A controversial undersea mining venture has gained momentum as the Papua New Guinea government granted a 20-year license for copper and gold mining over 1.5 miles below the ocean surface to become the world’s first commercial deep sea mining venture. Nautilus Materials, a Canadian mining company, is planning on mining hydrothermal vents located off the coast of New Britain much to the displeasure of local activists, fisherman and environmentalists who see this as a threat to the local ecology.
The mining operation is after high-grade gold and copper ore deposits that are expected to net between $1 to 2.5 billion. The project dubbed Solwara 1, is not without controversy. Although Nautilus Minerals is pledging to hire 70% of the workforce locally, the PNG government has pledged $25 million for infrastructure projects along with a 30% stake in operations stirring up claims of conflict of interest.
Activists are concerned about the long-term impact this may have, especially since little is known about hydrothermal vents along with the possible pollution the mining will cause in the deep sea along with surrounding water and wildlife along with the 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.”
Although the license has been granted, mining is facing a delay as Nautilus Minerals and the PNG government are currently in court in a commercial dispute. Nautilus has been granted exploration rights for 108,000 square kilometers of Papua New Guinea’s ocean so far.
We are hoping to see things work out best especially around a government that has seen a few controversies. We recent just saw how controversies grew from the PNG vs. EcoEZ Seasmart fallout but have led to an incredible amount of accountability and the beginning of a sustainable and ecologically conscious export business through EcoAquariums PNG and can hope this can be led down that same path. As PNG has been able to bring intriguing natural resources in the form of the Lightning Maroon Clownfish, we are hoping to see less controversy and more accountability and sustainable practices take hold.
We are sure that ripping apart the sea floor will not have positive ecological impacts but as a struggling nation looks for ways to manage its natural resources for the good of the entire population, we hope they come into a more sustainable way to approach undersea mining that will bring much needed income and jobs for the people of PNG.