Thursday, June 9, 2011

Greenpeace warns of irreparable damage to marine eco-systems

[ABC Radio Australia, 9 June 2011] - There're concerns that deep seabed mining activity in the Pacific ocean may cause irreparable damage to the region's marine eco-systems.

A conference in Fiji this week highlighted the issue of sea bed mining, including the advances in technology that make it easier to mine sea floors for precious minerals.

Already, exploratory licences have been granted for waters off Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Solomon Islands.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Seni Nabou, Pacific political advisor for Greenpeace Australia-Pacific

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Seni Nabou, Pacific political advisor, Greenpeace Australia-Pacific

NABOU: I think what came really strongly is that there is a lot more work to be done. There're lots of national policies and legislation that have to be made ready in order to gear up for this. One other strong element that was quite telling was that the environmental management of these ventures, needed to be monitored, managed, data needed to be better. Public consultation is critical.

LAM: Environmentalists are also concerned about deep sea mining for precious metals in the Pacific. Was that discussed at all?

NABOU: Yes, it was. We had some really good presentations from a wide range of scientists, and essentially, the feeling was that there is a whole lot of unknowns, there's a whole lot of vulnerable marine eco-systems out there that haven't been studied. There're benefits of course, in terms of bio-technology, that we're not even aware of, and so I think this was really taken on board by most of the participants. And we are particularly concerned because we follow the fisheries issue. There could be conflicts in the use of the marine resources, if you're talking about mining, most of the Pacific islands have rich tuna fisheries.

LAM: And yet, the number of firms seeking licences is growing rapidly, so surely the Pacific island nations have a choice, whether or not to grant these licences?

NABOU: Yes, and that was one of the valuable things of this consultation was that while there're these opportunities, there're greater decisions that governments need to make, in terms of, Is this a priority for our economy and the idea of a 'resource curse' where you're suddenly flooded with money, can also have impacts on local communities. And so, these are some of the warning signs, the presentations alluded to, and I think were well taken on board by all the participants.

LAM: And Seni, is there a concern that some Pacific island countries might put profit over and above, the environment?

NABOU: That is always our concern, as an environmental organisation, in terms of Yes, it is an opportunity but also there're risks that we need to be ready for, environmental risks, social risks and risks to the communities.

But in terms of deep sea mining, the regulatory body of that is the International Seabed Authority, and I think many of the Pacific Island countries are members of that. Fiji is actually one member of the Council and so they in terms of high seas mining interests, they manage that. In terms of mining ventures inside national waters of the Pacific Island countries, those interests also have to be brought before this International Seabed Authority.

Clearly, this is the last frontier and that's why we're going to be actively monitoring it.

LAM: How would you rate the state of the Pacific ocean - what are some of the challenges ahead?

NABOU: The Pacific ocean is considered one of the.. in terms of fisheries, not a hundred percent pristine, but it's still healthy. And where Greenpeace is concerned, we'd like to see it stay that way, especially for generations to come. Obviously, there's been a lot more interest now, in terms of the deep sea minerals. We've had presentations from the (mining concern) Nautilus, they've shown their interest in terms of exploratory licences in the Pacific. They've already started work in Papua New Guinea, they've been granted a mining licence. I believe Fiji, Tonga, Samoa are next in line, in terms of exploration. And also other companies, like the Korean company. There appears to be a lot of interest now. This means we have to be extra prudent and extra vigilant in how we view our resources and its management.

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