timescales.”

“The world’s seas are already on the brink of catastrophe from overfishing, pollution, such as from plastics and chemicals, destruction of critical habitat such as mangroves and coral reefs, global warming and acidification” said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada.

“The oceans cannot survive wide scale destruction of the sea bed by the same irresponsible industry that mines on land.” 

The signers of the joint letter noted:

“This is not the time to move forward with an extractive regime; there are far too many uncertainties. International leadership at the ISA is required to prevent recklessly proceeding with deep-sea mining.”

The ISA has already issued numerous exploration contracts in international waters to mining interests supported by member states of the ISA. As these exploration contracts come to an end, the ISA is considering implementing a regime to allow extraction.

Raj Patel, Activist, New York Times best-selling author and Research Professor, University of Texas claimed:

“When the Law of the Sea was written and the idea of ‘common inheritance’ first framed, I’m certain that corporations weren’t intended to inherit the seabed. There’s little evidence that corporate stewardship is compatible with the continued, sustained health of these under-studied ecosystems.”

“The seabed is everyone’s common inheritance, and we need broad, transnational and formal public consultation to learn and then decide how best to ensure its survival for those who will inherit it from us.”

Rather than permitting deep sea mining the ISA must declare a moratorium on deep sea mining before irreparable damage is done to the health of the world’s oceans.

View and sign Letter | Download Letter

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Draft mining regulations insufficient to protect the deep sea – IUCN report

“Our current understanding of the deep sea does not allow us to effectively protect marine life from mining operations

“Stringent precautionary measures to protect the marine environment should be a core part of any mining regulations, yet these remain missing in action”

IUCN | 16 July 2018

Regulations under development at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to manage deep-sea mining are insufficient to prevent irrevocable damage to marine ecosystems and a loss of unique species – many yet to be discovered, an IUCN report warns.

The report, Deep seabed mining: a rising environmental challenge, provides a comprehensive overview of deep-sea mining and its potential environmental impacts. The report was launched today, coinciding with the 24th session of the ISA, whose aim is to agree on a ‘mining code’ to regulate the exploitation of the deep seabed.

According to the report, an effective regulatory framework is needed to avoid lasting harm to the marine environment, based on high-quality environmental impact assessments and mitigation strategies. These, in turn, must be based on comprehensive baseline studies to improve the understanding of the deep sea, which remains understudied and poorly understood.

The mining code currently under development lacks sufficient knowledge of the deep sea and a thorough assessment of environmental impacts of mining operations that are necessary to ensure effective protection of deep-sea life, according to IUCN experts.

“We are operating in the dark,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme.

“Our current understanding of the deep sea does not allow us to effectively protect marine life from mining operations. And yet, exploration contracts are being granted even for those areas that host highly unique species. Exploitation of minerals using current technologies could potentially destroy the rich deep-sea life forever, benefitting only a few, and disregarding future generations.”

There is growing commercial interest in deep-sea mineral deposits as a result of projected rising demand for copper, aluminium, cobalt and other metals. These resources are used to produce high-tech applications, such as smartphones, and green technologies, such as electric storage batteries.

Though there is little empirical evidence of the impacts of deep-sea mining, the potential impacts are worrying. These include direct physical damage to marine habitats due to the scraping of the ocean floor by machines – similar to clearcutting a forest – and the stirring up of fine sediments on the seafloor that can smother animals and cloud the water. Additional impacts include toxic pollution due to leaks and spills, noise, vibrations and light pollution from mining equipment and surface vessels.

By May 2018, the ISA – which has the dual mandate of promoting the development of deep-sea minerals whilst ensuring that this development is not harmful to the environment – had issued 29 contracts for the exploration of the deep sea. Commercial mining in international waters is expected to begin no earlier than 2025. Exploratory mining in the national waters of Japan started in 2017, and commercial mining is predicted to occur in Papua New Guinea by 2020. 

“With regulations for commercial deep-sea mining currently under development, we are facing a unique window of opportunity to ensure that potential impacts of these operations are properly assessed, understood and publically discussed,” says Kristina Gjerde, IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme senior advisor on the high seas.

“Stringent precautionary measures to protect the marine environment should be a core part of any mining regulations, yet these remain missing in action. In addition to this, the ISA’s challenging and conflicting mandate will require improved oversight by the international community to ensure marine life is adequately protected.”

Deep-sea mining is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the deep sea – the area of the ocean below 200 m. The area covers about 65% of the Earth’s surface and harbours a rich diversity of species – many unknown to science – which are uniquely adapted to harsh environmental conditions. It also includes unique geological features, including the Mariana Trench – the greatest depth registered in the ocean.

The 24th session of the ISA is taking place from 2 to 27 July in Kingston, Jamaica.

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Pacific experts press for sustainable deep-sea mining

SPC has yet to explain how these giant machines be used sustainably…

SPC | Scoop NZ | 9 July 2018

Pacific Island Countries and Territories have committed to long-term sustainable management of Deep-Sea Minerals (DSM) and ocean governance through the refinement of a draft regional agreement in Fiji.

The Agreement establishes cooperation among Pacific Island countries and territories to support responsible deep-sea mineral management across the region. This is work led by the Pacific Community (SPC) through the development of critical legislative frameworks and support to countries to ensure effective & sustainable evidence based approaches to the use of these resources.

Dr Andrew Jones, Director of SPC’s Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division (GEM) said many PICTs have great potential to access deep-sea minerals but he highlighted the need to ensure this is done sustainably

“DSM exploration is already happening in the region and this agreement will ensure countries are effectively legislated and protected whilst ensuring sustainable practices are used to extract any resources. To date, Nauru and Tonga have sponsored foreign companies to secure exploration tenements in their jurisdiction, whilst Kiribati and Cook Islands have established state-owned-enterprises to explore DSM extraction,” he said.

This draft agreement was refined at the recent Pacific Regional Deep-Sea Minerals Workshop in Nadi (2-4 July) supported by representatives of Pacific nations. Final consultations will now be held expected to be completed by October with the final agreement to be tabled to Pacific Leaders and representatives in 2019.

The workshop was coordinated by SPC in collaboration with financial and technical assistance from the PEW Charitable Trusts and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

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