Tag Archives: experimental seabed mining

Deep sea mining threatens indigenous culture in Papua New Guinea

Seabed Mining (Graphic: Greenpeace)

John Childs | The Conversation | February 19, 2019

When they start mining the seabed, they’ll start mining part of me.

These are the words of a clan chief of the Duke of York Islands – a small archipelago in the Bismarck Sea of Papua New Guinea which lies 30km from the world’s first commercial deep sea mine site, known as “Solwara 1”. The project, which has been delayed due to funding difficulties, is operated by Canadian company Nautilus Minerals and is poised to extract copper from the seabed, 1600m below the surface.

Valuable minerals are created as rapidly cooling gases emerge from volcanic vents on the seafloor. Mining the seabed for these minerals could supply the metals and rare earth elements essential to building electric vehicles, solar panels and other green energy infrastructure. But deep sea mining could also damage and contaminate these unique environments, where researchers have only begun to explore.

The industry’s environmental impact isn’t the only concern. It’s been assumed by the corporate sector that there is limited human impact from mining in the deep sea. It is a notion that is persuasive especially when compared with the socio-ecological impacts of land-based mining.

But such thinking is a fallacy – insights from my research with communities in Papua New Guinea over the past three years highlight that the deep sea and its seabed should be thought of as intimately connected to humanity, despite the geographical distances involved. For the people of the Duke of York Islands, deep sea mining disturbs a sense of who they are, including the spirits that inhabit their culture and beliefs.

Young people on Duke of York Islands. Paul Hearne, Author provided

Out of sight, out of mined

In Western thought, the sea has not only been considered to be marginal to politics, but also as entirely distinct from the land. Separating nature from humanity has proved useful in enabling exploitation of the natural world for human means. Deep sea mining, with all its material connections between a dynamic seabed and sites of consumption on land, provokes new questions.

If humanity can’t physically encounter the deep seabed, then how are we to treat it ethically?. By conceptually “distancing” the deep ocean, who is being marginalised?

For the people who live close to Solwara 1, the answer is pointed. These communities have long understood the world as a connection between “nature”, “spirits” and “beings”. Central within this cosmology are the spirits – masalai – some of which are understood as guardians of the seabed and its resources.

The people of Duke of York Islands are tied spiritually to events in the deep sea. John Childs, Author provided

Masalai are a fundamental part of the islanders’ world. Thus, the prospect of deep sea mining means not just social and economic disruption, but spiritual turmoil. The digging up of the seabed and the extraction of its resources cuts through the very fabric of their spiritual world and its sacred links to the sea and land.

As the historian Neil Macgregor put it in the Radio 4 series “Living with the Gods”, masalai are not

out there… [like] tourists in the human realm, from somewhere else … but in a world in which we co-inhabit.

The political implication for island communities here is clear. The copper which might be mined from the seabed is effectively constituted by these spirits. Thus, as copper “resurfaces” in the objects and technologies of the future – in batteries and wiring – it also carries a spirituality from the region where it originated.

Spirits infuse the traditions and everyday practises of the people on the Duke of York Islands. “Shark calling” is one such example which is practised along parts of the west coast of New Ireland Province – the closest point on land to Solwara 1.

Every few weeks, when the sea conditions allow, “shark callers” attempt to attract sharks to their hand-carved wooden canoes by rattling a mesh of coconut shells in the water, before capturing them by hand. Shark meat is a key part of local diets that generally lack protein.

Shark callers communicate with spirits which are “resident” in stones found on local beaches prior to their expeditions. It’s no surprise then, that these communities fear noise pollution generated by deep sea mining and the physical disturbance of the seabed which could sever the cultural connections they have with the ocean.

Deep sea mining companies should consider the spirituality of the people their work affects and other kinds of environmental knowledge as important in their own right. As this new industry collides with cultural belief systems in different parts of the world, it will be essential to understand the complex ways in which deep sea mining does have “human” impacts after all. Culture is a key part of any understanding of environmental politics, no matter how extreme the environment in question.


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PIANGO pans seabed mining

“If mining was the panacea to the economic issues of the Pacific, we’d have solved all our problems long ago. Instead the environmental and social impacts of mining have made our peoples poorer”

Radio New Zealand |15 February 2019

The Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) has called on regional governments to recognise the risks of seabed mining.

The call comes as Pacific governments met in Tonga this week to discuss their hopes of exploiting minerals on the ocean floor.

PIANGO executive director Emele Duituturaga said seabed mining threatened fisheries, marine environments and ocean livelihoods.

As well as calling for a ban, Ms Duituturaga asked governments not make hasty decisions about taking up seabed mining.

“This workshop is pedalling deep sea mining to our governments but who will benefit?

“If mining was the panacea to the economic issues of the Pacific, we’d have solved all our problems long ago. Instead the environmental and social impacts of mining have made our peoples poorer,” Ms Duituturaga said.

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Second Wave Due Diligence: The Case for Incorporating Free, Prior, and Informed Consent into the Deep Sea Mining Regulatory Regime

A new article, Second Wave Due Diligence, published in the Stanford Environmental Law Journal calls for the norm of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) for indigenous peoples to be applied to deep sea mining (DSM) projects carried out in the international seabed, particularly in the Pacific region, where numerous indigenous communities stand to be directly and disproportionately impacted by this new extractive industry.

Authors Julian Aguon and Julie Hunter’s argument, while novel, relies on core prescriptions of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requiring compliance with international law in general, including pertinent rules of international environmental and indigenous rights law.

UNCLOS’s clear parameters on the prevention of harm to the marine environment, expounded upon by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in a series of key decisions, have created a due diligence standard that is imposing ever higher duties on an increasingly wide range of actors, including in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

This standard is evolving alongside a robust norm requiring the FPIC of indigenous peoples threatened by large-scale extractive activities, even if those activities are not directly carried out on indigenous land.

When applied to DSM, whose exploratory stage has already resulted in an array of adverse impacts to Pacific indigenous peoples, these normative legal developments coalesce into a compelling argument for placing impacted indigenous peoples into key decision-making roles.

Such an approach, which is called a “second wave” of due diligence, represents a decisive break from a destructive history in which the Pacific served as a proving ground for the experiments of others, and a concrete step toward sustainable, rights-based development in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Download: Second Wave Due Diligence

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ISA and United Nations selling experimental seabed mining to Pacific island governments

A bulk-cutter designer for seabed mining

How can efforts to ’conserve and sustainably use the oceans’ be so seamlessly co-opted as a cover for efforts to promote the mining of the seabed?

Unfortunately international agencies like the UN are masters are such deceits and have no regard for the views of Pacific Island people who are vehemently opposed to the exploitation of the seabed…

Pacific small island developing states capacity building on deep seabed mining

International Seabed Mining | 7 February 2019

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) will hold a regional training and capacity building workshop for Pacific Small Island Developing States (P-SIDS) on deep seabed mining in Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga, from 12 to 14 February 2019. 

The workshop is being held as part of the joint ISA-UNDESA ‘Abyssal initiative for Blue Growth,’ one of the seven Voluntary Commitments made by ISA at the UN Ocean Conference in 2017 to advance implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources  (#OceanAction16538).

High-level representatives from P-SIDS and experts in deep seabed mining and marine science will gather at the workshop to discuss the potential benefits [but not the potential impacts] of increased participation of P-SIDS in deep-sea related activities, and how to ensure that the people in the region will fully benefit from such activities. 

Held over three-days, the workshop will feature sessions on: the status of deep seabed mining activities in the Pacific; the roles and responsibilities of sponsoring States; the legal regime for marine scientific research and environmental management of resources. It is also envisaged that through this workshop, it will be possible to identify better the specific capacity-building needs of P-SIDS in regards to deep seabed mineral related activities.

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Nautilus stays afloat for another 28 days

GlobeNewswire | February 07, 2019

Nautilus Minerals Inc. and Deep Sea Mining Finance Ltd. have agreed to extend the maturity date of the existing secured loan facility which is currently due on February 8, 2019, for 28 days ending on March 8, 2019.

The Company continues to seek short and long term funding solutions while assessing its options, including various restructuring options. Negotiations with various third parties continue. There can be no assurances that the Company will be able to successfully negotiate and complete any funding or other transactions. Any transactions will be subject to all necessary stock exchange, third party and government approvals, as well as compliance with all other regulatory requirements. The Company will provide further updates as circumstances warrant.

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Consultation or slick sales pitch?

The deep seabed minerals consultation on the northern group island of Penrhyn.

This is an all too familiar problem in Papua New Guinea…

June Hosking | Cook Island News | February 4, 2019

The deep seabed minerals consultation held in Mauke last week leaves me asking, yet again, ‘what should a consultation look like?’ The dictionary says, in short, ‘A consultation is a meeting to deliberate a matter. Deliberate means to weigh up both sides.’

Therefore, for a real consultation we need to hear both sides. It would have been great, for example, to have heard from a Maori speaking scientist like Dr Teina Rongo on what could go wrong. From where I sat all we got was a slick sales pitch with some question and answer time tacked on the end. But if people don’t really know the issue they don’t have real questions to ask.

Throw in talk of money and the conversation is nicely side-tracked. The majority of time was given to selling the idea of seabed mining and how much money it’ll bring in. It is a sales pitch when one starts talking about what mining will buy for the island. Besides mentioning the possible amount of income, I don’t believe they should be allowed to talk about specific spending, as that is basically bribing for a vote.

Health and education are a required part of government budgeting, whether there is mining or not!

Had it not been for one frustrated person asking for the meeting to head to its advertised purpose – the bill, we may never have touched on it at all. When we did, Paul produced what he hands out at Parliament- a double sided A4 page summary of the 57 page Seabed Minerals Bill.

Apparently many politicians don’t get around to reading the whole document. It angers me that we’re paying politicians to read just two pages and frightens me that they could, without having really checked out the whole bill, make critical decisions affecting our future.

I wouldn’t be surprised if no more than five people on Mauke read the whole bill, so after a whizz through the two pages, the MC decided it was time to say grace for the kai manga. He asked for a shout out on who agreed (no specifics) and wasn’t impressed when I stood up to bring attention to the screen noting ‘questions and answers time’. As you can imagine, that time was extremely brief and then it was all over.

I did make use of Q&A opportunities and was told others had expressed similar concerns, but they weren’t the sorts of things to be in a bill.

They would be in the licensing process. I realise that at this stage we’re talking about exploration, but no one in their right mind is going to pour money into exploration without expecting to gain a mining license if they request it. So I’m looking long-term.

The following are my concerns on environmental aspects:

1.    The precautionary approach has a loophole. It suggests to me that if warning bells ring and it’s not cost-effective to avoid disaster, then you can go ahead anyway. It should say if it’s not cost-effective, then you stop altogether.

2.    What happens if there is a leak? How long will it take to discover a plume of sediment that could be devastating to ocean life higher up the column? Even if the pumps are immediately stopped there will be something like 10km of sediment in the pipe leaking out until the break is found and fixed.

3.    Biodiversity preservation areas must be compulsory so that for every mined area (which will become a desert) an equivalent area is zoned untouchable.

4.    Part 5 of the Bill talks about liability, but what do we do if a big company refuses to accept responsibility or to fix damages, as has happened with TMV’s leaky joints in Raro? Is it possible to require some massive bond up front?

5.    Schedule 2:5 says you have to get additional consent for high-risk activities. If evidence arises that to proceed is likely to cause serious harm to – (a) marine env. (b) safety, health or welfare of persons (c)other existing sea uses. Does it make sense to give consent for serious harm?

6.    Schedule 2:6 discusses dumping. We need to state clearly in black and white that ‘sediment must be returned to its place of origin’.

7.    Point 23 describes the composition of the Committee. There have to be at least seven members. Four of these are politically appointed. Is this right?

Finally, meitaki nui to Gerald McCormack for producing such an easy to read and interesting small book on seabed minerals. I hope this book is compulsory reading for every politician. Our future depends upon your decisions.

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Deep Sea Mining Campaign | January 21, 2019

Nautilus Minerals has edged back from the brink of bankruptcy with an extension to the bridging loans provided by its two main shareholders Russian mining company Metalloinvest and Omani conglomerate MB Holding. They were due for repayment on Tuesday 8th January when Nautilus begged for a one week reprieve, hoping to raise USD 5 million to maintain a holding pattern while it sought a long term funding solution. Unable to attract a lender the floundering company has been thrown a temporary life line once more by its 2 shareholders in the form of a small USD 500,000 loan to be repaid on 8th February.

It looks like 2019 will herald the end of Nautilus’s long struggle with its Solwara 1 deep sea prospect in Papua New Guinea. The most recent in the string of bad news stories was the loss of their crucial production support vessel after payments stopped to the shipyard building it. Nautilus’s share price has been hovering around a historical low of CAN $0.05.

Andy Whitmore, of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, said, “How long can Nautilus be kept on life support?  And what is the point of extending the loan by one month? The company has no start date penciled in, no operational capacity, and is in no position to repay its growing debt. The high level of opposition within PNG to Solwara 1 is another obstacle Nautilus is yet to address. It’s time to euthanize this company.”

Concerned about the impacts the Solwara 1 project will have on marine ecosystems and fisheries based livelihoods the Alliance of Solwara Warriors has brought legal proceedings to assess whether the Solwara 1  project was approved lawfully. Jonathan Mesulam from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors said, “My village is located in New Ireland province, only 25km from the proposed Solwara 1 project.  New Irelanders are now well informed of the potential impacts of Nautilus Minerals experimental seabed mining project. They are giving their undivided support to ensure the project is stopped at all cost.

Sir Arnold Amet, former Papua New Guinean Attorney General stated, “I have repeatedly warned our Government of the financial liabilities of holding a 15% stake in this experimental company. The wisest thing for the PNG Government to do now would be to cut its losses, learn from its very expensive mistake, and terminate the Solwara 1 operating licence. Nautilus clearly shows that deep sea mining is not financially, socially, or environmentally viable for PNG. Our Government should explore recouping its failed investment by suing Nautilus for breach of contract.“

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, added: “This loan extension really changes nothing. The financial, ecological, and social risks associated with the Solwara 1 project continue. Local opposition will grow as long as this perilous project persists.”

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