MAC: Mines and Communities

India: "devils" in the deep blue sea?

Published by MAC on 2011-11-21
Source: The Hindu, Press Trust of India (2011-11-13)

The term "deep sea mining" is usually employed to describe ocean-bed mineral exploitation at depths of a kilometre or more.

However, for many communities dependent on marine resource, a proposal to simply dig up sand at a "mere" 40 metres below the water prompts considerable alarm.

T. Peter, president of Kerala's Independent Fishworkers Union in the southern Indian state of Kerala has condemned such a state government proposal, announcing that his members "will oppose the project tooth and nail".

He also warns that fisherfolk would use their boats and catamarans to blockade the sand dredgers.

Mr Peter has drawn a parallel to offshore sand extraction on Indonesia's Riau Islands, met by fierce local and national resistance, which resulted in a ban on exports to Singapore in 2002. See: Indonesia update

Meanwhile, China has announced that it plans to expand its own seabed mineral exploration in the Indian Ocean.

Concern over move for deep sea sand-mining

T. Nandakumar

The Hindu

13 November 2011

Eco activists, fisherfolk say it will threaten livelihood

A proposal mooted by the State government for deep sea sand-mining has triggered protest from traditional fishermen and concern among marine scientists and environmentalists.

It was at a workshop on Kerala's approach paper to the 12th Five Year Plan held here on Wednesday that Finance Minister K.M. Mani came up with the proposal. Addressing the workshop, he said it was not difficult for the Kerala economy to achieve a 10 per cent growth rate, provided it was able to mobilise revenue from non-conventional sources such as offshore mining of sand.

Scientists fear that the environmental impact of such a project will be disastrous, while fishworkers see it as a direct threat to their livelihood.

In 2002, the then government backed off from implementing a similar project following stiff resistance by environmentalists and fisherfolk. A Bahrain-based company that had submitted the project had claimed to have located a huge offshore deposit of construction- quality sand amounting to four billion tonnes at a depth of 30 to 40 metres.

The government had held out the project as a viable option to resolve the acute scarcity of river sand for the construction industry. This time however, it is being projected as an alternative revenue source.

K. Venkataraman, Director, Zoological Survey of India, said large-scale dredging for sand in the sea could lead to turbidity and movement of silt, affecting marine life in the biodiversity rich areas off the State's coast.

"The silt could move in different directions, affecting the natural habitat of several species. It could also enrich the nutrient content in seawater, triggering algal blooms that are harmful to fish. Dredging has the potential to change the contours of the sea bed," he told The Hindu over telephone from his office in Kolkata.

A marine biologist, Dr.Venkataraman said dredging could also affect the long-shore drift along the Kerala coast, leading to a further decline in fish stocks and affecting the livelihood of the fisherfolk community. Using suction pumps for controlled dredging would not alleviate the problem of turbulence, he said.

Accelerated erosion

Dr. Venkataraman said tampering with the steep slopes of the continental shelf off the State's coast could alter the underwater topography, leading to accelerated coastal erosion and other unforeseen consequences. The absence of a monitoring and regulatory mechanism for offshore sand-mining could encourage violation of environmental safeguards for more profitable operations, he said.

Traditional fishermen fear deep-sea mining would deplete the dwindling fish stocks and jeopardise the livelihood of 10 lakh fish workers in the State. T. Peter, president of the Kerala Swathantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, said: "We will oppose the project tooth and nail." He warned that fishermen would use their boats and catamarans to blockade dredgers. "Indonesia paid a heavy price for deep sea sand-mining to reclaim land for the Singapore airport. That experience should be taken as a warning against tampering with the marine ecosystem."

Renjan Varghese Mathew, State director, WWF-India, said deep sea sand-mining was a very technology intensive process that could cause a negative impact on the marine ecosystem.

"It could destroy the spawning grounds of fishes and other marine organisms, triggering an effect down the food chain. Removal of the top soil could also ravage the marine ecology."

Vinod Malayilethu, coordinator, marine programme, WWF-India said, "Sucking up the sand from the seabed is likely to release poisonous gases such as hydrogen sulphide and heavy metals. Also, the suspended silt will be deposited on corals and sponges, destroying them."


China announces plan to expand seabed mining in Indian Ocean

Press Trust of India

17 September 2011

BEIJING -China today announced plans to expand its seabed mineral explorations in the Indian Ocean after an international authority approved its bid to mine for polymetallic sulphide ore, much to the surprise of India.

Beijing has already got approval to explore in a 10,000 sq km seabed area in southwestIndian Ocean for the ore and now it plans to invest more to expand the "depth and scope of oceanic research".

Following the approval, China's Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association is set to sign a 15-year exploration contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) later this year granting pre-emptive rights for it to develop the ore deposit in future, state run Xinhua reported.

"We will expand the depths and scope of oceanic research and improve our understanding of the ocean, with special focuses on the polar regions and deep sea environments," Mr Liu Cigui, head of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), told a meeting on oceanic technology here.

The move has already raised concerns in India with Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI) informing the Indian government that the contract would provide an excuse for China to operate its warships besides compiling data on the vast mineral resources in India's backyard.

Chinese released a guideline on the oceanic science and technology development between 2011 and 2015, vowing to invest more to boost the country's maritime economy.

Mr Liu said more efforts will be made to boost innovation and strive for breakthroughs in key technology in order to stimulate the development of emerging oceanic industries but did not mention the amount money China will be investing.

The announcement followed China's bid for exploring the international seabed region of southwest Indian Ocean for polymetallic sulphide deposit was approved by ISA, last month much to the surprise of India. The guideline was jointly released at the meeting by the SOA, the ministry of science and technology, the ministry of education and the National Natural Science Foundation, state run Xinhua reported.

China also has obtained exclusive rights to prospect in a 75,000-square-km polymetallic nodule ore deposit in the east Pacific Ocean in 2001.

Apparently in preparation for its ambitious oceanic research projects, China has stepped up its experiments with first manned deep sea submersible which touched about 6000 meters in the Pacific Ocean last month with three people on board.

According to China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the submersible named Jiaolong is designed to reach a maximum depth of 7,000 meters expected some time next year. It completed 17 dives in the South China Sea between 31 May and 18 July last year, reaching 3,759 metres during its deepest dive. China is the fifth country to send a man 3,500 meters below sea level, following the USA, France, Russia and Japan.

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