The government of Papua New Guinea are facing scrutiny from environmental groups, due to the alleged hiding of documents approving damaging deep sea mining in the area.
Deep sea mining has been called the ‘new gold rush‘, as tech companies scramble to access a sea bed rich in minerals required for devices such as laptops and smartphones.
It’s not only environmentalists who have been highlighting the dangers of such practices though. Academics and scientists have been quick to condemn deep sea mining as detrimental to the wellbeing of the ocean floor, causing irreparable damage.
Minerals and ‘rare earth‘ reserves are the target and, unlike the oil and gas industry, have failed to generate as much public outrage and opposition, which makes the recent developments in Papua New Guinea so significant.
Gizmodo recently highlighted the potential devastation of increased mining on the ocean floor, in an article entitled: ‘The Impacts of Deep Ocean Mining Will ‘Last Forever”:
A loss of biodiversity is “inevitable” and “likely to last forever on human scales, given the very slow natural rates of recovery in affected ecosystems.”
“Our intent is to contribute to the discourse about how best to manage deep-sea mining,” Cindy Van Dover, a professor at the Division of Marine Science and Conservation at Duke University and lead author of the new letter, told Gizmodo. “We came to an understanding that loss of biodiversity at a mine site in the deep sea is unavoidable, and we want this to be part of the public discourse.”
Nautilus Minerals Inc, a Russian backed Canadian company, ‘wants to extract gold and copper deposits from 1.6km below the surface of the Bismarck Sea‘, according to The Guardian.
With no independent environmental study having taken place, the untested technology used for the mining could do untold levels of harm to the marine life and ecosystem of the surrounding oceans.
“The Solwara 1 field, in a volcanic area between the islands of New Britain and New Ireland, was identified by Australia’s CSIRO in 1996. Nautilus was granted an environmental permit for the field in 2009, and a mining licence in 2011.
Seabed mining – which Nautilus described as “the next big disruptive technology” – is usually based around areas of metallic nodules, or active or extinct hydrothermal vents, which carry valuable metal deposits.
The proposed process uses machinery previously used in other mining industries to excavate materials from the sea floor, then draw it up to the surface as seawater slurry. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is then pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.
Critics have said the environmental impact assessment is insufficient as it does not include a “rigorous risk assessment” or an environmental management plan.”
A risk to protected species is a primary concern. Recent deep sea mining of zinc, gold, and other minerals off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, caused a minor outcry, but has failed to generate any significant international coverage.
One thing which is becoming clear is that our addiction to tech may be attributing to the decimation of many species, and it’s possible that no one will pay attention until it’s too late.