MAC: Mines and Communities

"Deep sea mining threatens PNG tuna exports"

Published by MAC on 2008-11-24
Source: Jerome Tioti, Letter to The National, PNG

THE environmental effects from deep sea mining (DSM) could be catastrophic as they originate from non-point sources, that is, they tend to be widely diffused and dispersed over longer distances given the frequently changing ocean currents and the heating of the seafloor from climate change.

As seen from land-based pollution such as those experienced in Panguna, Ok Tedi, Porgera and Ramu, there is no guarantee DSM at the Solwara 1 project would not pose environmental risks to the local communities, the surrounding environment and the tuna stocks within PNG territorial waters, especially those at Mogado Square, which is north-west of the Solwara 1 project.

Putting data into perspective, tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) contributes about 60% of the total world raw tuna supply and 30% of that comes from PNG waters (meaning about 10% of world tuna supply comes from PNG alone).

The fact is that the tuna stocks that roam around PNG economic exclusive zone are highly migratory and go as far as Japan, Australia and the US.
This said, if a single stock or specie is affected from the effluents of DSM that may potentially come from sediment plumes; acoustic impacts; waste water disposal; and machinery leaks or malfunctions; all tuna originating from PNG waters may be declared as "poisoned fish".

The lucrative markets in Asia, Europe and the US will step up their market access requirements, for example, through sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT) or by removing the EU duty free access, etc.

Where would the healthy fish supply be sourced to supply these lucrative tuna markets then?

What is going to happen to the fisheries partnership agreements recently ratified under the EU-EPA?

How about the US multilateral treaty and the many regional and bilateral deals between individual PICs and their trading partners?

Would it be still economically and financially viable for PNG or Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency members to push forward for the domestication policy?

The underlying rationale is whether it is worth exploiting for seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits - a non-renewable resource using heavily polluting remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) at the cost of the renewable resource (fish)?

If sustainably harvested on the basis of a wealth-based fisheries management (WBFM) approach, tuna has the potential to contribute A$3 billion to countries in the WCPO and can be continuously harvested over the next 50 years.

How much benefits can we expect from DSM?

PNG and Tonga have been used as test cases for the DSM technology which obviously means big mistakes must be anticipated.

Once fine-tuned from PNG and Tonga experiences, DSM may be the way to mine ocean floors in other parts of the world in future.

A preliminary approach to addressing this issue involves "before after control impact paired series", as well as policy applications like adopting the code of environmental management of marine mining (see http://www.bren.ucsb. edu/research/documents/ VentsThesis.pdf for more details).

This issue is serious and requires the attention of the Fisheries Minister to take crucial measures in addressing it in collaboration with relevant stakeholders.

Jerome Tioti
Canberra, Australia

MAC Editorial note: Jerome Tioti is the assistant research officer for Papua New Guinea's National Fisheries Authority. The Solwara 1 project is managed by Nautilus Minerals and - if permits are obtained - scheduled for commercial operation in 2010.

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