Tag Archives: Pacific region

Caritas Calls For Halt To Experimental Deep Sea Mining

Caritas Aotearoa | SCOOP | 13 July 2017

“We call for an immediate halt to all deep-sea mining including exploratory testing as this will undermine the ability to achieve sustainable development goal 14” said Julianne Hickey, Director of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, speaking in New York at an event associated with a United Nations High Level Political Forum on the progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

Mrs Hickey expressed deep concerns about the long-term impact on the oceans and marine life arising from experimental Deep Sea Mining.

“Such mining is far from being an established practice around the world. The technology involved is in its infancy and it is not credible to talk about so-called ‘best-practice’ regulatory regimes in the Oceania region. The fact is that many of the countries in which multinational mining corporations are seeking licenses do not have established regulatory scrutiny of such activities.”

“A factor that exacerbates the risks is the huge reliance of communities on the oceans. For example our community partners in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands rely on the oceans and healthy marine ecosystems for their very livelihoods” said Mrs Hickey.

But there was some good news too. Caritas welcomed two specific initiatives towards better care of the oceans and marine resources. In particular Mrs Hickey highlighted the development of special Marine Protection Areas in Tonga.

“The development of Marine Protection Areas at Felemea in the Ha’apai Islands of Tonga signals a very welcome approach to sustainable use practices in the region” said Mrs Hickey.

“We also acknowledge and welcome the move by the New Zealand government to ban plastic microbeads which have been shown to be harmful to waterways, fish and shellfish” said Mrs Hickey.

Mrs Hickey was speaking in New York this morning (NZ time) to an event associated with a United Nations High Level Political Forum on the progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals. The specific goal on which Mrs Hickey presented was Goal 14: conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources – with regard to the Oceania region.

Mrs Hickey is representing Caritas Oceania in order to ensure that the voices of Pacific peoples are heard on the world stage. Caritas works closely with partner organisations around the Pacific region – including Samoa, Kiribati, Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.


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Filed under Environmental impact, Exploration, Human rights, Mine construction, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea

Concerns rise over environmental impacts of deep sea mining

Matangi (Tonga)

Members of various regional organisations have voiced their concerns over the prospect of deep sea mining in Pacific waters.

The concerns were raised in a United Nations administered forum known as the Pacific Solution Exchange and highlighted in a press release by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) last week.

The forum hosts e-discussions on topics with contributions from researchers, scientists, civil servants and experts from around the Pacific.

According to the UNDP, Pacific waters are “…now facing large-scale industrial exploitation as mining of the deep seabed for minerals becomes a reality”.

Pacific Political Advisor for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Ms Seni Nabou stated “As terrestrial minerals become depleted and prices rise, the search for new sources for supply is turning to the sea floor and many non-government organisations remain concerned at the haste in which exploration and mining is taking place,”

“While harvesting these resources could provide a much-needed economic boost to many Pacific Island countries, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and a coalition of Pacific Regional Non-Government Organisations are concerned about the rush to deep seabed mining and have called for a halt to it in the Pacific region”.

“This emerging industry, facilitated greatly by advances in technology, poses a major threat to our oceans, which are already suffering from a number of pressures including overfishing, pollution, and the effects of climate change”.

The concerns were shared by Deep Sea Minerals Project Legal Advisor from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Hannah Lily who stated that in some cases, “Scientists predict the direct impacts of seabed mining of seabed mining are likely to be localised to the mining site, due to the high pressure and low current in the deep ocean, which will restrict sediment dispersal”.

The Pacific Solutions Exchange is a forum that has over 1500 members including practitioners, students, government, concerned elders, and community members in remote islands.

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United Arab Emirates excited by prospect of Pacific riches

Prospects of riches in the deep

David Crossland | The National (UAE)

Strewn across the Pacific seabed lies a vast treasure worth thousands of billions of euros.

And it is there for the taking. It just needs to be scooped up. No drilling required.

The greyish-black, potato-sized rocks, known as “nodules”, do not look very inspiring. But they are packed with minerals such as manganese, copper, nickel, cobalt, zinc and rare earths that are essential raw materials for the electronics industry and products such as solar cells.

The price of these metals has surged in recent years because global demand for them is growing and their supply from mining on land is becoming increasingly scarce. Demand for copper alone is projected to double over the next 20 years, with more than half of that rise coming from China and India.

The biggest undersea reserves are located in a 5 million square kilometre area known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the eastern Pacific.

The problem is the nodules lie at depths of up to 6,000 metres, where the water pressure is enormous.

It is pitch black and close to freezing down there and the seabed at such depths still holds as many mysteries to mankind, if not more, as the moon.

Only a tiny fraction of it has ever been explored. A UN official once likened the technical challenge of deep-sea mining to someone standing on top of a New York skyscraper on a windy day and trying to vacuum up marbles from the street far below with a long hose.

In fact, deep-sea mining is a tad more difficult than that. It will require large, remote-controlled machines capable of combing the seabed and collecting the rocks. Not to mention a system of transporting tonnes of rock to the surface.

“I think it may take up to 10 years before the collectors and their components have been so well developed and tested that they function reliably,” says Carsten Rühlemann of Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR).

“The machines have to be able to work for a long time because they would take about a week to lower to the seabed and a week to raise again,” says.

“So if they don’t function properly it will be prohibitively expensive to fix them. It will take a while for this to be commercially viable.”

But despite these difficulties, the prospect of profits and access to strategic raw materials is about to trigger an underwater gold rush.

Critics say the world is on the threshold of a new colonial era, a dash for precious minerals that could do irreversible damage to marine ecosystems.

The UN’s international seabed authority (ISA), which manages sea-bed mining, has so far granted 17 licences to national organisations and companies to prospect for minerals and more are about to follow.

Licence holders include companies from China, India, South Korea, Japan, eastern Europe and Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, as well as the Pacific island nations Kiribati and Tonga.

The potential for deep-sea mining is “arguably higher now than at any other time in history”, the ISA said in a study released in February.

The race for minerals could lead to international tensions. The United States, which has not been allocated an exploration area because it never signed the UN convention on the law of the sea, is unlikely to stand by while others exploit the riches of the oceans, especially since the most lucrative areas are close to the western coast of the US and Mexico.

The ISA, therefore, will have to rise to a huge challenge. So far, its role has largely been confined to handling bids for mineral exploration. Now, it has to work out how to licence, regulate and monitor the first real seabed-mining operations and how to share the proceeds.

It proposes to provide operators with “provisional mining licences” to make sure they demonstrate real mining and environmental competence before they are granted a full licence.

“Deep ocean mining is faced with a ‘Catch-22’ situation, whereby competence cannot be gained without actual mining at a commercial scale but, at the same time, mining should not be allowed without prior demonstration of competence,” the ISA says.

According to its study, the Clarion-Clipperton Zone may have more than 27 billion tonnes of nodules containing seven billion tonnes of manganese, 340 million tonnes of nickel, 290 million tonnes of copper and 78 million tonnes of cobalt.

How much of that is actually accessible is unknown, however.

“The technology hasn’t been properly developed for use on an industrial scale although the Koreans, Indians and Chinese have made progress with test collectors,” says Mr Rühlemann, the BGR’s expedition leader on a German-French research trip to the Pacific last year to assess the possible environmental impact of mining. South Korea has already undertaken 30 exploratory missions to its licence area in the Pacific and has set up its own test site for automatic deep-sea mining vehicles. Last year the Jiaolong, a Chinese manned deep-sea research submarine capable of navigating horizontally along the seabed, dived to a depth of more than 7,000 metres.

Aker Wirth, a German mining technology company, has drafted a design for a 17-metre long, 250-tonne machine resembling a combine harvester that would move across the seabed on several tracks.

At the front, cylindrical drums with little shovels would scoop up the nodules and feed them into a machine where they would be ground up. An enormous pump would bring them to the surface with the help of compressed air.

A major boost to deep-sea mining came from Papua New Guinea granting the first deep-seabed mining licence to the Nautilus Mining Company of Canada, in its territorial Bismarck Sea. The deal showed the private sector, and the banks supporting it, that deep-seabed mining is now commercially feasible.

Nautilus planned to mine for copper and gold on the seabed, not from nodules but from so-called “massive sulphide deposits” emitted from hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor where superheated water carrying metals from deep in the earth mixes with cold seawater to form metal-rich deposits.

However, that project, due to start production this year, is currently on hold due to a legal dispute with the government of Papua New Guinea.

Biologists argue seabed mining of nodules will harm the environment by churning up underwater clouds of sediment and displacing deep sea creatures. The operations could wipe out unique species before they had even been discovered, they say.

“Collecting manganese nodules will plough up a few thousand square kilometres per year. That would have similar consequences as cutting down rainforest,” says Sven Petersen, a scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, northern Germany.

“It’s not as though no animals or plants live there afterwards. But they’re completely different species. And it’s exactly the same with deep-sea mining.” Jon Copley, a biologist from the University of Southampton, says it is a joint task to look after the oceans.

“I don’t think we own the deep ocean in the sense that we can do what we like with it. Instead, we share responsibility for its stewardship,” he told the BBC.

“We don’t have a good track record of achieving balance anywhere else – think of the buffalo and the rainforest – so the question is, can we get it right?”

Mr Rühlemann says the environmental damage from so-called suspension clouds churned up by the mining vehicles may be less severe than feared.

“I don’t think suspension clouds will drift far because the currents are very slow at such depths, just 3 to 4 centimetres per second,” he says.

“Besides, fine-grain sediments tend to clump together quickly and sink back down to the floor.

“The collectors will squash things but due to their wide chassis the pressure on the seabed would be kept to around 200 grams per square centimetre, which is about the same as a human being standing on the seabed.”

But the true impact won’t be known until large machines are used, he adds.

“You’d have to put a machine down there and monitor what actually happens when it moves. Nobody’s done that yet.”

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Pacific should not be used as a testing ground for deep-sea mining

Two campaign organizations, based in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have joined forces to denounce plans for the Pacific to be used as the testing ground for deep-sea mining.

ACT NOW! and the Pacific Network on Globalization say the Pacific region has already suffered the negative social and environmental impacts of industrial mining on land and should not take further risks with the marine environment.

“Rather than allowing ourselves to be the testing ground for multinational companies and foreign governments, Pacific countries should focus on new approaches to our own development that are consistent with our lifestyle, history and social and political realities”, says Effrey Dademo, Program Manager with ACT NOW!

Nautilus Minerals has already been granted a license by the PNG government to develop the world’s first deep-sea mine and the European Union has announced plans to help 15 Pacific island countries to develop laws and policies to facilitate such operations across the region.

Maureen Penjueli, coordinator for PANG, says Pacific island countries do not have the resources, capacity or experience to effectively manage and monitor large resource projects and government should focus on supporting their own people rather than large corporate interests.

“We have had an alternative development model forced upon on us by outsiders but it is clear that model is not working for us and, indeed, is failing in the West as well. We, as Pacific people, need to find our own voice and return to a focus on our own strengths and knowledge base.”

“Deep-sea mining is likely to be another catastrophic failure for the region and we don’t need it.”


Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea

Deep-sea mining in the Pacific denounced

From Radio Australia

The Papua New Guinea Government’s approval of the world’s first deep sea mine has been denounced by advocacy groups in the Pacific.

Canadian-based Nautilus Minerals received a licence in January to extract gold and copper from the sea floor in the Bismark Sea about 50 kilometres north of Rabaul. The project’s environmental impact statement has been approved by the PNG government and work is set to commence within the next two years. But critics say Nautilus and other companies are making the Pacific a testing ground for untried technology with unknown environmental consequences.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon
Speakers: Maureen Penjueli, Coordinator, Pacific Network on Globalisation; Stephen Rogers, Nautilus Mining CEO

SNOWDON: With demand and prices rising sharply the mining of gold, copper and other minerals from the deep sea floor is now economically viable.

Its never been tried before.

The Solwara One gold and copper project off PNG’s north coast is the first attempt of its kind.

As well 15 other Pacific Island nations are being offered help from the European Union to develop laws to facilitate similar projects. And that’s worried groups in PNG and across the Pacific, like the Pacific Network on Globalisation – a regional NGO concerned with economic justice.

Maureen Penjueli, the Network’s Coordinator says the region is being used as a guinea pig for an untried technology.

PENJUELI: There’s no other place we can benchmark this type of technology being used. So we have no other reference point by which to compare. So we are pretty much guinea pigs in this particular process. So I think that’s why we need to err on the side of caution and really go through this really thoroughly ather that rush through based on the economic arguments alone.

SNOWDON: Concerns have been raised over the potential impacts of mining on fishing industries.

Plus on the largely unknown plants and animals that live around these mineralised areas that exist near volcanic vents in the sea bed.

In the case of Solwarra One, Nautilus will employ technology used by the offshore oil and gas industries to mine up to 2 kilometres below the surface.

For a 20 year licence the company paid an up front security payment of 18-thousand US dollars and will pay royalties of 2 per cent of its net returns once production begins.

Nautilus ECO Stephen Rogers spoke to Radio Australia in January when the licence was granted.

ROGERS: As this industry emerges it is going to present a significant

SNOWDON: The company has published a 275 page study which included its proposed processes and an environmental impact statement which has been approved by the PNG government.

In it the company notes and accepts that there are adverse environmental impacts associated with the project but has committed to minimise them.

It notes the greatest impact is likely to be on the sea floor where the least is known about conditions and fauna, which the report notes could be smothered by accidental spills of fuel or mined material.

The company commissioned environmental assessments from several universities and Australia’s CSIRO.

But Maureen Penjueli questions the report’s independence and wants more debate before deep sea mining becomes common around the Pacific.

PENJUELI: A lot of the concern that the local groups and local communities are having is that there is a need for an independent environmental impact assessment being undertaken.

SNOWDON: Not to be daunted, Stephen Rogers, Nautilus CEO believes deep sea mining has huge potential.

OGERS: We have a view in the company that the sea floor industry has the

SNOWDON: As well as the environmental uncertainties, countries that allow deep sea mining must be confident that it wont lead to impacts beyond their borders under international laws of the sea.

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EU to help facilitate deep-sea mining in the Pacific

A FOUR-YEAR regional Deep Sea Minerals (DSM) project, to be funded by the European Union, has been designed to address the policy and law requirements in Pacific Island Countries to facilitate deep-sea mining.

According to a SOPAC statement, the project will make a major contribution towards the management of deep-sea mining in the Pacific Islands Region.

The statement said deep-sea mining was expected to commence in the Bismarck Sea in PNG within the next three years.

Aggregate geologist Akuila Tawake said that based on the results of previous studies, a number of those island countries have “promising” seabed mineral potential.

He listed the major marine mineral deposits into three groups: SMS (seafloor massive sulphides), cobalt-rich crusts, and manganese nodules.

The SOPAC statement said SMS deposits included high-grade copper, with significant enrichment in gold, silver, zinc and lead.

“These can usually be found at depths from 350 metres to 5000 metres,” the statement said.

“Cobalt-rich crusts include cobalt, nickel and platinum and range in depths from 400 to 4,000 metres.

“The last is the manganese nodules found on the ocean floor at depths ranging from 4000 to 6000 metres.

“They are a composite of manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel and copper.”

Funded by the European Union, the project will be implemented in 15 island countries.

The first regional project workshop is scheduled for May in Nadi.

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