ABC Radio Australia
Bird of Paradise in the Crater Mountain WMA
A small Australian mining company has found ‘bonanza’ grade gold deposits at Crater Mountain in Papua New Guinea and has lodged an application for a mining licence.
But locals are concerned that the plan includes mining one of PNG’s most important wildlife reserves and they are calling on the PNG government to live up to its obligations to protect the country’s biodiversity.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speakers: Greg Starr, Managing Director, Crater Gold mining Ltd
Robert Bino, Natural Resource Management Program Manager, Research and Conservation Foundation of PNG
GARRETT: Crater Mountain and its forested ramparts straddle the border between Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands province and Simbu province.
This biodiversity hotspot was declared one of PNG’s few wildlife management areas in 1993 after local landowner leaders became concerned about declining numbers of birds of paradise and other fauna.
But it also contains mineral riches.
Greg Starr, Managing Director of Crater Gold Mining Limited, says it is a wonderful resource that is shaping up as PNG’s next large scale copper and gold resource.
STARR: What we have identified here is a project which can go into production in the near term and with ongoing work has shown the potential for a multi-million ounce resource, and if like other gold-porphyry systems, could be many millions of ounces.
GARRETT: Crater Gold has 180 square kilometres of exploration licences both inside and outside the Wildlife Management Area.
Greg Starr says the mine will take up just one and a half square kilometres of the reserve’s total area of more than 2000 square kilometres .
But Robert Bino from the Eastern Highlands-based Research and Conservation Foundation of PNG, is concerned about the mine’s impact.
BINO: It would have a dramatic effect on the wildlife and the animals around that area where the mining is taking place. We know that many of the mining activities in Papua New Guinea, they have tailings issues and the northern part of Crater, most of the rivers, they head down towards the Purari in the Gulf province. They make up the headwaters of the Purari (River).
GARRETT: Greg Starr says the mine will bring benefits to a remote part of Papua New Guinea.
STARR: Primarily jobs and further infrastructure. While it is a small scale project in the beginning, we are looking to grow the project to the much larger scale, and that means you get jobs, infrastructure to enable coffee to get out, infrastructure associated with education, and medical facilities always come with these things and business opportunities
GARRETT: Robert Bino says mining will kill-off forest-based businesses.
BINO: Some of the tourists that have come to Crater have come there because of pristine conditions, to come and see the wildlife in the forest and experience village life with the people and all that. I think if we have mining in Crater it may affect potential to attract tourists. That’s what I think.
GARRETT: Robert Bino says with so few health and medical services provided by the government offers from mining companies can influence landowners.
He says the PNG government should live up to commitments it made when it signed the International convention on Biological Diversity.
BINO: There should be more commitment from the government to exclude those other competing activities within those areas designated as conservation areas, or protected areas throughout the country. What we see is that we have gazetted areas throughout the country but there is also this competing activities encroaching onto those so-called protected areas. So we would like to see more political will to support these initiatives to protect biodiversity and our biological resources.
GARRETT: Crater Gold’s Managing Director, Greg Starr, is confident landowners will agree to change the boundaries of the Wildlife Management Area.
STARR: The process there is you speak to the landowners who have groups who manage the areas that we are touching on, and you work with them and if they approve any change of classification then you are able to get your lease on that area. We are a very very small area that is touching on that Wildlife Management Area and secondly we are underground as well.
GARRETT: This is a globally significant rainforest and PNG’s most significant forest-based Wildlife Management Area. Doesn’t that mean it should be kept free of mining?
STARR: As I say we are mining underground so the impact on the surface, if any, is very minimal but more importantly, this isn’t only a question of the company, this is working with the landowners and at the end of the day it is the landowners who will make a decision or make a recommendation to the government.
GARRETT: Other mines in Papua New Guinea have excised sensitive areas from their plans even after resources have been found there. Is that something Crater Gold Mining would consider?
STARR: We would work with the landowners to discuss with them the issues that they see and the impact on the environment and if that is something that we all agree is appropriate then that will be the case but we will go through the process. As I say, this will have minimal impact a) because it is underground and because it is a very small area that we are covering.