Category Archives: Pacific region

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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A very deep trouble

Seabed mining

Ramaharitha Pusarla | The Hans India | 1 July 2018

Almost 44 years ago, on July 4, 1974, CIA launched a covert sea operation with an aim of stealing Russian submarine, K-129 a ballistic nuclear missile carrier, almost 2,500 km from north-west of Hawaii, six years ago. To divert the attention of Russian spies and give the operation a deliberate spin, CIA under the garb of harvesting rocks in the seabed launched an operation-Project Azorian.

Nature has been a source of incredible wealth. From times immemorial, mankind greedily plundered nature for material gains. Breaching yet another pristine frontier, countries are making plans to ransack deep blue seas. Termed as Deep-Sea Mining (DSM), employing advanced technology, at breath-taking pace nations are vying to harvest nodules and rocks that constitutes the seabed. DSM entails extraction of minerals located 400 to 6,000 metres below the sea level.

Outwardly, while the vessel was fitted with all the machinery needed for excavating the seabed, Hughes Glomar Explorer housed a monstrous capture vehicle with a giant set of claws to retrieve the submarine and keep it hidden. By July 30, away from the prying eyes of the world, Americans located the submarine. But the capture vehicle suffered a damage while lifting the submarine. The giant claw broke under immense strain midway and most of the submarine slipped back.

In the run-up to the operation, CIA sent scientists for conferences on ocean mining and roped in billionaire inventor, Howard Hughes, to build a vessel for scientific exploration. The great PR strategy of CIA stuck chord with the US universities, that mulled introducing specific courses on deep sea mining. Even UN jumped in and offered to provide a rules-based approach to determine rights to ocean minerals.

The team managed to recover only the front portion. Despite the difficulties and the huge costs involved in carrying out the project, American desperately wanted to steal the submarine for obvious military reasons. To get hold of Russian nuclear missiles and to penetrate their naval communications, unmindful of the consequences, CIA went ahead with this cost prohibitive exercise. 

When CIA broke the details of the project after a year, mining companies who made extensive plans of mining seas were crestfallen and the stocks tumbled. However, CIA’s success proved that with sophisticated engineering techniques and lavish funds, DSM can be possible. Ever since companies invested heavily in research expeditions to probe the seabed for minerals.  

For the first time, scientists abroad, Royal Naval Ship, HMS Challenger found that deep seabed contains huge mineral deposits. First dredging exercise revealed the presence of nodules rich in manganese, nickel and iron in the ocean beds of Indian and Pacific Ocean.  Soon scientists confirmed that a tonne of the seabed is 10 times richer in mineral content than mines on land. Independent investigations by different teams confirmed this fact who declared sea beds as treasure houses of minerals and Rare Earth Elements (REE). 

By 1960s, scientists floated the idea that oceans should be used for peaceful purposes and their mineral wealth should be shared equally by the humanity. While the issue of ocean mining hardly evinced any interest in countries then, extensive use of mobile phones, solar panels, batteries, wind vanes, electric cars and other gadgets increased demand for indispensable REE. 

Nations are now competing for the scarce REE’s in the earth’s core. Owing to the rapid scale of sophistication appetite for Lithium, Cobalt, Copper has surged to phenomenal levels. Pitched battles are witnessed between nations for the limited supply of Cobalt. Republic of Congo, which currently has 60 per cent of global resources has now become a den for corruption, human rights abuse. 

Responding to Amnesty International’s report that sought a solution for exploitative mining and alleged dominance of smuggling mafia in Congo, Michael Lodge, Chairman of ISA, International Seabed Authority called for a relook at deep sea mining. 

To streamline various activities related to it. Intergovernmental body, ISA, came into existence in 1994 with headquarters at Kingston. It formulates rules and regulations for mineral-related activities in the international seabed region, the area beyond the limits of the jurisdiction of individual countries. 

ISA, which has observer status to UN has divided the ocean bed into blocks and 29 exploration areas. Companies from 19 countries have purchased mineral prospecting licences for 15 years as of now. ISA proposed three types of mining – Polymetallic manganese nodules, Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic sulphide mining at hydrothermal vents. 

For the first time, a venture Nautilus Minerals commenced its exploration in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Fiji after negotiations with respective governments of the Bismarck Sea. While the mining hasn’t started yet, all the preparations for rock breaking are going at frenetic pace. The stretch identified in the seabed is covered by hydrothermal vents, which are shelters for vast communities of extremely rare marine life like shrimps, snails and tubeworms. 

Use of gargantuan machinery during mining is bound to damage the marine habitat of the region, poverty-stricken countries lured by the attraction of money have accepted the deal. Though the mining company has undermined the fears of residents whose lives and livelihoods are irretrievably linked with sea waters. Disturbed by the impact of the exploratory phase that led to sharp decline in sharks, citizens of Tonga, Papua New Guinea have launched protests and campaigns against DSM.

After Japan’s successful attempt to mine ore deposits in 2017, which included – Zinc, Copper, Gold and Lead off the coast of Okinawa close to hydrothermal vents, there is a global rush for DSM. Elucidating the impacts of such mad rush, a paper published in Harvard Environmental Law Review warned nations of the adverse impacts of DSM on the environment, lives of indigenous people and the biodiversity of marine habitat. 

Hydrothermal vents act as environmental sinks with microorganisms in the vicinity sequestering huge amounts of carbon and methane (Greenhouse Gases). Recently, researchers discovered over 300 animal species endemic to vents making each vent unique. They now hypothesize that perhaps life must have evolved from hydrothermal vents, which can thrive even higher temperatures of up to 113C. Destruction of the vents might lead to the release of sequestered methane triggering a doomsday climatic event. 

Latest scientific breakthroughs revealed that deep seas absorb the excess heat generated by Greenhouse Gases. Oceans have been instrumental in mitigating the climatic change impacts.

DSM, which involves the use of heavy machinery that would chip, scrap and break the rocks. All these events invariably disturb the seabed, generate large sediment plumes and discharge wastes into seas. 

Till now, mankind irreversibly damaged the oceans and seas through deep-sea oil and gas extraction, discharge of wastes including nuclear wastes, dumping plastics, leakage of oils from vessels, etc. Scientists claim unlike surfaces of Moon, Mars or Venus, which were meticulously mapped, the invaluable diversity of marine life is largely unknown. 

Mariners are just beginning to understand the climatic role of hydrothermal vents. These geographical formations hold a key to unravel the secrets of evolution and adaptation of life on earth. At this juncture, dishevelling the deep seabed for commercial purposes may be counterproductive and tragic.

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China looking under the sea for opportunities in the Pacific

Denghua Zhang* | East Asia Forum | 30 June 2018

China has hunted globally for land-based mineral deposits to fuel its economic development since the 1990s. Now, Beijing is devoting growing attention to seabed mining. As China’s Five-Year Plan on Mineral Resources (2016–2020) states, ‘China will actively participate in international surveys on deep sea mining and accelerate the exploration and development of ocean minerals’.

In the Pacific islands region, most countries are small in land area but have huge maritime exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Chinese enterprises have invested in seven land-based mining projects in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands and have been interested in mining the Pacific’s seabed minerals since 2001.

China’s engagement with the Pacific on seabed mining started with research activities that have mainly been carried out by the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA). COMRA is affiliated with the former State Oceanic Administration, which was absorbed into the new Ministry of Natural Resources in March 2018.

The Qingdao Institute of Marine Geology has conducted many of COMRA’s research projects in the Pacific. Between 2001 and 2010, the Institute completed two research projects on China’s bilateral cooperation in ocean resources exploration and on seabed mineral resources in the South Pacific. Their research categorised marine areas as prospective sources of polymetallic nodules, cobalt nodules and hydrothermal sulphide deposits, and also compiled a seabed mining resources map of the Pacific. The research team suggested that China should incorporate seabed mining into its aid plans for Pacific states and use concessional loans to support exploration projects.

Based on these research activities, Chinese government agencies have directly reached out to their Pacific counterparts. In April 2013, a joint delegation comprised of officials from COMRA and Chinese mining institutions visited the Cook Islands, Fiji and Samoa and expressed their strong interest in exploring seabed mining in the three countries. In August 2014, Chen Lianzeng, Deputy Director of the China State Oceanic Administration, visited Vanuatu and Fiji and proposed that China and the two countries should strengthen cooperation on maritime resources exploration and development. Vanuatu’s then-prime minister Joe Natuman and Naipote Katonitabua, the acting permanent secretary of Fiji’s Office of the Prime Minister, responded positively to China’s suggestions.

China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are also involved in seabed mining. Mawei Shipbuilding Limited, a Chinese SOE located in Fujian Province, is building a US$18 million seafloor production support vessel for Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals. The vessel was launched in March 2018, with approximately 75 per cent of it completed. It will be used for the Solwara 1 project — the world’s first seabed mining project, located in the Bismarck Sea off PNG.

The three seafloor production tools to be used in the Solwara 1 project were designed and built by the UK-based Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd. In April 2015, Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd was sold to Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric Co, Ltd, which is an SOE ultimately owned by the State Council of China. The products from Solwara 1 will be processed by Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group — another Chinese SOE. In May 2017, China Minmetals Corporation and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) signed a 15-year contract that allows China to search for polymetallic nodules in the 72,745 square kilometres of the Clarion–Clipperton Fracture Zone in the Pacific Ocean.

Seabed mining in the Pacific is attracting interest from other foreign players. For example, Japan and Russia have brokered ISA contracts to explore cobalt-rich crust resources in sites close to the EEZs of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Seabed mining is both an emerging field and one that is in a considerable state of flux. As shown by the proposed Solwara 1 Project, this new industry faces unprecedented financialenvironmental and social challenges. There are also notable gaps in the international and national laws that govern seabed mining. The International Seabed Authority is still in the process of developing a ‘Mining Code’ to regulate the prospecting, exploration and exploitation of seabed minerals. As of late 2015, only four of the 14 Pacific states (Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru) have legislation that covers seabed mining issues. The PNG government is still developing a draft offshore mining policy.

Greater China–Pacific engagement on seabed mining has upsides and downsides. Pacific states have flagged seabed mining as a new potential driving force of economic growth. PNG, Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands are among the first countries in the world to issue exploration licenses for seabed mining in their EEZs, and Pacific states might be able to seek more financial and technical assistance from China to develop this new industry. But any such project needs to consider the environmental and social impacts of seabed mining and must fully comply with international and national laws.

Looking into the future, China is expected to engage actively with Pacific states on seabed mining and focus on exploration and establishing official contacts. But China is unlikely to commit substantial resources to seabed mining projects before the industry becomes more commercially and environmentally viable.

*Denghua Zhang is a Research Fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University.

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Mining the deep seabed will harm biodiversity. We need to talk about it

Life operates on a completely different timescale on the deep seabed. Image: Pxhere.com

Holly Niner, Aline Jaeckel, Jeff Ardron and Lisa Levin | World Economic Forum | 8 June 2018

In 2017, Japan became the first country to test mining ocean minerals on a significant scale. While its operation took place at depths of about 1,600 metres, many deep seabed minerals are much deeper – more than four kilometres down. These are pitch-black environments in which pressures are bone-crushingly high, and life operates on a completely different timescale. At these depths, mistakes can be costly for both industry operators and the environment.

Mining the deep seabed for minerals such as copper, nickel, tin, zinc, cobalt and gold is a fledgling industry. Some suggest that it could become part of the ocean economy, which is projected to double its worth by 2030, to more than $3 trillion. However, the potential success of deep seabed mining is far from certain. Several commentators are concerned about its possible environmental impacts. Furthermore, there are significant regulatory, technical, economic, and scientific hurdles yet to be cleared.

World Oceans Day recognizes the importance of our marine environments to society. It is a timely reminder that closely watching the development of new ocean industries, such as deep seabed mining, is a shared concern and responsibility.

Balancing mining with the protection of oceans that are beyond national boundaries is the task of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Jamaica. The ISA is currently developing the world’s first international regulations for commercial-scale seabed mining. The ISA will need to set environmental management goals and objectives. However, an open and honest conversation about what environmental standards are achievable for seabed mining is yet to be had.

No net loss of biodiversity: an impossible goal

Together with our co-authors, we argue in this study that biodiversity loss is unavoidable for the industry. The ecological consequences of a loss of biodiversity in the deep sea are poorly understood. For example, we do not yet understand the role that the deep sea plays in delivering essential global ecosystem services, such as climate regulation through the storage of carbon.

These largely unknown systems are a living library, much like our tropical rainforests, from which the next medical breakthroughs may be discovered. Losses of this kind could have wide-ranging and significant implications. As such, it is widely accepted that the industry should be developed in a precautionary and responsible manner.

A commonly used goal for responsible mining on land is to achieve ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity. Financial and regulatory frameworks increasingly require extractive industries to apply a four-tier mitigation hierarchy to manage impacts to biodiversity, whereby losses should be:

  1. avoided and
  2. minimised to the greatest extent possible before
  3. remediation and
  4. offsetting opportunities are explored.

But each step of this mitigation hierarchy will be very difficult to apply to deep seabed mining. Avoidance and minimization of biodiversity loss from mining (steps one and two) should be prioritized and optimized through technical innovation of the industry. Nonetheless, the extractive nature of the activity, which inevitably destroys species and habitats, means that biodiversity loss will occur at this first stage.

The third step, remediation, seeks to alleviate these residual losses at and around a mine site, and is critical to its long-term sustainability. At present, it is questionable whether remediation is feasible in the deep sea, given that many of the species have long lives and grow extremely slowly, making them unlikely to recolonize disturbed habitat in human time frames. The challenge is further increased by the enormous spatial scale of mines for some types of minerals, and the high financial costs of working in these remote and harsh environments.

Biodiversity offsetting

Biodiversity offsetting is the last resort, and most controversial stage of the mitigation hierarchy. It has been proposed as a way to address the unavoidable residual impacts of industry. In theory, biodiversity offsets provide equivalent gains in biodiversity to that lost through an activity. Creating additional deep sea biodiversity is currently problematic for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the scientific understanding needed for deep sea restoration. This knowledge and experience is not yet available, and acquiring it will be slow and costly.

Another management option could be to protect an area from existing harmful activities, such as deep sea bottom fishing, to allow for natural recovery of that area instead. But proposed mining and ongoing fishing generally target completely different ecosystems at different locations and depths. Additionally, the administration of such a ‘swap’ would be severely hampered, because there is no overarching governance institution that manages both mining and fishing on the high seas. Unlike mining, anyone can fish on the high seas, meaning that areas closed to fishing need broad international agreement in order to be meaningful. Otherwise, other states will simply step into areas that others have vacated.

A further challenge is the need to demonstrate the ‘additionality’ of an offset, meaning that it must be a conservation activity that would not have happened otherwise. For example, biodiversity loss from a deep-sea mine cannot be offset through an existing or already planned marine park. Protection of an area as an additional source of biodiversity benefit would need to demonstrate that the area protected as an offset is at risk of future degradation. This can be extremely challenging to prove, particularly in international waters. Without this assurance, purported offsetting can actually perpetuate losses of biodiversity.

Meaningful offsets would need to protect ecosystems similar to the ones harmed by mining. ‘Like for like’ offsetting is difficult in the deep sea, because many species there occur nowhere else. Consequently, ‘out of kind’ offsetting mechanisms have been proposed. These include creating dissimilar biodiversity benefits and may promote ecosystem functions and services that fundamentally differ from those that were lost. These benefits may accrue to different stakeholders and different ecosystems.

One example would be to increase the fisheries productivity in shallow water to replace deep-sea biodiversity losses. While perhaps beneficial where they occur, these ‘out of kind’ activities are not true offsets, in the sense of helping the deep-sea ecosystems under threat. They actually risk masking irreversible biodiversity loss.

Image: Frontiers in Marine Science

In our view, biodiversity offsets are not a feasible option to manage the environmental harm of deep seabed mining. No net loss of biodiversity is currently considered impossible for this industry. Accordingly, to minimize the risks posed by biodiversity losses through deep seabed mining, regulators will need to focus on the first two steps of the mitigation hierarchy: avoidance and minimization measures, including setting aside mineable areas and developing, testing and applying mining technology that minimizes impact.

Deciding on behalf of humankind

The international seabed and its mineral deposits are legally classified as the ‘common heritage of mankind’. Accordingly, the ISA is managing them on behalf of us all. Seabed minerals and their associated ecosystems form over hundreds and thousands of years. Lost deep sea biodiversity is unlikely to recover within human timescales. The actions of our generation will affect the common natural heritage of every generation to come.

In view of the above challenges, we suggest that a broad and inclusive debate is needed about how to balance the proposed economic and technological benefits of mining the deep seabed with the environmental risks it would entail. What level of environmental harm is acceptable? How will the economic benefits of seabed mining be shared with future generations? Is this a real opportunity to ‘do things right’, or will the deep sea simply be the last in a long list of exploited frontiers?

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Nautilus tests new rig but no money for further exploration

‘Once the trials are completed, Nautilus will deploy the rig on its South Pacific tenements subject to securing additional funding

Nautilus Minerals begins wet testing of new diamond drill rig

Mining Technology | 8 June 2018

Canada-based underwater resource exploration company Nautilus Minerals has started wet testing of its new seafloor diamond drill rig, which has been developed to relieve the drilling requirements of its future exploration programmes.

The move comes after the rig, which is nicknamed the Hobbit, was subjected to a series of land-based trials, focused on rod handling, functional drilling, and landing stability tests.

To be carried out over a period of two weeks, the wet test programme will expand the testing parameters to include submerged operations and mechanical endurance.

Nautilus Minerals CEO Mike Johnston said:

“According to our recently released preliminary economic assessment for Solwara 1, a single quarter’s production at steady state mining rates (around 3,200t/d) and at average Solwara deposit grades, adds around $110m in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA).

Solwara 1 is the company’s copper-gold project, which is under development in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea.

Johnston added:

“Hence forward exploration is a pivotal part of our business. Our pioneering teams are overcoming traditional functional limitations and high fees in seafloor drilling, with our new ‘Hobbit’ scout rig.”

During the testing period, the company will assess the operational functionality of the drill rig’s control systems, landing capability, hydraulic functions, video survey systems, and drilling cycle time versus performance, in a submerged environment.

Additionally, the testing will evaluate the system’s ability to sustain simulated offshore operations at optimal productivity levels.

The company’s personnel will be trained on all aspects of the equipment and operations.

The rig is designed to offer improved landing and drill cycle capabilities, as well as simplified control systems and launch and recovery requirements, which will allow deployment from cheaper vessels.

Once the trials are completed, Nautilus will deploy the rig on its South Pacific tenements subject to securing additional funding.

The company is focused on commercial-scale exploration of the seafloor for massive sulphide systems, which could potentially contain high grade copper, gold, zinc and silver.

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