Hydrothermal vent in the Marianas Trench. Life on hydrothermal vents were not discovered until the late 1970s. Decades later, much remains unknown about these vents and many of them remain unexplored. Photo by: NOAA.
The Papua New Guinea government has granted a 20-year license for copper and gold mining around a mile (1.6 kilometers) below the ocean’s surface, jump-starting the world’s first commercial deep sea mining venture. Undertaken by Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, the venture will mine deep sea hydrothermal vents off the coast of New Britain. However, the project faces stiff concern from local activists, fishermen, and environmentalists.
Dubbed the Solwara 1 project, the mining is expected to bring in between $1-2.5 billion in revenue due to high grade deposits of gold and copper ore. Nautilus Minerals has pledged to hire 70 percent of the workforce for the project locally, while the Papua New Guinea government has a 30 percent stake in the project and has pledge to put $25 million into infrastructure, plans which have left them open to allegations of conflict of interest.
Nautilus Minerals describes itself on its website as “following the lead by the offshore oil and gas industry to tap vast offshore resources.” The company argues that deep sea mining’s footprint will be significantly smaller than land mining.
Howeverm concerned activists with the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, made up of a coalition of groups, argue that Nautilus Minerals is imperiling deep sea hydrothermal ecosystems, about which little is known and where new species are discovered with almost every new dive. The company will be mining eleven hectares of vents, potentially destroying thousand of active and inactive vents. In addition, the group is concerned that pollution from mining could harm not only deep sea fauna, but fish and local communities.
“At this point local communities have not sanctioned this project. We can’t rely on our governments or companies like Nautilus to tell us that seabed mining is good, is safe,” Wences Magun, national coordinator for local environment NGO Mas Kagin Tapani, said recently in a press release. “No one knows what the impacts of this form of mining will be. We are being used us as guinea pigs in a sea bed mining experiment.”
Mining could be delayed as Nautilus Minerals and the Papua New Guinea government are currently in court in a commercial dispute.
Nautilus Minerals has been granted exploration rights for 108,000 square kilometers of Papua New Guinea’s ocean so far.
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