By YEHIURA HRIEHWAZI
PROPOSED seabed mining at PNG’s Solwara 1 project and elsewhere in the Pacific is headed on a collision course with some leading scientists and oceanographers studying the ocean floor.
Nautilus Minerals is pioneering the technology to extract precious minerals from ocean floors in what has been described as the “world’s first” approach and the PNG Government gave the green-light to its environmental impact study (EIS) last September.
“The recent approval of the Solwara 1 project environmental permit is an exciting and significant milestone for the company and represents the culmination of over three years of effort on the part of our Environmental team,” the company announced on its website. The environmental team is led by the environment manager for Nautilus, Dr Samantha Smith.
However, a conservation biologist Prof Rick Steiner, formerly of the University of Alaska, who was called in to examine the company’s original environmental impact assessment study has expressed concern about the impact of the project.
Interviewed by BBC news yesterday, Prof Steiner is concerned about the dumping of thousands of tonnes of rock on the seabed and the danger of spillages of toxic residue and destruction to vent chimneys and unknown species of marine life.
Volcanic vents spew out hot water and precious metals like copper, gold, silver and zinc.
“(At) The site that they mine, they’re going to destroy all these vent chimneys where the sulphide fluids come out.”
He added that it could cause the extinction of species that were not even known to science yet.
“I think that, from an ethical stand point, is unacceptable,” he said.
Nautilus CEO Steven Rogers said he accepted that the mined area would be damaged, but said he was convinced it could recover.
He believes deep-sea mining will be less damaging to the environment than mining on land.
He said: “I think there’s a much greater moral question…. here we have an opportunity to provide those metals with a much, much lower impact on the environment.”