Tag Archives: Environmental damage

Experts Warn that Seabed Mining Will Lead to ‘Unavoidable’ Loss of Biodiversity

Tam Warner Minton/Flickr/CC-by-2.0

Daniel Oberhaus | Motherboard | June 27 2017

Seabed mining companies are going to wipe out species we don’t even know exist yet.

An international group of 15 marine scientists and legal scholars published a letter on Monday warning of the dire effects that the nascent seabed mining industry could have on bottom dwelling marine life.

The letter, published in Nature Geoscience, is the latest in a series of increasingly desperate pleas from marine scientists to pump the brakes on mining the seafloor until marine scientists are able to get a better idea of what the effects this industry will have on this woefully understudied area of the planet.

“Unlike on land, most of the biodiversity and ecosystem function in the deep sea is poorly understood,” Cindy Dover, a professor of biological oceanography at Duke University and one of the signatories to the letter, told me via email. “We have learned that the deep sea is as exquisitely diverse as any bit of shallow marine or terrestrial environment. What we don’t understand is how much we can degrade deep-sea ecosystems before we reach tipping points, where the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem function affects the health of the ecosystem beyond levels that are acceptable to society.”

As such, Van Dover and the other signatories on the letter call for the International Seabed Authority, the UN-sanctioned regulatory body for the ocean’s floor, to recognize the risk posed by deep sea mining and communicate this risk to the public at large.

“We ask that biodiversity loss resulting from deep-sea mining be recognized and be part of the public discourse about mining,” Van Dover said. “The scientific community has been invited by the ISA to provide recommendations on responsible environmental practices for deep-sea mining. Our peer-reviewed letter responds to this invitation.”

Although the deep sea (defined as anything below a depth of about 650 feet) accounts for roughly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, we know remarkably little about what goes on down there. Dozens of new species are routinely discovered during forays to the bottom of the ocean and the deep sea ecosystem isn’t well understood.

Nevertheless, the deep sea has become the site of a new gold rush in recent years. The discovery of a wealth of precious minerals such as nickel and cobalt, in addition to oil and potentially lifesaving molecules have incentivized seabed mining operations to begin exploratory missions to the bottom of the ocean to start staking claims.

To get an idea of how this industry is developing, the authors of the recent letter point out that in 2001 there were only six contracts for deep sea mining operations. By the end of 2017, however, there will be 27 deep sea mining contracts. Of these, 17 will be in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a region of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Central America. One of the proposed mining contracts alone covers 32,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of Maine.

Although some proponents of deep sea mining argue that the effects of this industry can be offset by taking more environmentally friendly measures elsewhere, such as building artificial reefs, the authors of the letter are calling BS.

“The argument that you can compensate for the loss of biological diversity in the deep sea with gains in diversity elsewhere is so ambiguous as to be scientifically meaningless,” Craig Smith, a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii, said in a statement.

“This is like saving apple orchards to protect oranges,” Van Dover added.

For now, these contracts remain exploratory as the ISA struggles to establish a deep sea regulatory regime. But as the letter’s authors rightfully worry, it will be hard to establish effective seabed regulations since so little is known about the ocean floor.

“The ISA has begun working on regional environmental protection plans that include identifying networks of Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEI) within regions of interest to contractors,” Van Dover told me. “Mining and mining impacts would be excluded in these APEIs. Science-based recommendations for the design of these APEIs call for them to include representative habitats in the region.”

Until these regulations are in place, however, the authors of the letter call for the ISA to acknowledge that deep sea mining will certainly be harmful to deep ocean biodiversity. According to the authors of the letter, this damage will likely be irrevocable. Even more frightening is that we’d likely never know the full extent of the damage because marine scientists won’t have the opportunity to establish sufficient baseline measurements before the mining frenzy begins.

“I do not know if responsible seabed mining is possible, given knowledge gaps in our understanding of deep-sea biodiversity and function, and the possibility that the cost of good, science-based environmental management and monitoring may be too high at present relative to the value of the product,” Van Dover said. “There are ways to fill these knowledge gaps, but they require time and investment.”

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Finau: Fiji bauxite shipments reduced

Shalend Prasad points at a spillage from the bauxite mine alleged by members of the public to be waste water from the sediment ponds. Picture: LUKE RAWALAI

Luke Rawalai | The Fiji Times | June 26, 2017

THE number of bauxite shipments that leave the shores of Bua is determined by a lot of factors and chief among them is the global market price of the mineral.

Ministry of Land and Mineral Resources permanent secretary Malakai Finau told this newspaper that shipments had been reduced lately because of the drop in world prices for bauxite.

Mr Finau said there were other factors that affected the shipments of bauxite.

“The other factor that affects the amount of shipments that is exported to China is related to production and the setup of the mine,” he said.

“Because of the prevailing prices of the mineral, the company only sells when the price is right or when they stock the right amount of bauxite to be exported.

“There are other mining issues like the recent allegations of spillage and mining has to be stopped until these issues are addressed.

“As we speak, we have stockpiles of bauxite in the Naviqiri facility awaiting shipment.”

Earlier this month, director mineral development of the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources Dr Reijeli Taga said the first shipment of bauxite this year left Fiji’s shores on March 3.

She revealed that XINFA Aurum Exploration Fiji Ltd’s first shipment this year occurred significantly earlier, compared with the single shipment of 2016, which did not take place until early September.

Dr Taga said the bauxite shipped to China weighed 58,709.60 tonnes, raking in revenue of $2.6 million.

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Plankton at risk from seafloor mining surveys

Zooplankton like these are vulnerable to the acoustic surveys used to search for oil and gas under the seabed.

The search for oil and gas deposits beneath the sea uses acoustic imaging techniques that are deadly to vital marine organisms, according to new research. Tim Wallace reports.

Cosmos | 23 June, 2017

Climate scientists are agreed that global warming will have significant long-term impacts on plankton, the creatures that underpin the health and productivity of global marine ecosystems and which play a critical role in the planetary carbon cycle, though they are less sure what exactly those impacts will be.

But more immediate effects from human reliance on fossil fuels are now clearer, thanks to research that shows acoustic survey techniques used to explore the seafloor for oil and gas deposits is associated with the widespread death of plankton.

The study by marine scientists from Curtin University, in Western Australia, and the University of Tasmania has been published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. It concludes that “potential large-scale modification of plankton community structure and abundance due to seismic survey operations has enormous ramifications for larval recruitment processes, all higher order predators and ocean health in general” and flags the “urgent need to prioritise development and testing of alternative surveying techniques”.

These results add to the growing body of evidence of the deleterious influence on marine life from man-made underwater noise, such as the disruption of whale behaviour from naval sonar use.

Oceanic exploration for petroleum resources is done through acoustic imaging, by firing intense, low-frequency sound impulses down into the seabed. Those impulse signals are produced by arrays of “air guns” that simultaneously shoot air at high pressure (13.8 MPa, or 2,000 psi) into the water. Acoustic echoes captured by strings of hydrophones enable sub-sea images to be generated.

While details of the global extent of such survey activity are scarce, the authors provide some sense of scale with statistics from Australian waters: during 2014 and early 2015, an average of 15,848 km of petroleum-related marine seismic surveys were completed every three months.

To determine the impact of such activity, the research team conducted experiments off the south-east coast of Tasmania, measuring the effect of a single air gun on zooplankton, the small marine animals that typically graze on the plantlike phytoplankton found in abundance at depths to about 200 metres. Sonar surveys and net tows were used to measure both abundance and the ratio of dead to live zooplankton both before and after air gun use.

The results: the average abundance of zooplankton caught in nets fell by more than 60% in the hour immediately after the air gun was fired, compared to control areas, and two to three times more dead zooplankton were found at all range groups for all taxa. This mortality rate was “more than two orders of magnitude higher” than what has been assumed by previous modelling studies.

Although they did not directly study the zooplankton for cause of death, the researchers offer a hypothesis: many marine invertebrates, including zooplankton, use mechanoreceptors to detect vibrations. For most zooplankton, these mechanosensory systems may be extremely sensitive, responding to air-gun impulses signal by ‘shaking’ to the point where damage could accrue to sensory hairs or tissue.

“Impacted animals might not die immediately after air gun exposure, but rather may be disabled in their sensory capacity with an accompanying loss of fitness and so increased predation risk through time,” the authors suggest.

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Panguna landowners give big tick to mining but no to BCL

Radio New Zealand | 22 June 2017

The head of a landowners group controlling the site of the Panguna mine in Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville says it is keen to see a resumption of mining but will always be opposed to the return of Bougainville Copper Ltd.

BCL was the original operator of the mine and has been blamed for sparking the civil war.

Its former multi national owner, Rio Tinto, last year walked away, giving its shares to the PNG and Bougainville governments, rather face demands for compensation over the environmental and social damage blamed on the mine.

Last week this new look BCL was stopped by a protest march from signing a memorandum of agreement with the Panguna landowners – a move seen as the first move to re-open the Panguna mine and boost the region’s economy ahead of an independence vote in two years.

Not the least of BCL’s problems is that they were not dealing with the proper landowners and legal action has put a stay on the signing of the MOA.

The man they should have been talking to, Philip Miriori, the chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association, says he will never back BCL returning.

Mr Miriori, who also heads the Me’ekamui Government of Unity, explained the SML’s thinking to Don Wiseman.

PHILIP MIRIORI: It is the same legal company with enormous liabilities hanging on its shoulder and some much damage was done during their operations. So it is the same company.

DON WISEMAN: The thing here is of course that since Rio Tinto has walked away – it doesn’t have resources does it? In terms of that  environmental and social deficit that people like John Momis have talked about, this current version of BCL is never going to be in much of a position to do much about that is it?

PM: With BCL the ABG is saying it is a new company, but we don’t think it is a new company, it is the same company,, and the same management. People from Rio [Tinto] are still with the BCL arrangement, even now.

DW: Are there any circumstances under which the Me’ekamui Government of Unity and the SML Osikaiyang Landowners would ever accept BCL?

PM: I don’t think we will accept BCL to come back to Panguna. BCL has said it would attract development partners, but we don’t know this development partner, who is he? maybe it is the same Rio Tinto. They are looking to come back and work with BCL.

DW: So this protest last Thursday and Friday, the protest and the road block, did your people organise that?

PM: The people of Panguna especially the landowners and the women, our stand has always been clear – we don’t accept BCL to come back and with the protest march last Friday it is a common sense that the people have here in Panguna, that by not accepting BCL to come back they had to stand for their rights. So they [The ABG] can make any tricks under the sun but with the records that BCL have in the past it is just not going to work. The protest march was right, you know.

DW: last month you presented a petition to the ABG, more than 500 signatures. What has been the outcome of that?

PM: Well the outcome from the ABG was negative. I presented that petition myself to President Momis. The petition was signed by 550 people from Panguna – the SML [Osikaiyang landowners]. So no response from President Momis’s office, so these are the things that have brought the people together on the signing of the MOA.

DW: You are not opposed to mining are you? You clearly are interested in mining and you have linked up with this Australian miner called RTG. Why have you linked with them? Why have you chosen them?

PM: I am always for mining you know but not with BCL. We have this Australian company. We work with them for some time now and we built trust so we are not opposed to mining opening. We are for. We want the mine to open, to generate prosperity for our people and not with BCL. We don’t want BCL to come back you know.

DW: Let’s say RTG were to get an exploration licence, would you be keen for them to get in there and start doing the EL work, as it’s called, immediately and then the prospect of opening the mine as soon as possible.

PM: If we are given an exploration licence we will start immediately and also make clean up operations around Panguna.

DW: There are a lot of other landowning groups close by aren’t there and it would seem that you are at odds with them, or are you?

PM: Now I want to correct this. The other eight, or whatever, landowner associations – I think at this point in time they are irrelevant. They can come in when the mine is up running. They can make no decision on where the pit is, so right now, for me, it is irrelevant for those other organisations to make a decision over the SML [Osikaiyang Landowners]. The only entity, legal entity, is SML which I am chairman of.  

DW: Your message then to the ABG is that there is substantial opposition among the people who are on the land, or who have the land, around that enormous hole in the ground at Panguna, who are opposed to BCL coming in, but you are very keen on mining and you want to form an association with this Australian company, RTG.

PM: A proper awareness is what is needed now. To go right down to the people, you know, and tell them what is the advantage of re-opening the mine now, and the disadvantage of keeping that mine [shut] for ten years as BCL says. But to us I can see that we start the mine up now, so that we start generating the money and prepare for the referendum or whatever you know.         

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Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Mine construction, Papua New Guinea

Seabed mining petition goes to select committee in NZ

Heta Gardiner | Maori Television | 22 June 2017

The issue to place a moratorium on seabed mining has once again made it to Parliament.

Local Government and Environment Select Committee were presented with a message from KASM (Kiwis Against Seabed Mining) to put a halt on seabed mining in New Zealand waters until a better understanding of the risks and impacts are provided.

Phil McCabe from KASM says, “There is a bunch of stuff out there that we have the opportunity to turn into money. And I get that, I see the attraction, I’m a business person myself. The question is whether we have the knowledge or the ability to do that, to extract that material in a safe and responsible way. We don’t have that knowledge now to do that safely.”

In September last year, Mr. McCabe lead a petition calling for a moratorium on all seabed mining which was later presented to Parliament. McCabe also said to the Select Committee today,

“The financial benefits of seabed mining may not be as vast as speculated.”

Rino Tirikatene from Labour was in Select Committee and agreed that a more cautious approach should be taken.

“We just need to ‘taihoa’ and do some proper research, and not put all the pressure on the communities to fight against all these corporate interests,” saysTirikatene.  

However, Nuk Korako of National says that a moratorium might not be the best solution.

“Do we need a moratorium on this? Taking into account, there has been a really robust system in place, and when you look at all those applications, actually most of them have been turned down,” says Korako. 

The Select Committee will be looking into Phil McCabe’s submission over the next week. 

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Panguna mine protesters “not landowners”

Sebastian Hakalits | Post Courier | 22 June, 2017 

The Vice President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government Raymond Masono has expressed disgust at the action of those calling themselves hardliners that recently prevented the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).

The signing scheduled for June 16 2017 was to be done between the ABG and the Panguna Mine Affected Landowners (PMAL) and other stakeholders to the Panguna Mine.

Mr Masono said the signing would have started the process of removing impediments to reopening the Panguna Mine but the ABG team was prevented from travelling to Panguna for the signing by the group opposed to the reopening of the mine and Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL’s) return to redevelop the mine.

He said Bougainville is probably one of a few places in this country where individuals or groups disagreeing with a particular government policy can stop a legitimate government from carrying out its mandated duties for the common good of its citizens.

Mr Masono said this does not auger well for good governance, the rule of law and respect for lawful authority, that are important benchmarks in the ratification outcome of the referendum by the national government and the international community who are watching our every actions.

“What kind of signal are we sending to the United Nations and the rest of the international community with regards to Bougainville’s unity prior to the conduct of the referendum, as well as ratification by PNG and the support of the UN and the international community of the outcome,” Mr Masono asked.

The Vice President said it must also be understood that those opposed to the reopening of Panguna and the return of BCL are not landowners.

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Bougainville protestors given two weeks for re-think

Radio New Zealand | 20 June, 2017

The government in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville says it has given people opposed to a possible re-opening of the Panguna copper mine two weeks to re-think their opposition.

This comes after what Vice President Raymond Masono said was a few dozen people who last Friday blocked access roads for a government delegation wanting to sign a memorandum of agreement with Panguna landowners at Panguna in Central Bougainville.

The government says re-opening the mine, which was at the heart of the Bougainville civil war, is critical to the province developing some economic viability ahead of an independence vote in June 2019.

Mr Masono said the night before, government officials spent hours explaining to the protesters the importance of re-opening Panguna.

But he said Friday’s cancellation of the MOA signing was just a temporary setback.

“When they are ready, they will come to the ABG, (Autonomous Bougainville Government), and then we will organise for the signing ceremony for the MOA,” Mr Masono said.

“We consider this non-signing of the MOA as a temporary setback.”

The protesters, mostly women, said they are opposed to any discussion on a Panguna re-opening before the independence vote.

They also say they are adamantly opposed to Bougainville Copper Ltd, which used to run Panguna, having anything to do with a new operation.

BCL used to be majority owned by Rio Tinto but last year the multi national walked away from the mine and the associated demands for compensation and rehabilitation, giving its shares to the Bougainville and PNG Governments.

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