Deep Sea Mining campaign’s Helen Rosenbaum recently contributed to a forum on Deep Sea Mining. The forum called the Pacific Solution Exchange (PSE) is a “knowledge-sharing forum that supports an email-group of over 1300 Members, with conversations moderated by a Facilitation Team based in Suva, Fiji.” The forum on deep sea mining was initiated by Pacific Political Advisor for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Ms Seni Nabou who asked for contributors to share their thoughts on what would be some transboundary environmental impacts of deep sea mining in the Pacific. Special thanks to the Pacific Solution Exchange for coordinating and consolidating all the contributions. You can download the consolidated contributions here.
Below is the contribution from the Deep Sea Mining campaign coordinator, Helen Rosenbaum:
26 September 2013
Greetings all. We thank Setaita from the Solution Exchange for the invitation to participate in this discussion and to Seni for raising the question. I work with the Deep Sea Mining Campaign. We are based in Australia and collaborate with concerned individuals and NGOs in the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.
DSM is an unprecedented form of mining. There is great uncertainty about the impacts of any single DSM operation let alone the cumulative impacts of the many deep sea mines that seem likely for the Pacific region. Over 1.5 million square kilometres of Pacific Ocean Floor is currently under exploration leasehold to private and national government companies within both territorial and international waters. Even if only a small proportion of this area is mined, we can anticipate a significant number of DSM operations.
Canadian company Nautilus Minerals Inc has already been granted a 20 year licence to operate a deep sea mine in the Bismarck Sea in PNG. The basis on which this licence was granted was an environmental impact statement containing many errors and omissions. Our report, Out of our Depth: Mining the Ocean Floor in PNG, highlights significant gaps in the EIS and the many risks that have not yet been properly assessed.
Amongst these are the impacts of sediment plumes and of the heavy metals they may contain. The risk here is not only due to the direct physical impact of sediment but to the possibility that metals may bio-accumulate through the food chain to toxic levels.
In order to assess the level of risk that human and ecological communities will face from DSM operations, it is essential to know the oceanographic characteristics of any particular site and the properties of the metals that will be dispersed there. Of particular concern is whether upwelling and currents could carry pollutants up out of the deep sea or from spills and leakages from DSM vessels and equipment into marine food chains. In addition, we know virtually nothing about the chemical forms of the metals that will be released by DSM operations and the extent to which they will find their way into marine species and the seafood eaten by local communities. Risk assessments must also factor in migratory fish stocks, such as tuna that move vast distances through the Pacific and of course are consumed by humans and other predators.
Because of the importance of oceanographic characteristics in determining impact, the DSM campaign commissioned an independent review of the oceanographic aspects of the Nautilus Solwara 1 EIS by internationally recognised oceanographer, Dr. John Luick. Worryingly this review shows that there are upwellings and currents that could indeed bring communities in New Ireland Province into contact with sediment plumes. We invite you to take a look at this report. Neither Nautilus or the consultants who conducted the EIS have disputed the scientific basis of the review.
The ocean is a continuous medium. The extent to which metals may exert a toxic effect will be determined by factors influencing concentrations and bio-availability such as distance between DSM operations, currents and upwellings, temperatures and salinity etc.
An important question to ponder is how the cumulative impact of several/many mines will be tracked and what mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that the cumulative effect is factored into decisions about any new mines. Especially complicated if licences are issued by different governments.
Last week the Republic of Namibia in south west Africa announced a moratorium on sea bed mining while scientific studies into impacts are conducted. The Namibian Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the Hon. Bernhard Esau, stressed that “seabed mining cannot happen if there is not solid proof that it will not have negative impacts on the environment”. (Further information on this can be found at our website.)
Perhaps this sends a salient message to our region. Already, questions have been raised in New Zealand about the need for a moratorium on seabed mining there. And as some of you will know, the Northern Territory Government in Australia after hearing from local communities announced a total ban on seabed mining around Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
We look forward to reading the thoughts of others on this subject. We also invite you subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter via our website for a round-up of DSM news.
Helen Rosenbaum (PhD)
Deep Sea Mining Campaign
Project of The Ocean Foundation