This week, delegates from around the world are meeting at the United Nations for the first UN Oceans Conference, to discuss the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: the conservation of oceans, seas and marine resources.
We are subjecting our oceans to a barrage of assaults, many of which we are all familiar with - rising temperatures, overfishing, acidification. Less well-known are the dual threats to oceans from mining: the ongoing pollution of marine ecosystems by mine waste and the irreversible harm to deep-sea ecosystems that would result from proposed deep-seabed mining.
Mining companies move staggering amounts of earth to extract small quantities of minerals like gold and copper. Much of this waste is contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals used to extract metals from ore. Dealing with the resulting waste is a constant problem -- for the industry, environment and nearby communities.
Deep-sea mining sounds like something out of a science fiction novel – and indeed, the claims by companies hoping to extract metals from cobalt crusts, manganese nodules, and hydrothermal vents on deep sea beds do seem to have their basis in fiction more than fact. As yet, there are no viable deep-sea mining operations – but many companies and governments are hoping that will change.
Later this week, the animated film Finding Dory will be in theaters, and I am excited to see it. But far less exciting are the threats that industrial mining poses to the real-life Dory's habitat.
The lovable Dory is a blue tang - a royal blue tropical fish that lives in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, where mining companies are dumping mine waste.
The mining industry has set its sights on a new frontier – the deep sea. Seabed or deep-sea mining involves extracting minerals from hydrothermal vents, manganese nodules and cobalt crusts on the ocean’s floor. In just the past five years, the number of seabed mining permits granted by the International Seabed Authority has tripled, to a total of 26 – and counting. But while permits are granted at a rapid clip, we still have too little understanding of deep-sea mining’s ultimate impacts.
The Ramu nickel mine in in Papua New Guinea wants to tear up the land and flush millions of tons of toxic mineral waste directly into the ocean just off-shore in Basamuk/Astrolabe Bay. "Out of sight, out of mind," the companies want people to think of that waste dumping. Well the ocean is not a toilet for the mining companies' toxic waste, and landowners around the coastal area of Papua New Guinea have said "not so fast!"
Several Madang community members, recently joined by an additional 998 landowner plaintiffs, have filed a lawsuit to demand a permanent injunction against the Ramu Nickel project's plan to directly dump mine waste, or tailings, into the ocean. After months of delays, during which the mine built up its project, the government sought to ban lawsuits against mining companies, and mine promoters harassed and scared off the original plaintiffs, the community members finally got their day in court as proceedings began yesterday and continued today.