Papua New Guinea Greenlights World's First Deep Sea Mineral Mine


Sea life in Papua New Gunea; Photo via Angell Williams via Flickr Creative Commons

In a move that is highly controversial among environmentalists, scientists and indigenous people, Papua New Guinea has given the go-ahead for a deep sea mineral mine that will extract materials such as copper, zinc and gold. This is a great case-in-point for Stephen's recent post on why nature should not be considered priceless -- while the minerals can fetch a great price on the market, what will be the financial loss stemming from marine life impacted by the mine? With the mine's location pinpointed near hydrothermal vents, the diversity and number of species affected is huge. The Guardian reports that the prime minister, Michael Somare, licensed the new mine for Canadian company Nautilus Minerals, and that it will sit near hydrothermal vents around 1,600 meters below the surface. We already know that the noise and disruptions caused by drilling is damaging to sea life, but there is the special issue of life unique to these vents.

Paul Tyler from the University of Southampton and chair of the Census of Marine Life told the Guardian, "Hydrothermal vents have a very distinctive fauna that is only found on hydrothermal vents so mining close to the vents could wipe out the vents or cause a large amount of damage in the surrounding area."

The true absurdity is the environmental research and strategies Nautilus claims to have made -- including moving organisms for later recolonization. Because of course it's a piece of cake to move a species, drill the dickens out of its home and habitat, and then put it back and expect it to thrive as before. As Tyler pointed out in the Guardian article, mining near hydrothermal vents could result in shutting the vent down or moving it elsewhere, which utterly alters the habitat and further reduces chances for successful recolonization. The problems don't stop at habitat destruction:


"These organisms catch, store and break down carbon that is removed from the atmosphere by shallow water organisms," said Elliott Norse, president of Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC. "The deep sea also harbours organisms that could be important to humans as anti-cancer medicines - but that we might not even know about yet."

However, despite the concern of scientists and indigenous people, the mine is set to move forward. And likely, we can expect to see more projects like this occur as minerals from mines on land are depleted. Rather than dumpster diving for minerals to recycle, we're diving into the deep blue sea for them. Let's hope landfill mining picks up speed, rather than deep sea drilling.

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Tags: Conservation | Oceans

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