Volcanic vents in the sea floor © NOAA
Volcanic vents in the sea floor © NOAA

Warning sounded over ocean floor minerals mining

Deep sea mining in the Pacific Ocean is on the increase but a new report recommends that Pacific Island countries should be cautious about such activities to avoid environmental damage.

The World Bank report, Pacific Possible: Precautionary Management of Deep Sea Mining Potential in Pacific Island Countries says the short and long-term impacts on the environment, economy and society in general remain largely unknown.

The bank is urging that countries considering deep sea mining ensure that social and environmental safeguards are in place as part of strong governance arrangements.

So far Papua New Guinea is the only country in the Pacific region to have granted a license for ocean floor mining. But the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu have already granted permits for deep sea mining exploration. The Cook Islands recently undertook a minerals exploration tender process.

“Work in this space is already progressing in many countries, and progress has been made in legislation, but strengthening and increasing institutional capacity still remains a significant challenge and therefore we recommend stronger regional cooperation in this area,” said Tijen Arin, senior environmental economist and co-author of the paper.

Deep Sea Minerals (DSM) occur on the ocean bed in water between 400 and 6,000 meters deep, often around volcanic vents on the seafloor, where concentrated minerals including copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold can be found.

A major deposit of this kind has prompted the Nautilus Minerals Solwara-1 project in Papua New Guinea.

Deposits have also been found in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. Manganese nodules – often occurring at great depths – are known to occur in the waters of the Cook Islands and Kiribati, and to a lesser extent in Niue and Tuvalu.

Cobalt manganese crusts – which can contain other minerals including precious metals such as platinum and rare earths have been found in Kiribati, The Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Palau, Samoa and Tuvalu.

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