Category Archives: Pacific region

Shining a light on corporate human rights abuses in the Pacific

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Amy Sinclair introduces a new portal that focuses attention on a resource-rich area remote from the rest of the world

Amy Sinclair | Ethical Corp | December 9, 2019

In recent months, damaging spills caused by foreign miners operating in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have wreaked havoc with the safety and livelihoods of coastal communities.

At the same time, with the independence referendum under way in the Bougainville region of Papua New Guinea, mining companies are jostling for new licenses. This is in a region where tensions over the infamous Panguna mine sparked a bloody decade-long civil war in the 1990s. Memories fade fast, particularly when there are profits to be made.

The Pacific region is intensely resource-rich, but with great distances separating Pacific nations – not only from one another, but also from much of the rest of the world – human rights abuses by companies have too often occurred in the shadows.

Mining companies are seeking licences amid Bougainville’s referendum for independence. (Credit: Melvin Levongo/Reuters)

With inward-investment growing, Pacific communities face increasing challenges to fair and informed engagement and run the risk of exposure to higher levels of abuse and environmental harm by global companies. This is particularly true for those on the frontline of deforestation, irresponsible mining, fishing, tourism and seabed exploitation.

Local activists and communities fighting these abuses are hindered by being far away from foreign company headquarters located in Canada, Australia or China. Distances may be great, but Pacific voices deserve to be heard. With greater visibility on global platforms, communities and advocates can be supported in their efforts to achieve stable, sustainable growth that will protect future generations.

The need for this increased visibility is great. Business-related human rights harms in the Pacific are, increasingly, being documented. Yet severe human rights abuses, including forced labour, slavery, human trafficking and child labour, persist.

In June, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) published a report on modern slavery in the Pacific tuna sector, which provides almost 60% of the world’s tuna catch in a growing industry currently worth $22 billion. The report surveyed 35 canned tuna companies and supermarkets, representing 80 of the world’s largest retail canned tuna brands, and found that, outside a small cluster of leading companies, the sector is not translating human rights policies into practice. Without urgent and decisive action in the Pacific fishing sector, and by those sourcing from it, there is a danger that company policy will provide a fig-leaf for abuse, while slavery continues unabated.

Deep-dives such as this yield invaluable insights into sector-specific questions, but more is required. There is a pressing need to raise awareness of the human rights responsibilities of companies operating in all sectors in the Pacific, and to bring to light the true nature and scale of human rights abuses being committed across the region.

The Solomon Islands, and Fiji in particular, are experiencing high levels of mining activity, and there is a danger that the mistakes of the past – seen in Papua New Guinea with the abuses and environmental degradation at Panguna, Ok Tedi and Porgera – will be replicated there and beyond. Community consultation must form the cornerstone of human rights due diligence by companies seeking to invest in the region, and profits should be fairly shared.

The Pacific tuna sector provides almost 60% of the world’s tuna catch and is worth $22bn. (Credit: Erik de Castro/Reuters)

 Fortunately, a nascent business and human rights movement is emerging in the Pacific. The first-ever dedicated Pacific session, Advancing the Business and Human Rights Agenda in the Pacific, was held during the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva last month, a testament to the progress that has been made in the region recently.

To support and chart the growth of this emerging movement, BHRRC has launched a new web portal dedicated to the region. The Pacific portal brings the broad range of local business and human rights issues into sharper focus and amplifies local and community voices.

It’s hoped the portal will be a crucial tool for human rights and environmental rights advocates, both in civil society and in businesses themselves, seeking to prevent abuse and improve company human rights practices in the region. It will do this by highlighting research on key issues, identifying allegations of business-related abuse and calling attention to emerging cases.

Stability in the Pacific region requires urgent action to ensure human rights are embedded in investments from inception. Without regard for international rules requiring respect for human rights in business, the sustainability of life in the Pacific for future generations is under threat.

Efforts like this web portal are needed to shine a light into the shadows and improve awareness of Pacific business and human rights issues on the global stage.

To visit BHRRC’s Pacific portal click here: Pacific Business & Human Rights

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Mining the Deep Sea: Stories for suckers, and corporate capture of the UN

Catherine Coumans | Arena Magazine | 30 October 2019

When I mention that the global mining industry is eyeing the deep seabed as the next frontier in mining I am commonly met with gasps of disbelief and dismay. That gut reaction is often followed up with sensible exclamations about the fact that the world’s oceans are already overstressed by contaminants from human activity, such as plastics, and by overfishing, and, from those in the know, by acidification. Unsurprisingly, these apprehensions do not factor into the rapacious ambitions of industry pitchers for deep-sea mining, nor do they—another gasp of dismay—appear to temper the outright enthusiasm for this new form of mining shown by some highly placed officials in relevant UN bodies.

To overcome the aversion of a public already overwrought by reports of species loss, whales on the brink of extinction and the various horsemen of the climate apocalypse—drought, fires, floods, heat, sea-level rise, food insecurity and forced migrations—deep-sea mining’s frontier investors are surpassing themselves in the propaganda department. The front runner in this regard is a private Canadian company out of Vancouver called DeepGreen Metals Inc.

One of DeepGreen’s early promotional videos, DeepGreen—Metals for our Future, drives home lofty public messages that need to be critically interrogated: deep-sea mining is less environmentally and socially destructive than terrestrial mining; it is necessary in order to save the planet from climate change; and deep-sea mining, and indeed DeepGreen itself, come highly recommended, as both are enthusiastically promoted by the secretary-general of the UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA). The private pitch of deep-sea-mining promoters is likely more focused on the bottom line: there is untapped wealth in them thar ocean depths for the savvy frontier investor ready to undertake an exciting new experimental mining adventure. DeepGreen’s CEO, Gerard Barron, concluded a sales pitch on the commercial and societal benefits of deep-sea mining in February 2019: ‘…whether you invest in a company like DeepGreen or not, everyone is a sucker for the story’.

DeepGreen’s focus is on polymetallic nodules found on the seabed in international waters of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean, an area covering some 4000 kilometres and roughly the size of the continental United States. These lumpy baseball-size nodes lie at depths of some 4000 to 6000 metres and contain primarily nickel, cobalt, copper, manganese and iron oxides. The two other targets for deep seabed mining are hydrothermal vents, typically found at depths of 1000 to 4000 metres, and cobalt-rich crusts, typically found on seamounts at depths of 800 to 2500 metres. Hydrothermal vents are believed to have hosted the earliest forms of life on earth and are famous for their abundant array of endemic species that feed on bacteria and other single-celled organisms that, remarkably, do not derive energy from photosynthesis but from the chemicals spewed out by the vents. The massive sulphide deposits built up around these vents contain copper, gold, silver, zinc and lead. Crusts that form on seamounts contain primarily cobalt and also manganese, iron, copper, nickel and platinum.

These geographic features of the deep sea are thrilling would-be miners, as the metals they contain are commonly more highly concentrated than on land, and advancing technology makes them potentially accessible for the first time. The feverish rush to lay claim to large swathes of the seafloor has all the hallmarks of the gold rush that once drew hordes of prospectors to the Wild West, including colourful claims of fabulous treasure lying ready for the reaping on the seafloor. Former UK prime minister David Cameron reportedly pledged to bring wealth from the seabed to the United Kingdom, claiming possible values of £40 billion over thirty years. Not to be outdone, The New Economy claimed that the industry ‘could be worth as much as $1trn to the US economy each year—the value of all the gold deposits alone on the seafloor is estimated to be around $150trn. It’s not hard to see why investors are getting excited’. Indeed, speculators are already making profits without a deep-sea spade in the ground.

To date, twenty-nine exploration licences have been granted in extraterritorial waters, called the Common Heritage of Mankind in UN speak. Granted by the ISA, which has jurisdiction over the seabed in this area, the licences cover some 1.5 million square kilometres in the southwestern Pacific alone (claims also exist in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans). The licences are held jointly by industrialised countries such as China, Korea, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia, as well as small Pacific island countries such as Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and the Cook Islands, and subsidiaries of corporations, such as Lockheed Martin (UK Seabed Resources), and Canada’s DeepGreen (Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.) and Nautilus Minerals Inc. (Tonga Offshore Mining Limited).

No exploitation, or mining, licence has yet been issued for any of these claims in extraterritorial waters: the ISA is still ironing out some details, such as novel governance regimes and brand-new environmental regulations. The first exploitation licence was issued for a project in territorial waters: the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) granted Nautilus a mining licence in January 2011, but the company’s Solwara 1 project has already tanked. Faced with concerted, vocal and growing community opposition, and apparently insufficient ‘suckers’ for the Nautilus story, the company is now facing bankruptcy. The state of PNG is on the hook for about US$125 million, which it borrowed after Nautilus used arbitration to force the state to live up to its commitment to assume and finance a 15-per-cent stake in the venture. However, some early investors in Nautilus, such as Barron, made a profit: Barron ‘turned a $226,000 investment into $31 million’ in six years before exiting in 2007. It was the founder of Nautilus, David Heydon, who created DeepGreen in 2011 and brought Barron into that company as CEO.

Perhaps if hydrothermal vents and deep-sea nodules could serve solely as inspiration for speculative investing, all would not be so dire. But investors are applying intense pressure on the ISA to finalise the deep-sea-mining regulations, not simply to create another major bump in their investments—which of course it will do—but to open the door to putting massive mining machines onto the seafloor. The ISA has proved to be an all-too-willing and shadowy agency, as pointed out by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, and Greenpeace:

The ISA has recently rejected the establishment of an environmental committee to better include environmental considerations in its functioning, and key environmental information is not public. Its Legal and Technical Commission meets mostly behind closed doors, and its composition is such that biological and ecological considerations are underrepresented.

So what is at stake? Each of the metal-rich geological features that are of interest to miners is slowly revealing itself to be an incredible ecosystem. In spite of existing at great depths, under immense pressure, in very cold water and in inky darkness, hydrothermal vents, polymetallic nodules and cobalt crusts host diverse, mostly undiscovered and scarcely studied creatures that have amazed the few humans who have seen them in their natural habitats. Hydrothermal vents and cobalt crusts host an abundance of organisms. Those on cobalt crusts have great diversity; many of these creatures are long lived but slow to reproduce and may exist only in certain areas. Those on hydrothermal vents are abundant, though thought to be less diverse, and are often unique to a particular vent. Polymetallic nodules host a wide variety of species, but they are spread more thinly; very few have been identified, but they are also thought to be long lived and slow growing. The habitats around hydrothermal vents are, according to deep-sea biologist Cindy Lee Van Dover, ‘relatively rare on the sea floor, and they’re different from one site to the next because the animals have adapted to the fluid chemistries’. The deep ocean expanses of polymetallic nodules are among the least-disturbed ecosystems on earth. Each of these geological phenomena of the deep sea have taken a very long time to form. Cobalt crusts grow at a rate of 1 to 6 millimetres per million years. Each polymetallic nodule, commonly between 5 and 10 centimetres in diameter, has grown by 2 or 3 centimetres every million years. Furthermore, as trillions of these baseball-size polymetallic nodules lie spread in a thin layer on the surface of abyssal plains, an extensive area would be disturbed if they were to be sucked up by the huge tread-wheel-driven machines envisioned for this task. While the chimney-like structures associated with hydrothermal vents can grow by 40 centimetres over five days, it is unknown whether vent species can recover once a vent chimney has been removed by mining.

While mining methods differ for each of these targeted geological features, deep-sea marine experts agree on the following points: crusts and nodules will take millions of years to reform; entire unusual species that we have never had a chance to study will be lost in the mining of all three types of ecosystem; and the dense sediment plumes that will be created as the seabed is disturbed and the pumping back down of process effluent will negatively impact and smother species over many more kilometres. Recent peer-reviewed papers by marine scientists have titles such as ‘Deep-Sea Mining With No Net Loss of Biodiversity—An Impossible Aim’ and conclusions such as ‘Seabed mining will cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems’.

So, let us revisit the messages in DeepGreen’s Metals for our Future video. DeepGreen maintains that deep-sea mining is less environmentally and socially destructive than terrestrial mining. Nautilus tried the same spin, which the Deep Sea Mining Campaign adeptly refuted as Nautilus fought to counter vehement opposition to the Solwara 1 project by PNG coastal communities—these communities had already noticed a negative impact on their subsistence livelihoods and cultural practices related to marine species such as sharks as a result of Nautilus’ exploration activities offshore. While it is fascinating to see a new breed of would-be miners throw their terrestrial counterparts under the bus and expose the immense environmental and social harm done by mining on land, this is hardly an argument for opening up another entire ecosystem to exploitation by this rapacious industry, especially an ecosystem as immensely fragile and little understood as the deep sea. In fact, the comparison with terrestrial mining provides many arguments to show why deep-sea mining is a terrible idea, including, just as a start: it is much more challenging, technically and financially, to produce comprehensive baselines in the deep sea than it is on land; it is completely unclear how credible toxicity testing could be done in a deep-sea environment; independent scrutiny by communities, NGOs, independent scientists, media and so on would be much more limited; when things go wrong, such as spills, pipe breaks or unpredicted impacts, it would be much more difficult, nay impossible, to rehabilitate the unintentionally impacted area; modelling of the likely impact zones of toxic sediment plumes created by all forms of deep-sea mining is in its infancy; there is zero experience to draw on regarding impacts and mitigation at each step of the mining process; and the impacts of disturbances in the deep sea on critical food security, livelihood and commercial activity related to species such as tuna are not well understood.

DeepGreen maintains that mining the deep sea is necessary to avert the global climate crisis. Barron casts himself in the company’s video not as a mining CEO or a profit-seeking frontier investor but as a humanitarian eco-warrior, concluding, ‘it is a big responsibility on our shoulders’. The argument is simple: the green economy requires metals for such things as wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries for electric vehicles. While this is true, there is currently no global shortage of critical metals and minerals such as cobalt or lithium. Furthermore, technology is rapidly evolving to reduce or replace cobalt use, recycle lithium, develop urban mining of all kinds of waste products and even, according to experts, ‘biomining to extract rare earths from electronic wastes using microorganisms…use of sodium and magnesium in place of lithium, or alternative batteries based on graphene, hydrogen fuel cells, or even water and table salt. BNEF [Bloomberg New Energy Finance] has said new battery chemistries will probably shift to different source materials after 2030’. There are even reports of batteries using hemp rather than lithium-ion.

Finally, the DeepGreen video prominently features the secretary-general of the ISA, Michael Lodge. Lodge is on what appears to be a DeepGreen vessel, he wears a hard hat with the DeepGreen logo on it, and he both makes the case for deep-sea mining and discusses the ‘partnership’ DeepGreen has with the ISA. It is remarkable, and perhaps telling, that the head of this UN agency, which is tasked with environmental protection of the seabed in the Common Heritage of Mankind, and expects to soon become the regulator and issuer of mining licences for a whole new extractive industry, seems to be oblivious to the appearance of conflict of interest inherent in appearing in DeepGreen’s promotional video. Lodge has yet to respond to a recent report that raises concern about corporate capture of the ISA’s mining-code drafting processes.

It should be obvious that we cannot save the planet by continually expanding our exploitation of it and by trashing new, as yet unexploited ecosystems, such as those in the deep sea. It has taken time for communities and governments to become aware of the existential threat to our oceans, to global biodiversity and to life on earth posed by deep-sea mining. Within the last year the call for a ban or moratorium on the development of regulations by the ISA, and on the practice of deep-sea mining itself, has grown louder. The call is being made by NGOs and civil society organisations such as the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and Greenpeace, individuals such as Sir David Attenborough, and also by governments of Pacific island countries; even the European parliament has called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.

Critical to the effort to protect the deep sea from mining is the need to review the role of the ISA in governing both the protection of the deep seabed as our ‘common heritage’ and its exploitation by for-profit corporations. This agency and its secretary-general have proven themselves to be deeply conflicted and captured by the corporations they are meant to regulate. It is time for a global treaty that will protect the entire international deep seabed from industrial exploitation.

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Cooks opposition backs seabed mining moratorium

Radio New Zealand | 15 October 2019

The Democratic Party of the Cook Islands is backing a call by some Pacific countries and civil organisations for a 10-year moratorium on any seabed mining activity.

The opposition party said there were too many unknowns about the seabed and long-term impact of mining it.

Party leader Tina Browne said a precautionary approach would afford Pacific island countries, including the Cook Islands, time to gather and learn from more scientific data.

Ms Browne is urging the government to be completely transparent and cautious about any ventures to exploit the local seabed to harvest stocks of manganese nodules concentrated in the South Penrhyn Basin.

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Deep sea sponges may hold key to antibiotic resistance

A group of “Venus’ flower basket” glass sponges, with a squat lobster in the middle (Image: NOAA)

The scientists who discovered antibiotic properties in a deep-sea sponge warn that such breakthroughs could be lost in the face of mineral exploitation

Jessica Aldred | China Dialogue | October 9, 2019

Prof Mat Upton is a medical microbiologist and Dr Kerry Howell is a deep-sea marine ecologist. At the University of Plymouth they have discovered antimicrobial properties in bacteria that live in a species of deep-sea sponge ­– a potential breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. But they warn that such potential could be lost in the drive to exploit the ocean floor for minerals.

Jessica Aldred (JA): What did you discover and how?

Mat Upton (MU): We’ve grown bacteria from the sponges that Kerry has retrieved from the deep-sea floor and tested them in the lab to see if they kill other bacteria. 

Kerry Howell (KH): Sponges are one of the most promising sources of potential medical uses, with 145 reported antimicrobial compounds isolated between 2001 and 2010.

However, almost all research undertaken so far has been on sponges from shallow waters. At Plymouth we have begun to look at a number of different deep-sea sponge species. One that has shown promising results is from the genus Euplectella, found between 700 to 1,700 metres deep in the north-east Atlantic.

It is one of the best studied deep-sea regions in the world, but for many of the species we are working on, we don’t even have the most basic information beyond their identity.

A medically promising glass sponge species from the genus Euplectella, retrieved by Kerry from the Atlantic seabed and potentially new to science (Image: Plymouth University, Marine Institute Ireland, Eurofleets 2)

MU: By combining our expertise, we have begun to investigate the unknown microbiomes of several deep-sea sponges. Through this work, using cutting-edge DNA-sequencing technologies and novel strategies to maximise the diversity of bacteria we can grow from sponge samples, we have been able to isolate novel bacteria that produce antibiotic compounds that kill drug-resistant pathogens, including superbugs like MRSA and E coli.

JA: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to global human health. How do your findings help?

MU: The risk posed by AMR requires that we find new antibiotics to fight drug-resistant infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. By looking in new natural environments, we may find new antibiotics that work in different ways to the ones we currently use.

In the case of our work on deep-sea sponges, it has been demonstrated in a number of studies that individual sponge species harbour relatively specific bacterial populations. The number of sponge species present in these unseen deep-sea environments has not been determined. It is likely that there are many new to science in these locations, each one with the potential of hosting new bacteria. These novel bacteria in turn are likely to produce antibiotics, and other medicines, that are new to science. We have only looked in detail at the microbiomes of two or three different sponge species and we’ve already potentially found some new antibiotics. Expand this to other sponge species we have not even seen and the possibilities are clear.

We’ve also only just begun to look at antibiotic compounds. There are many other lines of enquiry into medically relevant compounds that we’ve not started. Sponges and their microbial populations can produce anti-cancer compounds, analgesics, immune modulators and many other bioactive compounds.

KH: There is a real possibility that with the onset of deep-sea mining we could be destroying species that have important biomedical potential before we even know they exist. We may also be having an impact on the other ecosystem services that the deep sea provides, like climate regulation. At present our lack of understanding means it is difficult to predict potential outcomes beyond the obvious negative consequences. This, in turn, makes it difficult to make informed decisions about how this new industry operates and is managed.

JA: How significant is your discovery?

MU: By looking at the DNA of the bacteria that we have grown from the sponges, we can see that they are not the same as anything that has been grown previously. Some are closely related to previously seen bacteria, but others appear to be really quite novel, possibly new species. We have purified some antibiotic compounds from these bacteria and they are also new to science.

One way to ensure that new antibiotics work against the current drug-resistant superbugs is to use completely new antibiotics. There have been no new classes of antibiotic used in clinical therapy in the last 30 years. The antibiotic compounds we’re finding could be of new classes, giving them a head start against drug-resistant bacteria. This is very significant.

JA: The International Seabed Authority met in July to continue negotiations over a mining code that would govern eventual exploitation. Would mining threaten these sponge species?

KH: Deep-sea mining is a new industry in development. There are three types of deep-sea mining resource recognised, all pertaining to different deep-sea habitats. Polymetallic nodules are found on the abyssal plain, polymetallic sulphides are present as hydrothermal vents, and ferromanganese crusts on some seamounts and ridges.

All of these different resources offer a potential supply of important metals, rare earth elements and other minerals that are used in electronics and the renewable energy sector. We currently stand on the brink of exploitation of the deep sea for these resources. But as we may gain in one way, we potentially lose out in another.

We know that society’s wellbeing is linked to the health of the deep sea through a wide range of ecosystem services as diverse as climate regulation to food security. As a result of our work, we now know that deep-sea species may also hold the key to the problem of antibiotic resistance. What we don’t know is the impact mining will have on the deep-sea ecosystem.

Mining is, by its very nature, destructive, and will result in the destruction of species and habitats. Our knowledge of deep-sea species and habitats remains sparse. This is perhaps highlighted by the fact that recent studies of the main area licensed for polymetallic nodule mining, the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone in the central Pacific, have found up to 90% of species sampled were new to science.

JA: More and more scientists are calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until more is known about the species and the potential damage that mining will cause. What would you like to see happen?

KH: Our ecological knowledge of the deep sea has not kept pace with industrial development. There needs to be significant coordinated global effort and investment in research to enable us to forecast potential impacts of mining activities, as well as effects of cumulative stressors such as mining, climate change and fishing acting together.

Only then can we hope to effectively manage, not just this industry, but our oceans as a whole in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 14. The UN Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030) offers a 10-year period in which such efforts could be made.

A 10-year moratorium on mining in the Area (international waters that belong to no one nation), coupled with a global programme of targeted deep-sea research, would be the precautionary way to move forward.

JA: The high seas treaty that is currently being negotiated includes who shares the rights to marine genetic resources. Will this treaty help the situation?

KH: The treaty will support the sustainable management of areas of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction by providing legal mechanisms and processes through which coordinated management actions, including the designation of marine protected areas, can happen. At the moment human activities in these areas are managed by a plethora of different organisations and there is no mechanism for a coordinated approach.

For example, we could have a situation where a regional fisheries management organisation has closed an area to bottom trawling for the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems, but that same area is then licensed for deep-sea mining exploration. The same area could also support species that have promising medical uses, or be very important to other ecosystem services. We need to take a holistic approach but such an approach needs legal processes and mechanisms to be put in place, and that is what I hope this treaty will do. It will also hopefully mean that all nations benefit from potential discoveries, not just those with the technology to exploit these very difficult to study deep-sea habitats.

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NZ support for seabed mining on offer in Pacific

Seabed mining in the Pacific has become a controversial topic – but New Zealand is willing to support nations who want to mine if they ask for support. File photo: Getty Images

Despite uncertainty over the environmental impact, some Pacific countries are pushing ahead with plans to mine their seabeds for minerals – and New Zealand has offered a helping hand.

Sam Sachdeva | Newsroom | 8 October 2019

The New Zealand Government will help Pacific countries carry out seabed mining within their marine territories if asked, despite calls for a 10-year moratorium on the controversial practice.

The Government has refused to reveal which countries it has already assisted, with one environmental group urging New Zealand to reverse its policy and protect the marine environment in the Pacific.

Advocates of the extraction activity have argued it can provide a sustainable and replenishing supply of minerals, while critics have expressed fears about the impact of mining on aquatic habitats and the destruction of the ocean floor.

In New Zealand, a company planning to dredge the ocean floor for minerals off the coast of New Plymouth has headed to the Court of Appeal to win back a mining consent.

But the topic is of concern in the wider Pacific region, with some countries calling for a moratorium on the practice until the environmental impacts are better understood.

In a May briefing to Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade set out New Zealand’s approach to any requests for support from Pacific nations planning to mine the seabed in their exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

The countries’ sovereign rights to utilise the natural resources within their EEZs had to be balanced with protecting the environment and biodiversity, as well as the needs of future generations.

With early indications that the technology and investment from seabed mining in the Pacific would come from “external actors” – a potential reference to China,which has developed a growing interest in seabed mining– officials said countries would need robust legal frameworks, governance structures and environmental protections in place before entering into any agreements.

It was also important than any deals protected the country’s sovereignty and provided a fair financial return.

New Zealand agencies like the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment could help Pacific countries with establishing regulatory, environmental and governance processes for seabed mining.

Support in those areas “would not be inconsistent with the New Zealand Government’s domestic policies for the sustainable management of non-living natural resources,” the briefing said.

“New Zealand will not actively encourage seabed mining in the EEZ of Pacific Island partners, but when approached for assistance New Zealand Government and agencies can support [them] to ensure that environmental protection and good governance frameworks are in place to reduce risk to the marine environment and national interests.”

Among the key principles for New Zealand when considering any requests for support were promoting the sustainable management of natural resources, protecting the environment from pollution, and supporting countries to meet their obligations under international law.

Any support from New Zealand should also align with the Pacific Island Forum’s regional ocean objectives, the briefing said.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is among the Pacific leaders calling for a moratorium on seabed mining in the region

However, Pacific leaders have been at odds over the issue, with some regional heavyweights supporting calls for a temporary ban.

Speaking at the Pacific Islands Forum in August, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama called on leaders to support a 10-year moratorium from 2020 to 2030, which he said “would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zone and territorial waters”.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has also indicated he would support a moratorium, with his country attempting to recover more than NZ$174 million which it sunk into a failed deep sea mining project.

However, the Cook Islands has announced it will “take the lead” on seabed mining and start activity within five years, with Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown citing a potential reduction in development aid as a driver for the move.

Greenpeace NZ oceans campaigner Jessica Desmond told Newsroom that New Zealand’s position was concerning, with seabed mining carried out using an experimental technique which had never been tested in New Zealand.

“Around the world they’re kind of looking for the precedent setting of where it’s going to be allowed and how it’s going to happen…we don’t know what the environmental impact of this practice is, other than it will be pretty damaging.”

Desmond said New Zealand needed to support the calls for a moratorium from countries like Fiji, given the Pacific’s dependence upon their ocean ecosystems.

“We haven’t consented it in New Zealand, and…saying ‘we’re not going to do it here but we’re going to facilitate you guys to do it’ seems quite off to me.”

It was “short-sighted” for Pacific nations to turn to seabed mining for wealth generation, given the long-term damage such activities would cause, she said.

“If you’re looking at a small Pacific Island nation who depends so much on the ocean, even at a community level…sucking up the seabed and dumping everything back down is going to be much more destructive in the long-term in terms of what their marine resources can supply for them.”

Asked for comment on the Government’s stance and why it was not backing a moratorium, Peters’ office referred Newsroom to MFAT for comment.

In a written statement, an MFAT spokeswoman said the Government was “not in a position to release information about countries who might have requested assistance”, but reiterated the need to balance Pacific sovereignty with environmental protections.

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Collapse of PNG deep-sea mining venture sparks calls for moratorium

Papua New Guinea out of pocket $157m from failed attempt at mining material from deep-sea vents as opponents point to environmental risk

Ben Doherty | The Guardian | 15 September 2019

The “total failure” of PNG’s controversial deep sea mining project Solwara 1 has spurred calls for a Pacific-wide moratorium on seabed mining for a decade.

The company behind Solwara 1, Nautilus, has gone into administration, with major creditors seeking a restructure to recoup hundreds of millions sunk into the controversial project.

The Solwara 1 project (Solwara is pidgin for ‘salt water’) planned to mine mineral-rich hydrothermal vents, formed by plumes of hot, acidic, mineral-rich water on the floor of the Bismarck Sea. But the project has met with fierce community resistance, legal challenges, and continued funding difficulties.

The PNG government sunk more than 375m Kina (AUD$157m) into the project, money it is attempting, but appears unlikely, to recoup. The project has been “a total failure” prime minister James Marape said.

Deepsea mining has proven contentious wherever it has been proposed and trialled across the world.

Proponents argue deep-sea mining could yield far superior ore to land mining – in silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc – with little, if any, waste product. The industry is potentially worth billions of dollars and could assist the transition to a renewable energy economy, supplying raw materials for key technologies such as batteries, computers and phones. Different mining methods exist, but most involve using converted terrestrial mining machinery to excavate materials from polymetallic nodules or hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, at depths of up to 6000 metres, then drawing a seawater slurry to ships on the surface. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.

Environmental and legal groups have urged extreme caution, arguing there are potentially massive – and unknown – ramifications for the environment and for nearby communities, and that the global regulatory framework is not yet drafted, and currently deficient. Scientists argue deep sea biodiversity and ecosystems remain understudied and poorly understood, making it impossible to properly assess the potential impacts of mining – including disturbance of seafloor ecosystems; sediment displacement; and noise, vibration, and light pollution – and to establish adequate safeguards. Deepsea mining could worsen the global climate emergency, reducing the ocean’s ability to store carbon by disrupting seafloor sediments.

The Pacific has been seen as a region of immense deepsea mining potential, but some government leaders are now counselling against the rush to embrace seabed mining.

“I ask you all to… support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030 which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zone and territorial waters,” Fiji president Frank Bainimarama told a climate ‘sautalaga’ – an open discussion – at the Pacific Islands Forum last month.

Charlot Salwai, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, supported Fiji’s call for a 10-year moratorium. Civil society organisations have consistently called for a moratorium on seabed mining “to prioritise the health of our communities and recognise values beyond economic gain”.

PNG had previously been one of deepsea mining’s firmest backers, but new prime minister James Marape has said he is wary of the technology, saying PNG had been “burned” by industry promises.

Until that deep sea mining technology is environmentally sound and takes care of our environment at the same time we mine it, that, at this point in time, I support the call made by the Fijian prime minister,” he told the Post Courier.

“If there is an opportunity for deep-sea mining, so long as environmentally it is friendly and the harvest of resources is done in a sustainable manner then we can give considerations to this, but right now it is a show.

“The technology is not proven anywhere and PNG, we burnt almost 300 million Kina in that Nautilus [Solwara 1] project on a concept that someone told us can work, but is… a total failure.”

Jonathan Mesalum from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, a community group which opposed the Solwara project, said a 10-year moratorium would be welcomed, “but we need to go further to protect our seas, our livelihoods and traditions by imposing a ban”.

He said while Nautilus’s project had collapsed, other companies might take control of the project’s licences and attempt to resurrect it.

“No one knows about the environmental impact: not scientists, not Nautilus, not the government, nor you or I,” Mesalum told The Guardian. “Our biggest fear is there might be interest from other mining companies who wish to continue the project.”

Nautilus developed and successfully tested three undersea robots designed to mine hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, but funding for its production support vessel dried up midway through construction. Under a restructuring plan approved by a Canadian court, the company will be liquidated and left with no assets. But a PNG government-owned company Eda Kopa is seeking to recoup some of its money, in an ongoing dispute back before court this week.

A new report, Why the Rush?, from the Deep Sea Mining campaign described the Pacific as the “new wild west” for speculative mining ventures, and argued Pacific regional decision-making and political processes have been manipulated by mining companies seeking to take advantage of inchoate and incomplete regulatory frameworks in the region.

Sir Arnold Amet, former chief justice of PNG, was Governor of Madang province and an MP when Solwara 1 was approved. He said he regrets that the then government didn’t adequately scrutinise the proposal.

“Let’s recognise this failed investment in the upcoming budget and ensure we don’t enter into seabed mining joint ventures in the future or issue any more seabed exploration or mining licences. We now know how deep sea mining companies attempt to manipulate governments according to their own narrow profit motives without any conscience. We look to PM Marape to stand up for Papua New Guineans against the pressure exerted by these corporations.”

The Environmental Defenders Office NSW said deep seabed mining was similar to open cut mining at depths of between hundreds and thousands of metres below the sea’s surface.

“A 10-year moratorium on deepsea mining is an appropriate application of the precautionary principle in circumstances where the consequences and need for this type of mineral exploitation is not well understood,” the EDO’s BJ Kim told The Guardian.

“But it’s not only the risks that are not well understood, it’s also clear that appropriate legal frameworks for mining of this kind are not in place, either in the Pacific or elsewhere. This type of commercial experiment in the ocean should not progress without effective regulatory measures for risk mitigation, monitoring and enforcement of conditions.”

Communities bordering the Solwara 1 project have been concerned about a broad range of environmental impacts, Kim said, including minerals leaching into seawater affecting fisheries and livelihoods, the extinguishment of unique sea species, and the risk of accidents and spillages.

“Communities are still living with the impacts of land-based mining disasters such as Ok Tedi and Panguna. Just this year in the Pacific, we’ve seen oil and ore spills in Solomon Islands and the spillage of an estimated 200,000 litres of toxic red slurry from the Ramu Nickel mine in Madang, PNG.”

Besides PNG, the tiny island nation of Nauru has been deep sea mining’s strongest supporter.

Start-up DeepGreen is seeking to extract cobalt and other metals from a 75,000 sq km zone in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific, over which exclusive control has been granted to Nauru. DeepGreen has secured $150m in funding, the bulk from Swiss-based Allseas, to begin feasibility studies.

Nauru is a country already scarred by mining. More than 80% of the tiny island’s landmass has been rendered uninhabitable by phosphate mining during the 20thC, most by colonial powers the UK and Australia.

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Marape Backs Moratorium, Leans Towards Ban On Experimental Seabed Mining

Matthew Vari | Post Courier | August 15, 2019

Prime Minister James Marape has indicated he will support a proposed regional moratorium on seabed mining, however, could not go as far as to say a ban outright would be needed.

In an interview with the Post-Courier at the opening ceremony of the Pacific Islands Forum on Tuesday, Mr Marape responded when asked in relation to Fiji’s stance on the matter, that he would support the move, making specific reference to what he described the Nautilus Solwara 1 project as “a total failure”.

During Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s opening remarks at the Sautalaga climate update meet on Monday, he informed leaders present of Fiji introducing its own climate change act, of which the country will push an ambitious proposal for both its national and a regional moratorium on seabed mining.

“I ask you all to join in this ambitious venture and also support a 10 year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030 which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zone and territorial waters,” Mr Bainimarama said.

Sentiments supported by James Marape regarding the proven viability of deep sea mining, which he said is not yet a proven concept. “As a nation we have lost over K300 million in a concept of deep sea mining.

“Until that deep sea mining technology is environmentally sound and takes care of our environment at the same time we mine it, then at this point in time, I support the call made by the Fijian Prime Minister, we just need to have the best technology available,” Mr Marape sternly said.

When asked if it could go as far as supporting a ban, the Prime Minister left this option out adding just as the moratorium aims to prove the viability- that process will prove “on a case by case basis going into the future”.

“If there is an opportunity for deep sea mining, so long as environmentally it is friendly and the harvest of resource is done in a sustainable manner then we can give considerations to this, but right now it is a show.

“We don’t have the luxury of that informed decisional research.

“This is because that technology is not proven anywhere and PNG we burnt almost K300 million in that Nautilus (Solwara) 1 project on a concept that someone told us it can work, but it is a concept that is a total failure as I speak,” the PM said.

Apart from 15 per cent state investment in the project, Kumul Mineral Holdings is also seeking redress for the unearned revenue to the tune of US$51 million (K173m).

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